Tribe Happenings: To buy or sell, that is the question
Here are some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…
Buy or sell?
Right now the Indians are 6.5 games out of first in the AL Central and are only 3.5 games out of the second wildcard. They are very much in the mix for a playoff berth as they are one stretch of hot play over a three-four week span of getting right back into the thick of things. And really, they have yet to play their best baseball this season so it is very possible that good stretch of play is coming right around the corner.
Remember, last season they were 8.5 games out of first and 4.5 games out of the wildcard with a month to play. Then they got hot and finished with the best wildcard record and a game out of first.
But by now it has become painfully clear that the Indians inconsistency is going to make it very hard for them to make any kind of a serious push for the playoffs this season. The inconsistency in the lineup and rotation are two huge obstacles that will be hard to overcome with two months left in the season. They no doubt can get hot and make a run at things especially since there is still two months left in the season, but their play to date has put them in a bit of a hole they need to dig themselves out of – a muddy one which they keep slipping back to the bottom of every time they appear close to getting out of it.
Because of this the Indians front office is in a tough spot as they have to make a decision to buy or sell with the trade deadline just three days away. They sincerely believe they have the roster that can come together and that they have the man in Terry Francona to help guide them to another strong finish to the season like they did last year. At the same time, they also know that they have a lot of guys underperforming relative to their expectations coming into the season and that it is a tough task to overcome so many players not playing up to their capabilities no matter how any players you may acquire in a trade at this point.
This is not a team that is one player away from being a true championship caliber team. They have needs everywhere thanks to the poor performance of some regulars in the lineup and rotation. But because of contracts and the overall makeup of the roster, they have little room with which to play when going out and acquiring some help.
With that in mind, the general feeling I get from the fans is that the Indians should sell. Considering how the Indians are still in the thick of things even with their subpar play to date, some think they should consider buying. I think they are somewhere in the middle which is why we may see them do a little of both or do nothing at all.
Sometimes selling is not about what you get in return, it is about opening up a spot on the roster for another player or to clear salary. The Indians could save a few million dollars by trading any of Cabrera, Masterson or Axford, they could maybe get a mid-level prospect or two and their departure could pave the way for someone else to step in and help the team this season. Such a player could come from a secondary trade or from within with the elevation in role of another player on the 25-man roster or a promotion of someone from the minors.
It is important to note that while a trade of Cabrera would open the door for Francisco Lindor to get to Cleveland, such a trade would probably still leave Lindor at Triple-A Columbus and instead just elevate the role of Mike Aviles and Jose Ramirez. Lindor should spend the remainder of the season at Columbus when their season wraps up in early September and then join the Indians in September when rosters expand.
This is the perplexing situation the Indians find themselves in. Do they try and acquire a need when the options on the trade market are very limited to begin with? Do they sell off some pieces not expected to be back after this season and at least get something for them? Or is anything out there even better than what they already have and they just stick with the roster they have and hope that they turn things around?
When you don’t have much of anything to sell and you don’t have much from which to buy let along much to buy anything with, it seems the Indians will stand pat at the deadline and not do much at all. If they acquire anything to help the Major League team now, it will probably be more to help improve the bench and maybe a trade of Cabrera so that Aviles and Ramirez can continue to play shortstop until Lindor is ready to take over full time at some point next season.
The Indians can surely use an innings eating, reliable starting pitcher and a right-handed bat to help the offense even if only in a platoon situation against left-handed pitching. Whether or not they can get one of those needs and how they complete such a deal is another question entirely. Either way, with how wide open the American League is at the moment and the Indians in the mix as a buyer and seller, if nothing else it should make for some interesting discussion leading into the trade deadline.
So who goes?
The truth of the matter is the Indians really don’t have much to sell. They only have three players with expiring deals who make a significant amount of money and they are Asdrubal Cabrera, Justin Masterson and John Axford, but all three seem unlikely to bring much in return at this point. They have long term contracts that they might want to unload that they are tied down to with Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Ryan Raburn and David Murphy, but all are near impossible to deal at this point because of the poor performance by all to date.
