Last week Buster Olney reported that the Indians and Cardinals had talked or are talking seriously about a trade involving Asdrubal Cabrera. The Cardinals have a great team, one fully capable of winning , but they have one problem position: shortstop. Rafael Furcal had to have elbow surgery before the season and won't be back at all in 2013, and Pete Kozma hasn't hit a lick.
Now why would the Indians even think of doing this? Cabrera, even though he's having a down offensive season, is still among the best offensive shortstops in the game, and is under contract through next season. Mike Aviles could certainly fill in until Francisco Lindor would be ready in late 2014 or early 2015, but Aviles is not the offensive force that Cabrera can be. Well, the reason the Indians would even think about trading Cabrera is the impressive stable of young pitching that the Cardinals have. Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal, young pitchers that would be in many other club's rotations, are pitching out of the Cardinal bullpen, and so you have the basis for trade discussion. The potential deal would further fortify the starting pitching, something that's been an ongoing problem since 2008. A rotation with some combination of Justin Masterson, Zach McAllister, Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar, and whoever the Indians would get from the Cardinals for Cabrera could be good for quite a while, assuming the Indians could sign Masterson to an extension this winter with money freed up from the departures of Chris Perez, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Asdrubal Cabrera.
This kind of trade is not something that a club in contention normally would make. And for good reason, as it's not exactly a trade that will make a fanbase excited and the players on your club pumped for the stretch run. It's a trade that makes sense from a purely rational view, but when you account for the impact it would have on the various constituencies, it doesn't make sense at all. Even with the Indians on the cusp of a playoff run, the people of Cleveland aren't that interested. You could chalk that up to Cleveland not being a baseball town (which should now be obvious to even the most optimistic observer), but dealing Cabrera now is going to make people even less interested in going to Progressive Field no matter how eloquently you explain the deal (assuming it would be Cabrera for one of St. Louis' young arms).
It should be obvious by now that Francisco Lindor is the Indians' shortstop of the future, and with his recent promotion to Akron, that future isn't far away. Mike Aviles is not only here to be a utility infielder now, but to act as a transition between Cabrera and Lindor if the Indians get the right deal before the winter of 2014-2015. The Indians seriously talked about dealing Cabrera to Arizona last winter, and even if they don't trade him now, they will certainly listen to deals this winter, as not only would the Indians have an opportunity to fortify their middle infield depth after trading Cabrera (something they wouldn't be able to do easily now), but save payroll room as well (Cabrera's salary will jump from $6.5M to $10.0M in 2014).
So there are several reason to deal Cabrera now (the ability to grab one of the best young pitchers in baseball, clear payroll for next winter, and likely improve your defense), but also several reasons not to (weakens your offense, confuses the fanbase, won't be popular with the club). You can point to the Red Sox trading Nomar Garciaparra just months before winning the World Series in 2004, but the circumstances were different. Garciaparra was a pending free agent and would likely leave, and his defense had fallen off dramatically. Although Cabrera's long-term viability at shortstop has long been discussed here and elsewhere, his defense hasn't been that bad this season.
But Cabrera is the only way the Indians would be able to get one of the Cardinals' young arms, and if they wait until the winter to try to make the deal, they wouldn't have as much leverage. Other shortstops not on the market now would be available, and Cabrera's salary, not to mention a shorter contract length, would make him a less valuable trade chip. These are the types of decisions a mid-market club is always having to make, jettisoning an expensive but productive player for young talent as well as salary relief, all while trying to remain competitive. The Rays did this type of deal when they traded James Shields to the Royals, and the Indians themselves did this when they dealt Choo to the Reds in a three-team deal last winter. This potential Cabrera trade seems to fit this profile.
So what would you do if you were in Chris Antonetti's shoes? Would you pull the trigger on a deal (for example, sending Cabrera to St. Louis for Carlos Martinez), or would you not want the rock the boat right now?