an epic survey in six parts
|1||The Starters by Ryan|
|2||The Infield by Jay|
|3||Wait. What? by Andrew (afh4)|
|4||The Prospects by Adam (APV)|
|5||The Outfield + Pronk by Ryan|
|6||The End by Jay|
So who's left, anyway? Well, let's see what Jayson Stark is saying ...
With CC Sabathia and Blake now dealt away, the one player the Indians are now most actively marketing is Paul Byrd.
Okay ... duh. Of course they're most actively marketing Byrd — he's the only guy left in his walk year, i.e., the only guy whose remaining contract is utterly pointless on a noncontender's roster. But Ryan already talked about Byrd — don't you have any other info for us, Jayson?
Clubs that have spoken with them say they're willing to listen to talks on anybody on the roster and are "open to anything."
Mm, really? Open to anything? Why am I skeptical of this?
THE CATCHERS: Some interesting things have happened with catchers. Victor Martinez went down last month, perhaps showing some signs of his impending thirtyness, or his aggressive use over the past few seasons, or both, or (in fairness) neither. Kelly Shoppach stepped in and immediately started showing what we here and the front office have been saying for two years: This guy is a big-league starting catcher, more than reasonably robust at the plate and outstanding behind it. At the same time, we have the Yankees' starting catcher going down for the season, and the Red Sox starting catcher just plain sucking — and both teams are in the heat of a three-team fight for the AL East, and both teams are laden with exactly the knid of ready-for-the-majors, high-ceiling players we need.
Could one of these teams use a well-healed super-backup — or, dare we even ask, a new superstar starter? If the Indians were really open for anything, could we even be looking at a Johanesque bidding war, you know, before that bidding war dried up into nothing? It's a startling thought, mostly because it's not clear why it isn't happening. Oh, sure, Victor has yet to come back from the DL, so in that sense it's not an issue. But you have to wonder, just how far could Shapiro's PR-immune decision-making go? Would he seriously have entertained the notion of Victor Martinez, among the very coriest of his core players, willfully shipped off to wear pinstripes?
If not Victor, why not Kelly? Under contract for three more seasons, about to hit arbitration. Oh, sure, the Indians may finally be on the verge of giving Shoppach a substantial share of starts behind the plate — recognizing perhaps belatedly that if Garko's upside is only 100 points of OPS higher, that's not a good reason to put him in the lineup over Shoppach (with Victor playing 1B). We don't know how ready the club is to go in that direction, but if they're not, wouldn't it be kind of dumb not to sell high on Shoppach?
THE RELIEVERS: It's a little strange to me that this topic has generated any significant debate, because there's one big, giant, obvious reason why we're not trading any of our relievers: They suck.
Tempting as it is to leave it at that, I'll delve further. Relievers are funny. They're scarce, and yet nobody really wants to pay all that much for one except for Wayne Krivsky, and his ass got fired. So when you've got one who's pretty good, or might be pretty good, and who isn't in a walk year, it's tough to part with him, because they're scarce, and because you wouldn't get all that much anyway. And we already dumped all the ones who would have been free agents.
Rafael Perez and Jensen Lewis, they're special, or they seem like they could be special, or anyway they used to be special, or they sure used to look like they were special, and who the hell knows, anyway? Is someone knocking down our door with some big offer for these guys? No? Well, then, we're not going to just give them away, are we? And is there a king's ransom, or even a minor duke's ransom, waiting out there for Mastny or Mujica or Slocum? Somehow I doubt it.
So that leaves Betancourt and Kobayashi. Why anyone thinks we could get more than a bag of balls for Betancourt, I have no idea. Kobayashi, maybe, but this is actually beside the point. The last couple of seasons, Shapiro has tried to stockpile bullpen depth, and he's still at it, sneaking a young, live arm into each of this month's two major deals. That's one kind of reliever he likes to stockpile.