There is just not much the Indians can sell off this roster right now which is why they are almost forced to continue to carry on the mantra that they believe that the guys they have in house can turn things around. Swisher, Bourn, Murphy and Raburn are not going anywhere right now, and the interest is cool on Cabrera, Masterson and Axford.
Masterson has had a very poor season marred by command, velocity and consistency issues. There has been concern about his health for most of the season and he is working his way back from a knee injury, and because of that his trade value is rather low. His value is much higher to the Indians at this point because he is already a sunk cost to them yet he can still impact the rest of the season if he suddenly finds himself.
Still, there are teams out there that are desperate for starting pitching and considering he has no medical reports on file with any arm related injuries this season, an acquiring team really would not know how healthy he is until they brought him in for a physical. Remember, an acquiring team cannot request an MRI or other tests to be done unless in the most extreme circumstances, and considering Masterson is a free agent after the season you can bet he would decline any such request as there is nothing good that could come out of it for him.
The Indians also have to weigh the pros and cons with trading Masterson or keeping him and offering him the qualifying offer in the offseason (and then possibly extending him). Right now it does not appear that the Indians would get much in return for Masterson considering his struggles this season, though by the same token they may not want to offer him the qualifying offer either so it may be best to get something for him now while they can.
From where I sit, unless the Indians get a favorable trade offer for Masterson, I think they should keep him and see how he finishes. He can almost be like a trade acquisition himself if he returns from the disabled list and pitches well. He’s been an inconsistent pitcher over the past few seasons, but his pattern suggests that next season will be a much stronger year and still maybe worth the gamble of offering him the qualifying offer.
The two players who I think could go are Axford and Cabrera, with Axford having a higher chance to be traded.
Even though Axford is signed for only one season, he is not eligible for free agency since he is well short of the six years of service time needed to become one. So as long as the Indians or an acquiring club offer him arbitration in the offseason, they would retain his rights for 2015. Considering his arbitration cost would be pretty expensive and he has been rather inconsistent as a backend arm the past three seasons, the Indians would probably not offer arbitration to him this offseason thus making him a free agent, so it would make sense to deal him now to a club looking to add experience and some power to the middle of their bullpen and potentially some long term control to boot. They have a lot of right-handed pen arms to fill in for him.
Cabrera has had a very mediocre season - actually a poor season by the standards set by Indians fans. But he has some value and still remains a top 10-12 shortstop in the league – something that shows just how bad the position is league wide. Knowing that, if the Indians really want to deal Cabrera they probably can since there are a lot of teams that would love to pick him up for the stretch run as a rental to fill in at shortstop, second base or even just be a utility player for them to strengthen their bench.
Red hot Santana
Carlos Santana has been on quite a tear of late. In his nine games since the All Star break he is hitting a blistering .415 with 6 HR, 13 RBI and 1.480 OPS and will probably be named the AL Hitter of the Week. But his hot stretch goes beyond that as he has really been red hot since June 1st.
Over the first two months of the season through May 31st, Santana hit a league worst .159 and also had 6 HR, 17 RBI and .628 OPS in 50 games. The performance with the bat was so bad that many fans clamored for him to be sent back to Triple-A or be dumped in a trade. But to his credit, even with his eary season struggles, he stayed within his approach and still found a way to get on base at a .327 clip and provided a little pop (.142 ISO).
Since June 1st, Santana is hitting .311 with 14 HR, 33 RBI and 1.042 OPS in 45 games. Since that date he is 11th in the league in batting average, 2nd in home runs (Jose Abreu – 15), 8th in RBI, 1st in walks (29), 1st in on-base percentage (.421), 4th in slugging percentage (.622) and 1st in OPS. You can make a case that for the past two months he has been the most dangerous hitter in the American League.
That hot streak has pushed Santana’s season numbers up to a .232 average and 20 HR, 50 RBI and .827 OPS in 95 games. While the batting average is rather low, he’s been as good as anyone from a production standpoint and his .371 on-base percentage is 11th in the league. That means only 10 players in the entire league make less outs than he does. To take it a step further, he is not far off from All Star Michael Brantley who has a .376 on-base percentage on the season and is an MVP candidate. Obviously, Brantley has been more consistent and rather clutch, but this just shows how Santana’s value is often overlooked because so many people simply look at his low batting average.
