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Tribe Happenings: Should the Indians rebuild or retool?

Tribe Happenings: Should the Indians rebuild or retool?
November 11, 2012
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Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Rebuild or retool?

To rebuild, or to retool, that is the question.

Even though the GM Meetings have wrapped up out out in Indian Hills, California, things are just starting to heat up on the hot stove this offseason.

Coming off a 94 loss campaign in 2012 and their third 93+ loss season in the last four years, the Indians need to have a defined plan this offseason to get back on track. They have a new manager in place and a revised approach to be more aggressive in building their roster, but at the moment it is unknown how exactly the Indians will go about making expected changes to their roster this offseason.

This is one of the most important offseason’s in recent years for the organization as they look to re-establish faith in a fan base that distrusts them and grows more apathetic by the day.  Somehow, someway, the Indians need to get back on track to being the successful organization they were from 1994-2008.

But to get back on track, do they rebuild or retool the roster?

A lot of people believe the Indians should just blow it all up and trade Asdrubal CabreraShin-Soo ChooJustin Masterson, and Chris Perez since all four are likely to be gone in two years anyway. That the Indians should get what they can for all of them now in order to help facilitate a much quicker rebuild rather than let them leave over the next two years and probably face a rebuild two or three years from now.

The Indians have been fielding calls on Cabrera, Choo, Masterson, Perez and others; however, this is normal as teams get calls about the availability of their players all the time and “listen” to what is being proposed and who is interested. There is a clear difference between “listening” and “shopping”, and right now the Indians appear to be in more of a listening mode as they continue to assess what moves they can make this offseason to improve their team.

On the other hand, a lot of people believe the Indians should look to supplement the players already on the roster with a few free agents and trade pickups. Even though they are unable to sign any big name free agents, there are some mid-level free agents and possibly some players available in trades that could help bring stability to their rotation and lineup.

One thing is for certain and that is this is a slippery slope from which to operate, which will make it interesting to follow what they do as the offseason progresses and the direction they ultimately decide to go in.

So should the Indians approach be to rebuild or retool? Well, there is a case for and against both…

Why they should rebuild

Those for a rebuild will point to what the Indians did back in 2002.  They blew up the roster and traded players like Bartolo ColonChuck FinleyPaul ShueyEinar Diaz, and Russell Branyan to net them core and fill-in players such as Grady SizemoreCliff LeeBrandon PhillipsTravis Hafner, Coco Crisp, and Ben Broussard.

That rebuild worked out about as well as anyone could hope for as the Indians netted several good players to build around and had a good team from 2004-2008, but because of injuries, poor drafting, managerial problems, and a team that did not play up to their potential, they were never as successful in the win-loss department as they should have been

Those against a rebuild will point to what the Indians did from 2008-2010.  Their most recent rebuild started in July of 2008 and over the course of two years they dealt the likes of C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Kerry WoodVictor MartinezJake WestbrookPaul ByrdMark DeRosaCarl PavanoKelly ShoppachJhonny PeraltaAustin KearnsRafael BetancourtRyan Garko, and Casey Blake. The trades netted them current players on the big league team such as Michael BrantleyCarlos CarrascoCarlos SantanaLou Marson, Justin Masterson, Zach McAllister, and Chris Perez.

Whether or not expectations became so unrealistic after all the successful trades in 2002, the Indians simply have not had as much success in their trades from the most recent rebuild.  Even though they had more ammo to use in their most recent trades, when compared to what was received in the deals in 2002, they have fallen well short of impact caliber talent to be the core of the current roster.

There are no guarantees with a rebuild as any deal involving trading a veteran for prospects brings back a lot of uncertainty since prospects are never a sure thing. It would be a tough sell to a fan base that has already endured two rebuilds over the last ten years, but the hope would be that they have learned from their mistakes and are able to find quality, impact players in trades like they did in 2002 to get them on track and winning again in two years. It would probably mean two more years of losing, but at least there would be a sense of hope.

If the Indians could bring in a horde of Major League ready prospects for the likes of Cabrera, Choo, Masterson, and Perez, it would be a great supplement to a system barren at the top but with a lot of talent in the lower levels.  Time will tell how their younger talent develops as they mature, but the lower levels of the Indians’ minor league system are as talented as they have ever been.  A combination of that lower level talent to go along with an influx of higher end prospects in the upper levels would put the system back near the top in baseball, a place they were consistently at from 2003-2010.

