So what do the Indians do this offseason?
That’s the question to ponder as the team tries to revive interest and rebuild from a disastrous second half. How they go about things promises to be interesting.
The Indians are in a weird spot. They could add a few parts here and there and hope it makes them a contender in a weak division, or they could go young and trade a bunch of folks in hopes of completing two-for-one deals that not only make the major league team stronger, but add youth for the future.
The front office believes it had a better team than the record showed last season, so they might be leaning toward the tinkering model.
Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer has linked them to interest in Kevin Youkilis, which makes sense since Youkilis would have been a good addition last season and a manager he loved in Boston is now in Cleveland.
But there is also the possibility of a mini-overhaul to maximize the trade value of some youngish guys who might bring legitimate players in return.
Those tradeable folks include Shin-Soo Choo, who is not re-signing in Cleveland, a fact the Indians would admit if they admitted these things. In a recent conversation, team president Mark Shapiro said that the team would ride it out with Choo if there was a legitimate chance of the team contending. So Choo stays if the team follows the tinker (toy) model.
But there are other tradeable folks, including closer Chris Perez and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. Perez could bring legitimate talent (read: not potential) in return. And if Perez is gone, the Indians have Vinnie Pestano to take over. In theory they do. Because nobody knows if Pestano would do as well as the closer as he does as the set-up guy. But he’s been excellent as a set-up guy.
Sometimes a team needs to take a chance, and the Indians may need to do just that — if it adds legitimate talent and, as Shapiro said, leads to more wins.
Cabrera is a bit of a different story.
The team signed him to a contract extension in April, and that deal has two years at $6.5 and $10 million. He made $4.55 million last season. But for my money the Indians didn’t get their money’s worth.
In two years, Cabrera’s had stretches of playing well, but at other times seems uninspired and listless. His first-half/second-half differences are notable: Combined in the last two years, he’s hit .288 with 25 home runs and 99 RBI the first half, .254 with 16 HRs and 65 RBI the second. This might indicate he doesn’t take care of himself, or that he wears down, or both.
But he seems like the kind of guy teams believe would reignite his jets and be the player he was if they give him the proverbial “fresh start.” Plus, the under-the-radar acquisition of Mike Aviles might (emphasis on might) give the Indians the flexibility to make a move with Cabrera, because Aviles can play shortstop and Francona likes him.
ESPN’s Buster Olney — a very well respected baseball voice — offered much of the same thinking earlier this week. Much of it is behind the Insider’s paywall, but Olney takes things a couple steps further, saying the Indians should trade catcher Carlos Santana, Pestano and starting pitcher Justin Masterson as well as Choo, Perez and Cabrera.
His thinking on Santana: “ … around baseball, there are growing questions about whether his future is as a catcher, or whether he will become a first baseman. … with teams such as the Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays , Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs all in need of long-term catching solutions, Cleveland would get really good return in a trade — likely more pitching.”
This basically is a complete rebuild on the fly, the idea to bring in young guys who can play right away — sort of what Oakland did last season (a reality Olney points out as well).
The key, of course, is doing a better job on the guys acquired than the Indians did the past few years on other big trades that involved certain starting pitchers who won major awards.
The ideal: Building this way could allow the Indians to actually build a viable pitching staff with young arms, which is always the key to winning. Not having an effective staff led to the 2012 collapse. Having one might change the outlook in ‘13.
Then there’s this reality offered by Olney: “If the Indians just keep that same group of players and try to tinker, they probably aren’t going to win, and Cabrera, Choo, Masterson and Perez will probably all be gone soon, anyway.”
It’s why this Indians offseason could be among the most interesting and compelling that we’ve seen in a long, long time.