The bat has really taken off since the Indians abandoned the third base experiment and settled Santana into one position. Since June 1st he has only played first base and on occasion has been the designated hitter. That’s it. Compare that to the first two months of the season when he was bouncing around between third base, first base, catcher and DH, and you can see that it apparently had an effect on his play at the plate. Since moving to first base on a more full time basis he has looked rather solid there and if the decision were up to me that is the position I would play him at full time going forward. He can be an emergency third baseman or catcher, but he plays first base only and when he is not there he is the DH.
Some might say the Indians should look to unload the inconsistent Santana now while he is hitting well, but I don’t understand why anyone would want that. The Indians don’t have a hitter in the minors anywhere close to Santana’s production capabilities with the bat and they certainly can’t afford to pay one in free agency or acquire one in a trade. Add in the fact he is under control for the next three seasons at a total of $26 million, and he is a bargain for what he produces.
With Santana coming into his own with the bat in the cleanup spot and Michael Brantley solidifying himself as the team’s three-hole hitter for the foreseeable future, that’s a pretty good nucleus to have in the middle of the lineup. That said, they still need another bat to provide protection in the five-hole and need to figure out how so many other pieces fit in the lineup.
Outfielder Michael Bourn still looks to be a ways from returning from his most recent hamstring injury. He has been limited to riding on a stationary bike and other exercises, and this week is expected to increase the intensity of his rehab with his running. There is still no timetable of when he will even go on a minor league rehab assignment, and at this point it looks like he is at least 10-14 days from returning. … As of June 11th, third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall was hitting .393 with a 1.057 OPS, but since then he is hitting just .206 with a .604 OPS in 38 games. … Right-hander Justin Masterson is set to rejoin the rotation on Friday and face the Rangers at Progressive Field. The question remains as to how effective and how healthy he will be since he walked six batters and allowed five runs in 6.2 innings in his final rehab outing with Triple-A Columbus on Friday.
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.
I will say that I am not as confident in Kipnis in the leadoff spot, since I don't think he was the offensive force he showed last June, not even close. He was reportedly healthy the second half of last year, yet between the All-Star Break and the 10-game winning streak to end the regular season, he did virtually nothing offensively, why he didn't hit .800 OPS in any of those three months. Of course he was going to fall off from that 1218 OPS mark he hit last June, but that much? He still has not hit .800 OPS since, including in April of this year when he was reportedly healthy. If he isn't healthy now, then why he is playing, then? You have Ramirez who can put up his production and then some with more reps, never mind Ramirez's defense is considerably better - how many games have we lost because of Kipnis' defense at 2B? I can recall at least a few direct times, and can also think of a few other times where his poor defense had an indirect impact on our ability to win games (i.e. he made our pitching work harder to get outs that should have already been made), all the more reason why we find ourselves in a still-in-it, but not ideal, position in late July.
Trading Ramirez just because the Indians signed Kipnis to a 6-year contract would just compound what may have been a major mistake by the Indians- the only slight advantage Kipnis might have over Ramirez is power, and even that's debatable, since I'm not convinced he's the 20-30 HR guy some were claiming. Add in the fact Kipnis was originally an OF at Arizona State U, and that's all the more reason why you can make it work with both Kipnis and Ramirez in the lineup next year- shift Kipnis to LF, shift Brantley to CF, find a taker for Bourn, and insert Ramirez either at SS until Lindor arrives and then slide him to 2B or insert Ramirez at 2B if Lindor is ready at the start of next season (or a stopgap is inserted at SS until Lindor is ready). The infield defense would be vastly improved if/when Lindor and Ramirez are playing at SS/2B, not Cabrera/Kipnis, since neither of them is a strong defender, whereas Lindor/Ramirez are.
