The Indians may or may not be looking to trade Asdrubal Cabrera this off-season. He's far better than any shortstop available through free agency, which would seem to make him a valuable commodity. However, a new medical report would seem to be shrinking the market for him.
Monday afternoon St. Louis Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak passed along some news that should not make Indians fans happy, announcing that shortstop Rafael Furcal had an MRI this morning and the ligament damage in his elbow has healed completely, meaning he should be fully ready by Spring Training. The Cardinals had been talked about as one of the most likely destinations for Asdrubal Cabrera and St. Louis' wealth of pitching prospects made them an appealing trade partner. It's possible they'll still look to upgrade, but it's far more likely they'll be content to have Furcal back and will look to fill other needs instead, taking them out of the mix for Cabrera.
As I said, Cabrera is a much better player than any of the free agent shortstops, and he would be an upgrade for the majority of the teams in baseball. Cabrera is also just now entering what could be his prime years (he turned 27 just last week) and is signed for a very reasonable total of just $16.5 million over the next two years, probably less than half he's been worth over the last two years.
Of course, that doesn't mean there will be 28 other teams knocking on the Indians' door. Looking around, the Cardinals were one of probably just five realistic trading partners, meaning there are now only four. As I see things, here are the teams that MIGHT be a good fit for a Cabrera deal:
Arizona Diamondbacks: They acquired shortstop Cliff Pennington via trade less than a month ago, but that may not mean they view him as their man there in 2013 or beyond. After all, Pennington simply isn't very good (he had a nice 2010, but as averaged just 1.1 bWAR over the last two years, compared to 3.8 for Cabrera). Many still believe they're hoping to find a better option at shortstop. Meanwhile, many also still expect them to move Justin Upton, who had a disappointing 2012. I'm on record as being in love with Upton. I think he'll be better than Cabrera (or most other MLB players) over the next few years, and enough better to justify the added salary. It might very well make more sense to trade Cabrera for prospects (and of course, Arizona has those too), but Upton could also be traded for prospects himself, he's signed through 2015 and will still be plenty young in eight months or a year.
Boston Red Sox: As westbrook mentioned in Monday's notes, the Boston Globe reports the Red Sox are interested in Cabrera. Boston traded away a lot of talent this season, sending Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett west. Does anyone really expect them to be in a full rebuild though? At one time Jose Iglesias was seen as the man of the future, but he hasn't developed into the player they hoped for (not yet anyway) and other options are at least a couple years away. Boston has strong talent and depth in the minors, and their revenue streams are too high for their fans to mind trading future talent for NOW talent, which could make them a good fit.
Oakland Athletics: After trading away Pennington and letting Stephen Drew walk, the A's don't have a real shortstop at the moment. Adam Rosales may be atop their depth chart, but he's going to be 30 next year and has never gotten even 300 PA in a big league season. The A's made a surprising run to the playoffs his season and ownership and Billy Beane may be willing to pay a moderate amount for a solid upgrade so that they can better attempt to defend their A.L. West title, especially as it would be only a two year commitment (and one they could probably move themselves if things didn't work out).
Tampa Bay Rays: Ben Zobrist played shortstop at the end of this season and if that's where Tampa sees him in 2013 than they won't be in the market for anyone else. The Rays are a tough team to get a read on though, because B.J. Upton will be gone, and it remains to be seen how they'll shuffle their players around. Zobrist could end up back at second base or in the outfield, in which case Cabrera might appeal to them, especially because while their pitching and defense are strong, their offense is lacking. The Rays minor league system has lots of talent that's seen as two or more years away, meaning that if they want to remain competitive in the A.L. East in 2013, they may need to go outside their own system. Meanwhile, strong prospects who probably won't be ready til 2015 might be right up the Indians' alley.
It probably doesn't make sense for the Indians to hold onto Cabrera unless they're willing to sign a couple free agents and make a push to compete in 2013 and 2014, and there haven't been any signals that such moves are on the horizon. True, Cabrera will still have value at the 2013 deadline and again next off-season, but not as much as he has now. Losing St. Louis and all it's wonderful pitching prospects is a tough blow, but I hope the Indians are in contact with all four of these teams in order to find the strongest return package out there.