Rebuilding the farm system is a great place to start to get things back on track, and a rebuild could bring back those young, impact caliber players they need to add to the Major League mix over the next year or two that they currently lack in their system.  With several of their better players nearing free agency and such inconsistent play from their younger players, a rebuild makes sense.

Why they should retool

On the flip side of things there is an argument that can be made to retooling, which at the outset of this offseason appears to be how the Indians will go about things.

The hiring of a veteran and accomplished manager like Terry Francona appears to be a sign the Indians are not ready to cut bait on next season and start a massive rebuild. A more defined indicator that a rebuild is on the way would have been if they hired a first time manager like Sandy Alomar or even Mike Sarbaugh.

Also, the Indians want to win in 2013 and there is a belief that with the right moves this offseason they can. The AL Central is without question the weakest division in baseball, which means it is winnable every season. The Tigers and White Sox will be the favorites next season to win the division, but with the right moves made by the Indians, Twins, and Royals, any one of them could be in the mix to win the division next year.

Maybe the most important reason to retooling rather than rebuilding is the Indians really have an image problem with their fans. Until they stop this endless cycle of getting rid of players as they near free agency, it is going to be hard to gain back the faith and trust of their fan base.

It is one thing to trade players just before the July deadline in their free agent year, but it is another thing entirely to deal players a full two seasons away from free agency. They already started a bad precedent trading players over a year away from free agency when they dealt the likes of Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez, and Johnny Peralta, so to start trading players like Masterson, Cabrera, and Perez who have two full years left before they are free agents is going to damage their reputation even more and push fans away further.

It just creates a belief that a player will be traded once he is three to four years into his time with the team and has established himself as a core player.  With this approach it means in two years guys like Carlos Santana and Vinnie Pestano are on the block, and in three years Jason Kipnis is on the block. It is just not a very healthy way to go about things.

What the Indians really need to do is get back to extending players early in their contracts where they buy out their arbitration years and potentially their first year or two of free agency. They did that in their original rebuild when they gave extensions to players like Sabathia, Martinez, Hafner, Sizemore, and others that allowed them to control them for seven to eight years.

It is risky to hand out guaranteed contracts to young players far away from free agency, but it is better than the current method of going year to year and dumping a player a year or two from free agency and only having the good ones for four or five years.  It is almost impossible to build a team or have any continuity when you are going through such major roster turnover such as that in three to four year cycles.

This is why the Indians have to strongly consider the retool route. It may not be the right way to get back on track and to build a contending team over the long term, but from a business perspective they almost have to exhaust any and all creative methods to supplementing the current roster before deciding to pull the plug and begin their third rebuild in eleven years.

So what do you do? Do you rebuild or retool? I am unsure there is a right or wrong answer at the moment, but one thing is certain, and that is we should know over the next three to four weeks which way the Indians end up going.

Comings and goings

Earlier in the week the Indians resigned free agent right-handed pitcher Hector Rondon to a minor league contract and also inked free agent infielder Luis Hernandez to a minor league contract. Both players were given invites to big league camp this spring.

Rondon, 24, has missed most of the last three seasons because of two major elbow injuries. He tore the UCL in his right elbow early in 2009 and required Tommy John surgery, and in his return while pitching winter ball last offseason fractured his right elbow. He only made four appearances late in the season with a minor league affiliate and is currently pitching winter ball in the Venezuela Winter League to make up for lost innings. If healthy, he is expected to be a part of the Triple-A Columbus bullpen next season and could still be a factor as a possible big league pen arm sometime later in the year.

Hernandez, 28, played last season in the Rangers organization at Triple-A Round Rock. In 129 games he hit .262 with 8 HR, 70 RBI, and .679 OPS, and was a late August callup to the Rangers while Michael Young was on paternity leave and played in two games. He was designated for assignment by the Rangers just three days later and declined an outright assignment to the minors and became a free agent. He is signed as minor league depth, and if he makes the Triple-A Columbus roster next season would likely fill the role that shortstop Gregorio Petit did for them in 2012.

The Indians also lost a few players this week as outfielder/third baseman Jared Goedert signed a minor league contract with the Pirates and right-handed pitcher Kevin Slowey opted for free agency.

