Trade Everyone! -- the starters

Most fans at this point are sick of the entire Indians roster, and who can blame us?  I don't know if everyone on the roster is "on the table" for trades, but a part of me would like to think that there is no option for improving the roster that Shapiro wouldn't consider.  That nobody is untouchable.

In theory, nobody is untouchable.  With the right offer of players and/or money, there is no player in the game who can't be had in a trade.  It's just a question of making the right offer.  So why not consider it?  Today, the starters:

PAUL BYRD

  • PRO - Huge return would be expected for a well established pitcher with sub-4.00 ERA over the past 1.5 seasons, all in the AL, very reasonable contract, "veteran leadership."
  • PRO - Much more likely to be worse rather than better over the next 1-2 seasons (ages 36-37).
  • PRO - Clears good chunk of payroll for 2007.
  • CON - Production is reasonably priced for 2007 and difficult to replace.
  • CON - Hurts negotiating position with other free agents; Byrd took less money to come to Cleveland, trading him away can't be done lightly.
CLIFF LEE
  • PRO - Truly massive return would be expected for proven AL lefty starter, not eligible for free agency for three more years, no guaranteed money, no trade restrictions.
  • PRO - Moving him would shake up team, send message through organization and fan base that all bets are off.
  • PRO - Overvalued in the market due to strong run support and ridiculous Cy Young voting, performance doesn't match reputation.
  • PRO - About to turn 28 and has not shown significant signs of development.
  • PRO - Hasn't been inclined to sign favorable contracts.
  • PRO - It's not like we're going to run out of lefties.
  • CON - Performance has been reliable if not terrific; certainly better than the Loiazas of the world.
  • CON - Is in his prime and could still break out one of these years.
  • CON - Salary will be a bargain for at least another year or two.
C.C. SABATHIA
  • PRO - Young and established lefty power pitcher viewed as ace-in-waiting, would generate a higher return than any other Indians pitcher, possibly one impact young player and one impact prospect.
  • PRO - Injury risk becomes someone else's problem.
  • PRO - Would clear significant payroll through 2008.
  • PRO - Would allow team to refocus on 2008-2010.
  • CON - May well be entering the best years of his career.
  • CON - Production probably can't be replaced at less than twice the price.
  • CON - A signature player, fans would interpret as a step back.
JEREMY SOWERS
  • PRO - Could be used as part of a package to attract an even better pitching prospect ... e.g., Belliard and Sowers for Scott Elbert or Jason Hirsh.
  • PRO - May be at the peak of his value now, had great ERA in the minors but bad peripherals.
  • PRO - Not likely to be a key contributor in 2007, not expected to be a top starter at any point.
  • CON - Broad consensus of experts says he'll be a good major league pitcher, has succeeded at every level and is young enough to keep developing.
  • CON - Will play for minimum salary through 2009, bargain money through 2011 or so.
JAKE WESTBROOK
  • PRO - Again, huge return for solid veteran pitcher under reasonable contract through 2007.
  • PRO - Particularly attractive for teams with strong infield defense.
  • PRO - Only under contract through 2007 anyway.
  • PRO - Soon to turn 29, may be at his peak right now.
  • PRO - Not well suited to Indians' uncertain infield defense picture.
  • CON - Probably is undervalued in the market ... Westbrook has been Top 15 in FIP each of the past three seasons, but the ERAs are less impressive and stable.
  • CON - Very difficult to replace his production in the market, Guthrie probably not up to the job.
  • CON - Should flourish if we can improve defense.
  • CON - Seems likely to sign favorable contract extension as Sabathia did.
IN GENERAL:  For all except Sowers, the best case for a trade is the massive return we'd get, and the best case against is the difficulty of finding even solid starting pitching on the market for less than $8 million, which is the most salary that can be cleared in this deal.  Of these five, I believe the best case can be made for Cliff Lee, in part because he's represents probably the second-highest possible return after Sabathia and is likely to be the most overvalued.

That said, other than the Sowers/Belliard type of scenario described above, any trade of a starter is going to weaken the team's basic base of talent for 2007, unless the plan is to sign or trade for a top starter in the offseason.  That would seem a very tough proposition to rely upon -- unless the team is willing to put siginificant dollars there, spending more to replace one of these starters than it would have cost to keep him.  The value proposition becomes this:  Are the players we'd get back worth the extra money we'll have to spend to replace this pitcher's production?

With no other closer or setup men seeming likely to fall out of a tree, it's likely that Fausto Carmona is going to stay in the bullpen.  Jason Davis seems unlikely to get another shot at the rotation.  That leaves only Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Stanford to join Sowers at the back of the 2007 rotation if we trade one of the other four.  Not very appetizing.

On the other hand, the market for starting pitching is extremely thin, made moreso by the fact that all National League pitchers are now viewed with suspicion.  The opportunity to extract a king's ransom -- "your best young pitcher AND your best young outfielder" -- may be hard to resist.  

FORGET 2006 ... AND MAYBE 2007, TOO:  Another consideration is the basic question of whether it makes sense to try to contend in 2007 at all.  Most of our core players are under contract until 2009 or later, while the Tigers and White Sox will find it harder to field a world-beating team more than one more year.  At the same time, we seem to have several almost-rookies who may well need a full year in the majors to adjust (Marte, Garko, Sowers, Gutierrez), and another round of exciting prospects who are still a year away (AstroCab, Miller, Kouzmanoff, Crowe).  Would it possibly make more sense to let the White Sox, Twins and Tigers fight a war of attrition next season, while we take a half-step back and reload for 2008?

And if so ... shouldn't we think about trading one of these starters?

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