I want to start by saying I am not ready to write off 2014. The Indians are only three games below .500, and are hanging around playoff contention despite lackluster performances from some should-be key players. The defense has been atrocious, but could well improve. 2014 is not over.
But the team is 7.5 games behind Detroit in the Central and 5.5 out of the second wild card slot, with four teams to jump over (and four others within another three games behind them). Another couple of rough weeks and we could find ourselves 10 games back in the division, looking up at eight teams in the Wild Card race.
So, what if the Indians are sellers ahead of the trade deadline? A few assumptions:
- I don't think the Indians make any trade that makes them worse in 2015. That isn't to say anyone they acquire would be able to help immediately, but they aren't going to punt next year.
- Only teams closer to the playoffs than the Indians should be considered "buyers" right now.
- Any and all relievers are tradable, except for maybe Cody Allen. None though (again, except for Allen) would bring much of a return. Thus, I'm not going to worry about them here.
Looking at the 40-man roster, there are a few players will real value, but whom it makes no sense to trade. Jason Kipnis, Yan Gomes, Lonnie Chisenhall, Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley, Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer make up the core of the team, and there is no way we'd get a return for them that makes sense.
Others, like David Murphy, Ryan Raburn, Mike Aviles, and Justin Sellers, are not key cogs, but they also aren't going to bring much value, and moving them also wouldn't change the team's financial or competitive outlook.
That leaves four players who make sense to focus on: Asdrubal Cabrera tops the list, as he is likely gone at season's end anyway. Justin Masterson is closing in on free agency too. Meanwhile, Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher carry big contracts that I am sure the team wouldn't mind moving.
Cabrera's days in Cleveland are numbered. If the team is competing, he likely sticks around, since it appears Francisco Lindor is not ready, but if the team falls out of contention though, he could be traded. And while he hasn't been a superstar, he is an above average player at shortstop by both fWAR (14th) and wOBA (12th).
Looking around, there are six teams I could see as a fit for Cabrera: Seattle, Los Angeles, Oakland, Pittsburgh, and Miami.
Brad Miller may be playing the Mariners out of this market with a hot June.
The Dodgers have too many outfielders, while the Indians are getting little from right fielder. Hanley Ramirez is regularly banged up and Juan Uribe is a good bet to be worse than Cabrera the rest of the season. They could play Hanley at 3B and Cabrera at SS. The problem is, I am not sure Cabrera over Uribe is enough of an improvement to force Ramirez to a position he does not want to play.
Jed Lowrie has been pretty poor for the A's, and (like the Tribe) they have an uber-prospect at shortstop (Addison Russell) who is not quite ready. If they want to upgrade the position for a playoff run, Cabrera could be a good fit. Their minor league system has a number of intriguing guys who are not too valuable to be a fit for Cabrera. Russell is a non-starter, but there are second-tier guys who could fit. They also have a lot of starting pitching. It would take more than Cabrera to bring Drew Pomeranz back to Cleveland, but Oakland does have some pitching to move
In Pittsburgh, Jordy Mercer is not a quality SS, putting them in need. The problem is their minor league depth is at OF and C, not big needs for our system. They also have some solid pitching prospects, but the interesting ones are too valuable for Cabrera alone.
That leaves Miami. Adeiny Hechavarria has been quite bad, and the team is a surprise contender, that could be looking for upgrades that don't commit it to longterm spending.
The Indians should be able to get something semi-interesting for Cabrera, should they decide to move him.
The other three players would be harder to move. Everyone could use a starting pitcher, but Masterson's performance this year has been poor, and a knee injury may be at least partially to blame. I'm not sure many teams want a 3-month rental with a balky knee and decreased velocity. The Indians could hold on to him and make a qualifying offer, meaning any trade has to net them more value than a first-round pick. I think that is unlikely.
That said, Pittsburgh could be a fit, and you have to wonder if a Cabrera/Masterson combo package could bring back a really nice prospect in return.
The Indians would probably love to move Swisher, but he has been terrible and has a lot of money left on his contract. If the Indians learn something they can blackmail another team's owner with, they might be able to unload Swisher (it would depend on how damning the information is).
Bourn would probably be a good fit in a lot of places, but how do the Indians move him without creating a hole in 2015? Unless they believe Tyler Naquin is ready to play come Opening Day, the only way trading Bourn works for 2015 is if the return includes an outfielder who is ready to start. What team is going to trade a young, cost-controlled, MLB-ready option for an older, somewhat expensive one? Probably none of them.
The reality is, the Indians are not well positioned to sell. Even if they collapse over the next two weeks, they best they can hope for is a couple small deals and perhaps a nice prospect in return for Cabrera. Otherwise, expect them to stand pat and try again next year.