Goedert, 27, was drafted and signed by the Indians in the 9th round of the 2006 Draft out of Kansas State University. He played seven seasons in the Indians organization, and this past season in 121 combined games between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus hit .311 with 19 HR, 77 RBI and .875 OPS.

Goedert was officially free to speak to other teams as a free agent as of last Sunday, and the Pirates were quick to call and were very aggressive in their pursuit of him. The union with the Pirates reunites him with Neal Huntington who was a part of the front office in Cleveland that drafted him in 2006. Interestingly, the Indians never made an offer to resign him even when they had an exclusive negotiating period with him from the end of the season to six days after the World Series.  They were open to resigning him if he did not sign with another team, though it was expected he would generate strong interest be gobbled up quickly, and that is what happened.

Slowey chose free agency after he was designated for assignment last week to clear a spot on the 40-man roster. He cleared waivers and was outrighted to the minors, but even though it was his first outright assignment he was able to decline and choose free agency since he has more than three years of Major League service time.

Also, while he has yet to sign with another team, free agent outfielder Nick Weglarz is not expected to resign with the Indians. The Indians are open to bringing him back if he strikes out in free agency, but it appears he is getting enough interest where someone will sign him to a minor league contract.

Money matters

The Indians are expected to operate somewhere close to the same budget in 2013 as they did last season. This means it will probably come in around $65 million, though could be as high as $70 million or as low as $60 million depending on what moves they make this offseason.

The Indians currently only have $15.6 million tied up in payroll next season, which gives them a lot of flexibility with their payroll going forward. However, how much they have available to sign free agents or pickup salary in a trade depends on what they do this offseason with all of their arbitration eligible players and even some of their other players signed to guaranteed deals. If they keep all - or most – of their arbitration eligible players it will inflate the committed money in their 2013 budget significantly.

What these arbitration eligible players actually get on one year deals will not be known until sometime around late January, but has the projected numbers for all the Indians players eligible for arbitration this offseason (they are usually very close on these projections): Shin-Soo Choo ($7.9M), Chris Perez ($7.2M), Justin Masterson ($5.7M), Joe Smith ($2.7M), Mike Aviles ($2.3M), Rafael Perez ($2.0M), Jack Hannahan ($1.5M),Tony Sipp ($1.0M), Lou Marson ($800K), and Brent Lillibridge ($700K).

Hannahan and Lillibridge are expected to be non-tendered, but if the Indians keep and sign all the other arbitration eligible players for their projected amounts, then that $15.6 million in committed payroll is actually more like $45.2 million. When you take into account the minimum deals ($490K) for most of the rest of the players on the roster like Jason Kipnis and Vinnie Pestano – roughly $5 to $6 million in total – then that puts payroll right at about $51 million right now.

So if the Indians intend to be around $65 million in payroll that means that they have somewhere around $12-17 million to spend this offseason.  Of course, that number will change if they trade players like Cabrera, Choo, Masterson, and Perez. Time will tell on all of that, but for now this is how their payroll situation stacks up.

New way of using the DH

The Indians have three holes in the lineup at first base, left field and designated hitter, and a lot has been made how all three holes must be filled this offseason.

Not so fast.

While the Indians should certainly look to find ways to upgrade left field and first base – two positions which have dogged them over the past few seasons – they should not concern themselves with finding a full time solution to fill the designated hitter role.

Without a full time player manning the designated hitter role it would allow the Indians to rest their core players and keep their bats in the lineup. When you consider how Cabrera has had a sharp decline in his performance in the second half over the last two seasons, or how Kipnis wore down in the second half this past season, the option to rest them in the field and let them be the designated hitter once every seven to ten days is inviting.

This is why the Mike Aviles trade makes sense and why both he and Cabrera could coexist on the roster.  Sure, Aviles should probably be a starter, but with no full time designated hitter he could get a lot of playing time since a lot of guys in the infield would probably get regular time off.

The Indians should use the opportunity to not have an everyday designated hitter clogging the roster and instead look to lengthen their bench with a part-time player on the roster that is usable and can play several positions. With a deeper bench they can pick and choose who is the designated hitter each night and rotate players in and out over the course of the week.

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

November 14, 2012 - 11:49 AM EST
Well Seth I supposed we'll have to agree to disagree on this one. I see no logical way this team can compete in 2013. There simply too many needs (LF, 1B, at least 2 SP) and not enough resources to fill them.