I agree that the Indians have a promising young core and the team is not that far away. If they can find a stop-gap in RF until Moncrief arrives or a permanent guy if Moncrief is not believed to be the long-term answer in RF (probably will be a late bloomer since he was a late concert from a P to an OF anyway), that could go a long way toward helping to shore up that offense. Whether that guy is inserted in the five-spot, or he's put after your four best hitters (Brantley, Santana, Chisenhall, Gomes, as I've said for a while now- why guys like Kipnis and Swisher should have been moved out of the middle of the order a few months ago, as I had been saying too), the offense would be improved and hopefully find the consistency it's been lacking this year, as much or even more so than last year.
Pitching although not great is not the problem. Scoring 3 or less in nearly half your games is.
Please dump cabby masty and ax now. Then pray someone bites on Bourn. Don't see any takers for swish. And try to move Murphy and Bourn. Some young guys will do just as well or better next year. If not then our farm stinks.
On a happier note, ignoring the signing bonuses, Brantley, Gomes, Chisenhall, Santana, Allen and Kluber are making a combined $7M and have accumulated 17.5 fWAR. Those guys will only make about $13-14M next year, too. Still a very good, cheap young core to build around.
arent you suppose to pay $30m for your middle of the order players?
1. Kipnis, 2B
2. Lindor, SS
3. Brantley, LF
4. Santana, 1B
5. FA/trade right-handed bat
6. Chisenhall, 3B
7. Gomes, C
8. Swisher, DH
9. Bourn, CF
Now whether they trade or sign a bat to plug into that 5-hole is iffy, especially since they would have to move one of Bourn or Murphy in order to clear the space to do it. Or perhaps they go out and try and nail down a good right-handed platoon bat. Either way, with Lindor in the 2-hole and Kipnis in the leadoff, that is a DRASTIC improvement as far as quality of at bats go from your tablesetters.
And in the rotation, you have Kluber, Bauer and Salazar as the three main pieces.....and then one of McAllister, House and Tomlin to round it out. The bullpen is solid.
If the Indians can find a veteran innings eater who is productive for the rotation next season...and can find a taker for Bourn or Murphy and use that lineup spot for a productive right-handed bat.....they could really improve. They really are only 2-3 players away. But they have to make the right moves to make it work.
I think this is just a step back to step forward, there's a good core intact and if the vets (Swisher / Bourn) can offer avg. to fringe yrs in 15 this club could be in position to really take a step forward. They'll need to add pitching, and I think they will.
These players might be able to pull it off yet.
I disagree, Peavy has had a track record of injuries. Peavy's ERA was 4.72 when he was traded leading the AL in HRs surrendered with 20. Masterson has logged innings, has not dealt with major injuries and is coming off a strong yr last yr. Peavy is making the remainder of his $14.5M salary with a player option for $15M next yr. Btw, Boston did pickup $3M of his remaining salary, the Tribe could do the same. Masterson is making less than $10M so he's a cheaper option and has proven more durable over his career this point.
The Tribe does have some leverage, with the QO they could use it on him, expecting him to accept it on a one yr make or break deal. Whether they plan to use it or not is another story. He should be in for a very strong season if he continues his career trend. The pitching mkt is thin, and Masterson will be much cheaper than Lester, Price or Lackey. Consider, the cost of Joakim Soria, and Huston Street both controllable CL. Obviously, SP has more value and some teams value track record over current performance. A club could be inclined to push Masterson into the pen, believing he will pickup velocity, get healthy and maintain his high K rate.
Honestly, I think the Tribe will hold on too long before they move any of these guys and get potentially lesser returns in August then they could now.
He is the best OBP guy in the league just about. He replaces singles with walks so his batting average is irrelevant. His slugging % is right there with career norms anyway.
Completely under appreciated offensively.
Don't see the point in trading Masterson, however I think it's nearly a no brainer to trade Cabrera for whatever they can get. I would then start Ramirez at short as I think it would help show the talent he has and would enhance his value as a trade piece in the future given Lindor/Kipnis are essentially locked in up the middle.
As for ACab, I'd ask for a Peavy type return too. If they can get a comp pk or two, that should be a target.
I think Axford could get a young rookieball arm in return.
I think the Tribe would get a better return if they are willing to pay the remaining salary on all the players.