The other type of bullpen acquisition he likes is a veteran with a history of past late-inning success, perhaps with some recent difficulties driving down his market price, and yet someone for whom there's some reason to believe might just bounce back and be effective. Who fits this exact profile, going into the 2009 season? Betancourt and Kobayashi, that's who. And what kind of contract does Shapiro like to sign with a reliever of this profile? A reasonably small one-year deal with a club option for a second year. And what's the contractual status of Betancourt and Kobayashi going into the 2009 season? Each one has a reasonably small one-year guarantee for 2009 with a club option for 2010.
So you see, if Shapiro dealt either one of these guys, he'd just have to go out and find another guy just like him. I personally am not at all eager to see the club sell low on Betancourt, nor do I think we have any depth to deal from in the bullpen in general.
SO WHAT, THEN: Well ... not much. We will get Byrd through revocable waivers and make a deal next month — though after his sterling start last night, maybe some team will decide to move aggressively on him and not risk a blocked waiver situation. It shouldn't take much. But as for "open to anything," I somehow doubt it, because the consistent thread across this whole series is that it's hard to imagine getting equal value out of anyone other than our walk-year free agents. Consider:
- We traded three months of C.C. Sabathia for six years of a blue-chip hitting prospect, plus two or three other good prospects. How could we get equal value for Cliff Lee, who has almost five times as many starts left under his current contract as Sabathia? Can we get 24 years of a blue-chip prospect, plus 10 to 12 other good prospects? Of course not.
- We traded two months of Casey Blake for six-years of another terrific prospect — a guy who instantly becomes not only our top catcher prospect, but arguably also our best 3B prospect and our best skill-position prospect overall — plus another guy with possible value. Blake is a solid contributor, not a star, and if he's worth all that, what is a guy like Peralta worth, under contract through 2011?
- And in the extreme example, Grady Sizemore, who would today be projected as high as $100 million in on-field value (per the "MORP" valuation system) through the end of his current contract in 2012, added to his marginal contract value of around $75 million. Even if we compelled a team to take Hafner and his contract along with Sizemore and his, how in the world is any team supposed to come up with another $140 million in real value to send back to us, while sending only prospects?
It's tempting to blame the lack of more significant, team-shaping moves on a lack of vision and creativity on the part of our front office — if they're so damned smart, this line of thinking goes, then why can't they pull off those cool, out-of-the-box, seismic-shift trades like Billy Beane does? That topic bears more exploration, but truthfully it belongs in the offseason, not at the trade deadline. In-season, by far the best trade value lies in moving walk-year guys to contending teams for top-tier minor leaguers — you're trading a guy out of a low-leverage situation into a high-leverage situation, not unlike trading an out-of-position CF to another team where he actually can play CF.
Just as a relief ace is most valuable when pitching in the most high-leverage innings, the best players are most valuable in the most high-leverage games, i.e., in a tight pennant race. On the flip side, games beyond the current season are just as high-leverage for the Indians as they are for the current season's contenders, so for players who aren't in their walk years, there's a much smaller value difference to be leveraged. It is hard to overestimate the value of an established major leaguer who is still well within his peak years and under a team-friendly contract — a description that fits almost all of the Indians' most desirable remaining players. That type of player doesn't get traded a whole lot, because it's hard to trade guys like that except for other guys like that — and you're not going to get one of those players when your trading partner is in a pennant race.
So this ultimately becomes a topic for the offseason — how much reshaping does this team need to do for 2009, and does this front office have the creativity to do it? Having assembled a club chock full of "the right guys," Shapiro has rarely shown the emotional detachment to move one of those guys when he didn't have to, with the notable exception of Coco Crisp. And by "when he didn't have to," I mean when the player wasn't in his walk year. Moving a guy in his walk year doesn't take fortitude, it just takes not being an idiot. (Yes, I know — cue the long list of idiots, led by the Orioles.)
So we don't really know how capable Shapiro is of moving one of his guys — a guy like Martinez, Peralta or Lee — and it seems unlikely that he seriously considered moving Casey Blake last offseason, or Sabathia for that matter. After all, it's one thing to be "listening to everyone" and "open to anything" — which may be merely an Intellectually Correct posture — but it's quite another thing to actually move significant players when it isn't the obvious call.
Again, that question is more for the offseason. For the moment, we don't get to trade everyone, as satisfying a thought as that might be. We only get to trade Paul Byrd.