I think if we remove ourselves from the situation and look at it objectively--how many 100-loss teams really should be talking about holding onto their players rather than rebuilding? The Central certainly was weak in 2012, but there's reason to believe the Tigers will be better in 2013 and there's not much hope for a wildcard slot either. If you trade the players that are going to be gone after 2013 and 2014, you could conceivably get back to competing in 2015. It would be along the same lines as what the A's did this year, trading every recognizable name on the roster shooting for a few years down the road.

Is that bad for PR? Absolutely. But how much worse can fan support get? They need to make the best baseball decision possible.
November 13, 2012 - 3:16 PM EST
yeah, and I guess that's the difference, I think that level of gain isn't remotely worth the downside of moving Choo. Whether they have one prospect who might make an impact 2 years down the line or don't, it's not going to make a whole lot of difference to their ultimate success as a franchise. The negative on it is you've definitely given up on this year, as you'd be short 2 outfielders. This would also mean there would be absolutely no point to sign any free agent, even Youkilis, because again, who are your outfielders, Thomas Neal and someone else? You have a clear downside of fielding a team that has no hope, and further alienating your fanbase and lowering the value of your franchise.

In baseball, it's almost pointless to ever look beyond 3 years ahead, because it's impossible to judge how your prospects are going to develop, as well as what your competition's going to look like. In the next 3 years, I'd say that the Indians best shot for contention is almost certainly 2013, if they pick up at least 2 quality free agents and if they keep Choo. The division remains very weak. The Indians making a run in 2013 is a lot more likely than the White Sox run in 2012. You trade Choo, you're looking to contend again when, 2015? 2016? By then the division will likely not be such easy pickings, and you've cut into your fanbase even further. If the positive of a trade is a team's #3 prospect, when you know trading for prospects is a crapshoot even when you're talking a team's #1 prospect (Escobar, Laporta), I just don't see how that's remotely worth it. If you don't end up being competitive and you have to hang onto Choo and get an extra draft pick, it's not the worst thing in the world. I would say the draft pick and TRYING to contend in 2013 is greater than okay AA prospect.

The Phillies are in a different position than the Indians, they can easily sign someone on the free agent market before 2013 who is as good as or better than Pence, so it doesn't hurt their ability to compete at all and gets them a prospect who they might be able to use in a couple years. That's not the case with the Indians, especially with their current outfielder shortage.

If I were GM, and I could get a prospect like Starling Marte now, I WOULD make that deal, and I'd also use the money I saved on Choo to sign an outfielder. If all I'm getting is a guy who's in AA and at least a year away from being ready, hell no.

November 13, 2012 - 12:53 PM EST
Seth, I didn't mean to say that I expect Choo to bring back a blue chipper now either. I was simply saying that I cannot foresee any way Choo's trade value actually increases between now and the trade deadline. Unless a contender is really desperate for offense in July, I just think we'd be getting a very marginal return considering they'd only be getting 2 months of Choo and would not be getting the draft pick compensation. Although, I suppose it is possible that the Indians could deal their Competitive Balance Lottery draft pick along with Choo to mitigate losing that draft pick.

I think the Pence comparison is a good one, and I loved that trade. No true blue chip prospects, but Joseph was the Giants #3 prospect heading into the year...if we could get a teams' top 5 prospect in exchange for Choo right now, I'd do it.
November 13, 2012 - 11:57 AM EST
I don't think Choo gets you the blue chip prospect you want now. The pickups that Rich mentions are all great trades, with the exception of the Alomar move which didn't work out. Because of these trades, Indians' fans I think have unrealistic expectations of what they can get for people like Choo and Chris Perez. The Choo and Asdrubal moves were Bill Bavasi, a guy who's notorious for being a horrible GM and was fired for exactly these type of trades. Fleecing Bavasi for prospects was easier than fleecing John Hart, which is saying a lot (Einar Diaz for Travis Hafner? Ricardo Rincon for Brian Giles?) The Expos Colon deal was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, since Montreal was being contracted at the end of the year so they didn't care about prospects at all. The Blake/Santana deal was a good one, but Santana was also in single A at the time and had one good year under his belt; he was no sure bet. I have no doubt the Indians can get a lower level guy with potential for Choo. I also think they can get that guy mid-season, even with the lack of comp picks recalculating trade value a bit. Other than that, you're depending on the stupidity of another GM to present a situation where you have a clear win Not that that couldn't happen ... but we saw what happened last year when the Indians offered up Choo for Starling Marte, and the Pirates (smartly) balked.

