So here we are, a game out of first place in late July. We are contending a year earlier than we had planned; however, the team's play over the past two months has put a big damper on our hopes. As the Indians' GM, I want to improve the team and give us as strong a chance to make the playoffs as possible, without crippling our farm system's ability to supply us with talent in future seasons. Even if we improve the team, we may not succeed this season, and if the farm system has been decimated, then I as the GM will really be in a pickle. On the other hand, you must make an effort to take advantage of the opportunities that you have, for you cannot count on the future. While we think this is the beginning of a window, 2007 was also supposed to be the beginning of a window, and we know what happened after that.
What to do?
Reliever Chad Durbin has a 6.75 ERA and has been bad pretty much all season. There is no longer any point in keeping him around, so I will DFA him and recall Josh Judy. He can help in non-pressure situations for now, but we are frequently in close games because of our solid pitching but poor offense. So he may be called upon from time to time in a big situation. Alex White will hopefully be ready by mid-to-late August. Either Judy or Frank Hermann may have to temporarily lose his spot on the 25-man roster until September; whoever gets sent back down for Alex will not be on the playoff roster. Mitch Talbot will be off the DL by then and on a rehab assignment; he'll be DFA'd to make room for White on the 40-man roster.
The team is desperately in need of another hitter to help Brantley, AstroCab, Hafner, and Santana in the middle of the lineup. Also, another starter would be very nice. It is hard to have faith in Fausto Carmona and David Huff, and while Josh Tomlin will probably give you 5 or 6 innings even in his bad starts, his good starts have been less frequent in the last two months.
The available hitters may include Carlos Beltran, Hunter Pence, Mike Morse, Laynce Nix, Kosuke Fukudome, Reed Johnson, B. J. Upton, Josh Willingham, Melky Cabrera, Jeff Francoeur, Ryan Ludwick, Coco Crisp, and Chris Ianetta.
Having decided to make our top prospects untouchable, I will not likely be able to land Beltran, Pence, or Morse. Besides, Beltran may refuse to come to Cleveland; Pence, while a nice player, is not worth Ed Wade's asking price, and it is doubtful that the Nationals will be willing to trade Morse. I am not all that interested in Fukudome, and B. J. Upton may be too much of a question mark anyway. He has potential but I don't want to overpay and end up getting stuck with Matt LaPorta's offensive "production" in the outfield.
So. What next? Johnson has a 914 OPS, including nearly 1.000 against left-handed pitching. But he's 34, a free agent after this season, has never had an OPS nearly this high before, and has an insane .414 BABIP. Buster Olney notes that teams won't offer much, so it shouldn't be hard to outbid the rest of the field. The Cubs might try to wait till last minute to find the best deal possible.
So here's my plan. First, I will go to the Nationals with a package for Laynce Nix and Jason Marquis. Nix is OPSing 791, including 838 against right-handers, and it is not BABIP-driven. Marquis has a 3.95 ERA, 3.73 FIP and 3.84 xFIP. He also has a .308 BABIP. He won't be a dominant force, but he ought to be able to stabilize the back end of the rotation.
Baseball Reference and Fangraphs calculate WAR differently. Unless I'm looking at something wrong, B-ref gives Nix a .8 WAR and Marquis .7, while Fangraphs gives them .7 and 1.7, respectively. I will need to check with my stathead underlings to explain this, and to see how they calculate the players' respective WAR. But to throw something out there, let's project Marquis to contribute .75 wins above replacement, while we will project Nix to contribute half a win. So we're picking up 1.25 wins. Both will be free agents after the season. Nix has around $250,000 left on his contract, Marquis around 2.75 million or so (quickly figuring this in my head). Wins cost about 5 mil on the free agent market, so the difference between the value of the wins that we're picking up, and the money remaining on each player's salary is 3.25 million. To get a better return, the Nats will eat 2 million of Marquis' salary, so we'll need to make up 5.25 mill with prospects.
Here is a quick guide to prospect values, with letter grades based on Sickels's rankings, and here is Sickels's rankings of our prospects prior to this season. Now, we've played half a season, and surely some things have changed. I would guess McAllister has moved up, Phelps has gone up, Weglarz, Knapp, and Gardner have gone down, etc.
Based on these rankings and the players' performances, I'll trade Zach McAllister, Austin Adams, and Felix Sterling for Jason Marquis and Laynce Nix.
This will mean the end of Travis Buck. He'll be DFA'd and Huff will be optioned to the minors to make room for the new arrivals.
Now I'm again looking for a right-handed bat. I'll offer Shelley Duncan, Giovanny Soto, and Bryan Price for Reed Johnson. If necessary, I'll offer a lower-level bat such as Carlos Moncrief or Tyler Cannon. Ezequiel Carrerra will be optioned to Triple A. Our new outfield will be Nix/Kearns, Brantley, and Johnson. Brantley will be the full-time center fielder. Johnson has played 20 games in center this year, so he can back up Brantley if needed.
In September, hopefully Grady and Choo will return to help in the stretch run. I will bring up some help, mostly for the bullpen, from Triple A. However, if I can avoid it, I won't cripple the Columbus team in its playoff hunt.
And if all goes well, Progressive Field will be filled with fans enjoying playoff baseball in October!