(By the way, this FanPost has almost nothing to do with Drew Pomeranz, other than the fact that I won't trade him.)
So: I’m GM of the Cleveland Indians, and with five days left before the trading deadline I am absolutely sweating through my breathable polos. I probably wasted the better part of two weeks haggling with men like Ed Wade and Andrew Friedman for players that are going to end up being far more expensive than they’re worth to my team. And during that time, the likelihood that the 2011 Indians just aren’t a playoff team grew closer and closer to reality.
My position is one that most of us seem to share and baseball writers have hinted at: The Indians aren’t going to break the bank this year. The targeted move would appear to be one that costs little in terms of prospects, especially prospects reasonably close to contributing. This is not to say the Indians aren’t going for it; they very much are. Shapiro recently said that as promising as the foundation looks, he doesn’t want to make the mistake of assuming this the beginning of a window. I’m paraphrasing, but he was very direct that a team must take advantage of every opportunity available to make the playoffs. Not only has history suggested that overmatched teams can still make deep playoff runs, but there’s a huge long-term financial incentive for a low-revenue team to win this division.
Since my boss seems to agree with me, this is how I view the situation as GM: The Indians don’t look that great. Their offense looks terrible to abysmal often enough that even the slightest mistake from the pitching staff almost guarantees a loss. BUT let’s look at some of these recent losses: 4-2, 3-0, 7-5, 2-1, 6-5, 5-4, 7-5, 6-4, 3-1, 1-0, 4-3, 4-3, 8-7, and so on. That goes back to June 20th. I skipped only four losses in that stretch, games that we lost by 4 or more runs. My point is that in most cases, we’re not getting blown out. Our starting pitching bounced around from very good to okay, but they’ve combined with the bullpen to keep us in just about every game. And in several of these losses there’s been a critical inning or two with a runner(s) on base that just never came around to score. I think the frustrating nature of these close losses have a negative impact on our objective take on the team, since we look at them as extremely deflating instead of recognizing how near we were to a victory.
One hitter, one just good enough hitter could have changed the outcome of a lot these losses. I’m not saying we win them all, but imagine adding someone to this top-heavy lineup and suddenly, Austin Kearns or Orlando Cabrera aren’t batting with Hafner and Santana on base. Everyone gets bumped down in the order and one poor hitter gets removed entirely. The Uptons and the Pences of the world are not only too expensive, but the move will look terrible if this team truly isn’t good enough to play in October. Just a little boost is, in my opinion, all we need. The Indians ARE good enough to play in October, but they should protect themselves in the event that the Tigers or White Sox are better.
So, after laying that lengthy foundation, who am I targeting? I’ve shouted Melky Cabrera from the mountaintops for weeks now, and yet for whatever reason it doesn’t seem like any of the national baseball writers are talking about him. Granted, he’s on that second or maybe even third tier of available outfielders and understandably many GMs are probably focusing on Beltran, Upton, and Pence (all the more reason to target him before the big brothers in the playoff race miss out on their shiny first and second options). It’s possible that Dayton Moore doesn’t want to trade Melky, but then why isn’t anyone reporting as much? I’m sure he can be had for the right offer; the Royals still have plenty of holes to fill and Melky currently mans a center field that Lorenzo Cain seems primed to take over very soon. I think a trade makes sense for both parties. For the Indians’ benefit, Melky is only making a total of $1.25 million this season (so, maybe $700K on our books?) and is a free agent next year. He’s also 26, and assuming he continues to perform well through 2011 he probably presents an attractive option for extension.
Is he worth it? Melky’s value in New York varied from average to passable, and last year a lot of his reputation went out the window when the Braves acquired him and he managed a whopping .671 OPS. I don’t know what he’s done differently this year, but I’ve read his conditioning has vastly improved. Maybe it’s a fluke, but I’ll point out again that he’s only 26. It’s not exactly bizarre that he’s having a career year (3.3 WAR) at this age. And since I first gassed up the Melky Bandwagon, he’s actually improved: His OPS+ is now 121 (Pence’s is 132). He has 14 steals, 12 home runs, 25 doubles, and a triple-slash of .300/.336/.457. He’s a switch-hitter who is OPSing .763 against LHP and .807 against RHP. Like I said, he’s actually improved over the course of the season; his OPS over the last one-month span is .963. His .327 BABIP is pretty high, but especially considering his last month I’m willing to bet any regression (if this isn’t the true Melky) isn’t coming soon, and even a regressed Melky is one of our best hitters.
The Royals don’t have to trade Cabrera, but overpaying for him still shouldn’t come anywhere close to the price tag of any top-tier outfielders. I’ve had a lot of trouble coming up with a fair offer for him, but since he’s still just a rental on paper I think 2+ months of Melky Cabrera are worth Zach McAllister and a peripheral-rich minor league reliever. Bryson, possibly.
I would also love to get a starter, but a hitter was definitely priority #1 and a starter is not entirely necessary. If you’re a fan of one-stop shopping, Bruce Chen is a lefty on a one-year $2 million deal. But he seems to get hit pretty hard, allowing a .270/.333/.438 line to hitters and his xFIP is more than a run higher than his 3.30 ERA. He has just okay peripherals, and seems average at best. The only reason I bring him up is because it might be worth it to throw in a PTBNL in the Melky deal to get him. He represents about as little of an investment as you can make with the chance of getting something passable in return.
The pitcher I really want is Aaron Harang. Kuroda is the better of the two. I’ll come right out and say that. But I’ll stress once more that the goal here is to get a 2011 contributor and sacrifice as little of the potential 2012 contributors as possible. Harang is earning $3.5 million this year and has a mutual option in 2012 for $5 million, so once again I’m looking at someone that can give us an upgrade beyond 2011. He sports a 4.04 xFIP, striking out over 6 batters per 9 but walking just under 3. His groundball rate has risen this year which seems to be behind his lowered home run rate. I’ll be honest: I wasn’t a fan until I really started paying attention to him in the last week, but in 2011 there’s really nothing wrong with his performance. There are a number of C+ or low-level B- arms that match up with his value. Clayton Cook?
That’s my plan. Melky Cabrera, Aaron Harang. Both realistic options for 2012, and more importantly valuable additions to a 2011 that is stronger than a lot of us give them credit for. And not a single top prospect gets touched (See? Eh? Don't worry, love Drew Pom? No?). If they aren’t enough, we’re ready to compete as strong as ever next year. Tear it apart, you bastards.