I've mentioned before, a good comp for Choo is Hunter Pence. When the Phillies traded him to the Giants, he's actually been better than Choo over hte past 1.5 years, though Choo was slightly better than him (offensively) at the time of the trade and he's a year younger than Choo. The Giants got Pence for 1.5 years. They gave the Phillies a good AA prospect, as well as a couple throw-ins, a 4th outfielder and a lower-level pitcher without much upside. I don't see a reason to trade Choo now if that's the return. Since all of the Indians' "high-end" prospects are at least 2-3 years away anyway, hanging onto him and taking the comp pick is not a horrible thing itself.

November 13, 2012 - 10:10 AM EST
Rich, I 100% agree that the most important thing is to identify when these players' value is at a peak. But I think in the case of CP and Choo, that time has to be now. CP is coming off a career year in several statistical categories. The chances of him being as good as he was in 2012 again are probably not all that good.

With Choo, his value now is at its' highest because he's coming off a good year, there are a lot of teams looking for OF help, and right now he'd still bring back a compensation pick at the end of the year. That means a lot considering who his agent is. We're not going to get a blue chip prospect for two months of Choo, especially if the team we trade him to can't get that pick.
November 13, 2012 - 8:29 AM EST
One more thing - the Indians need to trade these guys when their value is at its peak, not according to some predetermined schedule.

They traded Robbie Alomar after the last really good season of his career and got five players. They traded Colon after he won 10 games in the first half and got a huge haul. They traded Casey Blake when his value was still high and got Carlos Santana. When Eduardo Perez and Ben Broussard got off to hot starts one year they traded them for Choo and Droobs.

More recently, they picked up Esmil Rogers up for nothing. He had a good half-season so they traded him for Aviles and a catching prospect.

Mark DeRosa had a strong first half in his only season in Cleveland. They traded him at the deadline for Chris Perez. DeRosa never played well again.

So rather than set a plan in place and decide in advance when to trade players, it might be better to just identify which players should be traded and do it the first chance you get to maximize the return.
November 13, 2012 - 8:21 AM EST
I'm with Tony - when you're coming off a 68 win season and have to trade your best outfielder and already have nobody at 1B and LF, and you have the second worst starting pitching in the AL, and the upper levels of the farm system are the hell are you going to "retool"? Especially since trading Choo, Droobs, and CP for minor leaguers will only make the team worse in the short run.

However, I would not trade Masterson because he's coming off a bad year and we need starting pitching more than anything. Hang onto him and hope he can get back to his 2011 level. No reason he can't.

I would not trade Asdrubal now but would give him some rest days next year in hopes that he has a career season, which would boost his trade value. Then I would move him after the season for starting pitching. That would be one less year to use a stopgap at SS before Lindor arrives.

Trading Choo is a no-brainer but I would wait until July and hope a contender loses a critical bat like the Giants did with Melky last year. Use Choo to pry away a blue chip prospect at the deadline.

Trade CP and Joe Smith - we have a lot of good, young bullpen arms in the system.
November 12, 2012 - 1:04 AM EST
Matt Underwood, I simply just proposed both sides of the argument. If I had to choose one or the other, I definitely believe they should just rebuild. Or, maybe rebuild is the wrong term since they really only have a few players near the end of their life cycle with the org. There are already some pieces to build upon, so I would trade all of Masterson, Choo, Cabrera, Perez, and even Joe Smith and see what they get for young talent and go forward that way. If they get some good ML ready talent in return, perhaps they can win in 2014, or even surprise in 2013 like the A's did this season.

The Indians' lower levels are very promising right now. Lots of potential, though of course, potential often means players don't live up to expectations. It is why you need depth and lot of options as the more you have the better chances of finding those few lottery tickets that become something in the upper levels and then the big leagues.
November 11, 2012 - 9:25 PM EST
Depends on what you get for Cabrera. Aviles is certainly a downgrade, and if he were the full time SS, that would again leave them very thin at the position. I would take the trade Homer proposed below, but I highly doubt the Cardinals would give up that much for Asdrubal. I would want Lynn and someone else with upside though to make the deal. Even though Cabrera and Lynn had pretty equivalent value last year, he had a spotty minor league career and I think is a risk to keep performing at a high level, especially with a switch to the AL.

