In evaluating the Wood deal there was some dissent and disagreement in whether it was a good signing by the Indians. Kyle Boddy over at Driveline Mechanics wrote up a strong argument against the deal in his analysis at his blog. One argument brought up by Boddy and some others was, "why not spend the money on a guy like Rafeal Furcal?", instead of a risky reliever. A valid argument if looking at the Kerry Wood signing in a vacuum. But in a vacuum, we are not. My assumption at the time of the Wood signing was that Indians GM Mark Shapiro had targeted a player that A.) Filled a a specific need, back-end bullpen, and B.) Was in his opinion likely to consider signing with Cleveland. Further, he would have concluded that if the goal was to add to the back-end of the bullpen and improve our overall depth at the position, and more specifically improve the production we receive out of the pitchers most often pitching the 7-9 innings of a game, that the free agent reliever market offered the best route to achieving this.
There are two assets the team can use to improve itself heading into next season, money and players currently under team control. And two mostly distinct markets to spend in (free agent market and the trade market). Spending in one does not preclude spending in the other. So why not Rafeal Furcal instead of Kerry Wood? Well because of Mark DeRosa. There doesn't appear to be as many back-end bullpen pitchers available in the trade market as there have been in the free agent market. Whereas the Indians were able to find a player in the Rafeal Furcal realm through the trade market. Identifying where the availability in the two markets is key for this front office under the financial constraints of a mid-market franchise.
So in acquiring both Wood and DeRosa, Shapiro gave roughly $15.5 million in '09 salary, $10.5 million in '10, vesting (based on games ended) option for $11 million in '11, minor league prospects Jeff Stevens, John Gaub, and Chris Archer. I see no major prospects here, nor do I see any debilitating long term contracts. If you can assume that the Indians were going to acquire a back-end bullpen pitcher this offseason (something that some might argue they shouldn't in the old "closers aren't born closers" argument, but this is another debate altogether, the team was going to add a back-end arm), then you can see how going the free agent route while using the trade route for the infielder was the smart choice. Signing Furcal (or Hudson for that matter) would have forced us to trade for the bullpen help, and the cost of closers in trade (following availablility dictating cost in prospects) would have been higher. The Valbuena deal only further strengthens this point, as best infielder value was through trade market this year.