I think your right on it. The Tribe should sell and target moves adding another comp pk or two. The a tribe could have a pretty significant pool. IF they don't target comp pks in deals, then they should focus on getting back young SP.
Fwiw, the Astros are supposedly willing to listen on Kuechel, McHugh and Jarrod Cossart. I think they want a bat / two in return.
it seems as though the drafting may be back on track but those idiots - grant & mirabelli - have been blowing their chances every year to bring in good prospects for the past 15 years.
How about Masterson to the Marlins for their comp A pick and then ACab to A's or Reds for another comp pick B. Then Axford for a rookie ball lottery ticket (simliar to Herrera for Rzep last year). The Indians would have 5 Top75 picks and 6 Top100 picks and a huge budget to play the draft to their liking.
The offense stinks. 6th in runs is not what it seems. Closing in on 50 games with 3 or fewer runs is awful. We have one legit hitter! One! Santana needs consistency. Has never hit over .268. And has a long swing. Jury still out on him. But tony is right. Nothing better in minors.
Last year was an aberration. An easy sked in sept coupled with a lot of better teams who had bad years got us in.
There is one wildcard spot still open. But too many teams in the way. And I don't see us passing all of them. Not this year. Dont see us passing tor,ny,kc, and sea. And now tb is right on our tail.
And get some new young blood up for next year. I want to see naquin and lindor in clev next year. And maybe another guy now in AAA.
Bourn, swish, raburn and murphy should be moved if possible. Tuff task though. And is Lonnie for real or a two month mirage? Kipnis for real or a two month mirage last may and June? The offense needs an infusion of young athletic players.
So sell. And get fans something to look forward to next year or attendance will be even worse next year. Rolling out the same old vets won't do it.
The offense really isn't bad. 6th in MLB in runs. It could always be better, but that's not what's keeping this team from contention. The biggest problem is the defense, which is 2nd worst in MLB and has cost the team about 6 wins, according to fangraphs' metrics. That's followed closely by the glaring need for another league average SP in the rotation. Getting one of those is going to cost a key farm piece or two, so we're better off just hoping Masterson figured it out.
1.5 points off each era the pitching will take care of itself. as for offense i wonder if tomlin would give us john wittingham. He is free agent at end of season and not overly expensive. he could platoon a dh rf and even lf with brantley moving to center against left handers would provide a presense in the middle of the order and cross our fingers that one of the two pitchers can duplicate Ubaldo in 2013, as for kazmir, bauer i believe is a rh version.
this starting rotation...
you have to sell. no question about it.
ACab and Ax are obvious trade candidates as you note.
At some point the Tribe is going to pay alot to dump Swisher, because Santana is playing him out of first base, and he is a useless DH if his performance doesn't improve. There is only one year left on Murphy's contract. I foresee Murphy and Swisher being platooned in RF, and both will be gone in 2016 -- which is when the Tribe will pay up to say goodbye.
Other than the ones you've mentioned, Ramirez has some trade value, as does Roberto Perez.....but Perez has performed well enough to keep to back up Gomes, and DH.
Tribe hasn't enough cash to pursue high end FAs and "elite pitchers" so the management should focus on prospect evaluation, drafting, and acquisition by trade. It would also be appropriate to promote more of the minor league players sooner rather than letting them stay in AAA until 24 or 25. It's not as if there is AllStar talent blocking them at most positions.
Here's a fun one for you: in 41 home games, Santana is hitting .178/.298/.342. in 54 road games, .277/.426/.548. Go figure. Maybe he doesn't like playing in an empty stadium? There's the .986 OPS with men on base, vs .689 with bases empty, though we still hear plenty of Tribe fans talk about how he's not a "true" cleanup hitter/RBI guy.
Very strange year for CSan. I'm glad to see him finally having some success.
I'm not going to scream and shout about any moves the Tribe FO should make. Truth is, they're in a position where they basically can't make a move. To be buyers for a guy like Price, Lester, etc., they'd have to give up core pieces of the future, which is foolish for a team that's barely in contention. As Tony said, they really don't have anything to sell. No one is going to give anything significant for any of them. Best to stand pat and hope for lightning in a bottle in the final 9 weeks and grab a playoff spot.