I don't think Choo returns much right now. You could sign Pagan, Ross, Victorino, BJ Upton, likely get as good of overall production as Choo, and you don't have to give up any prospects, and if you're thinking beyond next year Choo is also probably more expensive than those guys. I think unloading him at the deadline to a playoff-hungry team that's desparate for an outfielder could increase the return over what they get now, especially if Choo's performing well. If the right deal came along, sure, but it would have pretty much have to be for a good major league ready position player, most likely a first baseman, and I don't see anyone giving up such a thing for Choo. I also don't think the Indians are capable of doing anything as creative as swapping Choo for a good prospect and then signing a free agent outfielder, they would likely whiff on the free agent signing, so I'd much rather they hold onto Choo so they at least have a shot next year.
November 11, 2012 - 8:40 PM EST
Seth, I see Aviles as a capable stop gap until our SS prospects are ready. He's under control through 2014 isn't he? You have to hope that by 2015 Ronny Rodriguez or Francisco Lindor should be at least knocking on the door. Obviously Aviles is a step back from Cabrera offensively, a pretty large step back, but if Cabrera could bring back a young, cost controlled power SP I think you can live with Aviles at short for a few years.

The reason I think you trade Choo now is he's going to have very minimal value at the trade deadline. Whoever we trade him to wont receive draft pick comp. because he'll be dealt mid-season, and I think it's more likely we get major league ready talent now, rather than in the middle of a pennant race. It's certainly more risky than holding onto him and seeing what happens, but I think we're in a spot where we need to take some risks to get this thing pointed in the right direction.
November 11, 2012 - 6:53 PM EST
This is one of the better discussions that I have read on the site. I am not sure there is a right answer because of the variables. Personally, one of the biggest ones IMO is Carrasco. I believe he is a warrior and has gotten a bad rap but only time will tell if he will have the TOR consistency the Indians badly need.

I just don't know how FAs will react to the Francona hiring. It is no secret that Cleveland is not a location that appeals to most young professional athletes with a choice but he may make a difference when it comes to mid level FAs. I don't pretend to know the answer.

I am not in favor of trading AsCAb. I do not see a reasonable alternative since I prefer Aviles as a busy UT especially against LHP. It seems prudent that he be a quality replacement since time has been missed regularly by all three IF starters.

I am still not sure it makes a lot of sense to trade Perez and Choo unless we get a big deal with ML quality players in return. If Choo has a big year, they can have draft compensation and if he doesn't, I can live with the mistake. I love the RPs in the upper part of the system but I don't know if the top arms are ready to be late inning replacements yet. If Haley were really ready, I might be more inclined to risk it but he isn't and there is too many questions about the others.

I guess that means I am willing to give retool a chance but would go to rebuild if Carrasco cannot show effectiveness and FA shopping goes against the Indians as in the past.
November 11, 2012 - 5:39 PM EST
Agree for the most part Adam, but I don't see how Cabrera's replaceable within the system. Now that they have Aviles, shortstop isn't quite the gaping hole it was, and is not the gaping hole the outfield remains, but any other internal shortstop options are a minimum of 2 years away.

And I don't buy into trading Choo now, because they'd need to spend more on the open market to replace his performance. I could think of some scenarios where a Choo trade would make sense, like, if it netted a good young, cheaper first baseman, and they then used Choo's money to sign, say, BJ Upton as a Choo-replacement, but the scenario of hanging onto him until at least July seems to be the best bet. Less risky to a risk-adverse management. They would much rather have Choo on a 1-year deal and worry about 1 outfield spot, than worry about 2 outfield spots.
November 11, 2012 - 4:36 PM EST
I agree with the people who are saying it's possible for the Indians to retool their major league roster while rebuilding their farm system. If they're smart about this, and they're serious about being more aggressive, I think they take a few steps:

1) Identify one or two free agents that you feel strongly about. Guys that you believe can be productive for the next 3-4 years, and you take a chance on them. I'd go with one position player and one SP. Spend somewhere around $20 million per season on the two combined, and lock up those two spots on the roster for the next several years. Risky yes, but we have to take some risks to improve this roster and get the fans interested in this team again.

2) Trade your replaceable assets. Perez is replaceable from within the system. Cabrera is replaceable from within the system. Choo doesn't have an immediate replacement in the minors, but he's also not a superstar, you could find equal or surplus value in a trade. Trade these guys for the best talent available, period. Forget about proximity to the majors. If the guy is already in the majors, great, but prioritize talent even if means going into the AA or A level of a team's farm system. Unless somebody blows you away on Masterson, hold onto him and hope he re-establishes his value during the season.

3) Use 2013 as an audition for a future contract. If Kipnis puts together a full season like his first half of 2012, lock him up long term at the end of the year. If Chisenhall has a good first full season, lock him up. Maybe Brantley and McAllister too at the end of the year. They're all already here through 2017-ish, so buy out their arbitration years and see if you can get a few of their FA years as well.
November 11, 2012 - 3:20 PM EST
My simple answer is YES.

The Tribe can rebuild and retool at the same time. I dont buy this train of thought that it has to go one way or another. The team needs an influx of talent that's not coming from the minor league system yet.
My proposal is simple...
Trade them in waves while trying to remain competitive.

1st to go...

ACab - simply bc of his value. IF the Tribe should land Lance Lynn and Matt Adams from the Cardinals they should as has been circulated in some news outlets.

Chris Perez - the cost of arb. eligible closer is ridiculous. If they can get a now SP or young bat for him they should make the move ala Josh Reddick / Andrew Bailey.

Lou Marson- Mrson is becoming arb. Eligible and the Tribe have moved their backup C in the pat when they become more expensive. He could be an add in in the right deal OR the Tribe could look to land a young SP in return.

Next wave... MLB Trade Deadline...

Choo - the return will likely be the same at the deadline, but if they can move him for an everyday player (1b / OF) or SP and a solid prospect in the offseason he should go---while he could still net the other team draft pk comp that would make him more valuable IMO.

Joe Smith - I'd love to see the Tribe sign him to an extension at a decent price but don't think it's likely. The Marlins netted Zach Cox for Ed Mujica at the deadline for 1 plus yrs of control. If they could get somewhat of a similar return they should do so.

Justin Masterson - with a few months under his belt the Tribe should have a solid feel for what he is / so should other teams. The Tribe can't afford to give away starting pitching and have to hold Masterson unless they get a Latos, Gonzalez type return.
November 11, 2012 - 11:53 AM EST
I think any time you have a lot of "lower level talent" there's obviously an inherent unknown. e.g. a guy like Abner Abreu, who was thought to be a highly-talented lower-level guy, but he never made it past A ball. You just don't know. To rebuild now just seems to silly to me. No one has any idea what lower level prospects will pan out, so you have no conception of what the team's needs even are. You don't even know what you have in Kipnis and Chisenhall, much less guys like Paulino. At least in July, or before next year, they should have some better sense of where the organization stands as players either keep progressing, or don't.

Maybe it's just a matter of semantics, but I don't see trading Choo, Perez and Cabrera to be a "massive rebuild". You can make an argument for trading Perez that has nothing to do with rebuilding, and Choo is a mid-season trade if they don't contend regardless, so if the difference between retooling and "massive rebuild" is trading Asdrubal, well, I guess we're just bored and looking for things to talk about.

Other than the "who are we even talking about trading" question, here's what makes no sense to me for the rebuild argument. The Indians have 3 huge holes on the offensive side, at LF, 1b and DH. However the infield is Santana, Kipnis, Cabrera, Chisenhall, all young guys who should be entering their primes and improving. The outfield you've got Brantley and Choo. The only one out of those remaining 6 who doesn't fit for a rebuilding team is Choo, as he's on his way to free agency and also likely past his prime. On the pitching side of things, the only guys who have trade value are relievers, and Masterson, who a lot of people think should be a reliever. How do you even talk about rebuilding, when you basically have one guy on the entire 25-man roster, Choo, who is not the type of player a rebuilding team would want around? You could add Perez to that list since he's expensive for what he is, but everyone else is already young and cheap.

If they move Perez, they should have upwards of $20 million available to spend. Trade him for something of value in another area, and then sign Youkilis, Cody Ross and Brandon McCarthy. If Ross gets snatched up elsewhere, they could still afford Victorino or Pagan on a creatively-structured contract (3 years 30 million, but with higher salaries in years 2 and 3 when revenue will also be higher). See what happens. The White Sox were in worse shape than the Indians pre-2012, as they were an aging team without a farm system, while the Indians are a young team without a farm system.
November 11, 2012 - 10:53 AM EST
I just can't agree that the Indians have a lot of low-level talent. They have zero top of the rotation pitching prospects anywhere in the system and have at most 3 position prospects (Lindor, Paulino and Naquin, maybe). They have no major league starting pitching either. This team can't "retool". There is no hope they suddenly find 3 starting pitchers and a LF, 1B and DH capable of moving them into contention for a total of $20mil. Also, keep in mind Detroit gets Vic back.

They have to rebuild, anything else is just denial. Make trades for starting pitching prospects, and use your good draft picks on starting pitching prospects. Be patient and hope for 2015.
Matt Underwood
November 11, 2012 - 10:50 AM EST
No way to accomplish both, this has been tried in 2001 and failed miserably. You have to commit one way or another or you will be stuck in neutral or worse.

Now way in hell should this team retool. They are awful. Tony I can't believe you would even consider that an option. I don't have the numbers in front of me but last year the offense scored something like 650 runs while the pitching gave up 850. There is no way they can match the pitching of Chicago, Detroit and maybe even KC. There is no help on the horizon in the minors and no money to go and get that much needed pitching.

This is not to mention the lack of middle of he order hitters.

If they try and retool this team will be stuck in medocrity for years to come. Probably stuck in the 75 to 80 wins a year.

They need to bite the bullet and do what is right. Follow the marlins model of years past - get young high ceiling players and let them play. Enough wasting time with 33 or 36 year old retreads that are just here to collect a pay check or are trying to hang around "for just one more year in the sun" (a la Jake Taylor).

There needs to be a serious change in philosohpy. The "blueprint for success" is not working. Change is needed from the top down and inside and out. Retooling is NOT an option.
November 11, 2012 - 10:24 AM EST
I believe that we can accomplish both. We have Cabrera's & CP's replacements in-house with hardly a downgrade.If we trade those two & Choo for ML ready SP's, add a Cody Ross or Melky C, with Chiz & Carrasco back at full strength, we're in business. With the ML team stocked with young guys, we don't need to worry about the upper minors as the lower minors guys will be ready in 2-3 yrs.
November 11, 2012 - 10:03 AM EST
I've never subscribed to the belief that a team needs to do this or this to gain such and such wins for the next season. There is a fine line there. While it looks daunting to have any chance to win 20 more games in 2013.....who thought they would win 11 more games in 2011 than they did in 2010 with the moves they made going into that year? Also, what if the current team is really a 75-80 win team that just really underperformed? THey were on track for 80-85 wins until the carpet got pulled out from under them in August. So maybe a new manager helps and maybe a few free agents and trades to bring stability helps more than we think as that was one thing the last two years this team really lacked.

I do agree that a rebuild is probably the best way to go about things right now. But I disagree that they should focus on lower level high upside prospects. There is just too much potential to swing and miss there, plus they have a ton in the lower levels now as it is. I want more balance and more players that can help in the next 1-2 years and go through the growing pains at the ML level so that in say 2014-2015 they are ready to rock. It is why I target almost nothing but upper level and ML ready talent in return for any players they trade.
November 11, 2012 - 9:42 AM EST
Maybe if the Indians are extremely skillful and lucky in retooling they can get to something like 82-80, but that's the high end, IMO. That would be a 14-win improvement. They just don't have the trade ammunition and free agent dollars to add 20 wins to last year's team, which is what it will take to match Detroit's win total of 2012.

They should go all-in on a massive rebuild project, adding as many high upside prospects to the low end of the farm system as possible, in addtion to the quality prospects already there. Such a plan would create a huge wave of low-cost talent that will hit the big leagues in the 2014-15 time frame and be under club control for several years after.

With so many low-cost young players arriving at the same time it would free up money to add a few quality veteran free agents to complete the roster.

Combine that with extending the contracts of Kipnis, Chisenhall, Brantley, Pestano, Allen, and Carrasco to 2016 or thereabouts and we have some real hope.

And we'll also have very high first round draft picks the next couple of years.

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