The 2013 Indians are currently two games above .500 and have won their past three series. However, they seem like a long-shot to overtake the Detroit Tigers, who are headlined by five of the best starters in the MLB and Miguel
Friggin' Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Despite the Tigers' talent, the Indians have reasons to be hopeful going forward. They have both Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher on fairly-reasonable free-agent contracts and some exciting (read: streaky and unknown) young pitchers in Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister and Trevor Bauer. Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis look like small-market stars and Justin Masterson is solidifying himself as a true front-of-the rotation starter. There is clear potential for this team to really compete over the next few seasons.
With all that being said, an everyday player that sits in the top third of the Indians lineup finds his name in the rumor mill. Asdrubal Cabrera is a trade candidate -- despite the Indians remaining in contention or having few palatable, immediate alternatives to play SS. (No, Mike Aviles is not palatable.)
The Indians received Asdrubal Cabrera from the Mariners in exchange for Eduardo Perez on June 30, 2006. Eduardo Perez took in every single post-season game in 2006 from a broadcaster's booth, as his final Major League at-bat came only three months after being traded. The Indians called Cabrera up in 2007 and have enjoyed solid seasons ever since from the switch-hitting 2B/SS. In 2011, Asdrubal hit 25 homers, went to the All-Star game, won the Silver Slugger and amassed 3.5 wins above replacement. On April 4th, 2012, ten months after the 2011 draft, the team agreed to an extension with Cabrera that bought out one season of arbitration (2013) for $6.5 million and one year of free-agency (2014) for $10 million.
From 2011 to 2013, Cabrera has amassed 6.8 WAR (FanGraphs) which puts him in a dead-tie with Yunel Escobar and Marco Scutaro and right behind Alexei Ramirez. This is about where his perception as a player lies in my mind, so it was nice to get that validation on my own grasp of reality. He is affordable, fairly young, fairly durable and above-average at a premium position. This is not a typical trade candidate for a organization trying to win now.
Then again, typical organizations don't have Francisco Lindor in their minor league system. I mentioned the 2011 draft earlier because the Indians selected Lindor No. 8 overall in that draft. Lindor, who is currently hitting .311/.380/.417 in High-A is in contention to be the No. 1 overall prospect entering the 2014 season. He's a player who already has a very mature approach at the plate, potential for 10-15 homers per season and an absolutely spectacular glove at SS. The hypothesis is that he is just a little bit of seasoning away from being as valuable as Cabrera thanks to his plus-plus-defense. So, despite the solid performance and reasonable contract the Indians enjoy with Asdrubal Cabrera, there are some who are open to dealing away part of the present to plan for the future.
The argument for trading him is that his reasonable contract and recent performance will garner a big return. The argument against trading him is that the Indians are fringe-contenders. Other key considerations include Cabrera's projected performance, the market for shortstops and potential matches for a trade.
Asdrubal Cabrera is an above-average offensive shortstop that has posted an wRC+ of 112, 88, 118, 112 and 107 from 2009-13. His fielding skills have ranged anywhere from +3.3 Fld to -11.0. Generally speaking, he is viewed as a below-average fielder, but not an abject liability out there. Additionally, he possesses enough youth and athleticism to keep up this level of performance at the position for at least a few more years. He has had one injury-marred season in 2010 that saw him play only 97 games, but he played in 151 and 143 games the following two seasons. Though he has missed a few weeks in 2013, he doesn't carry the label of being injury-prone and seems like a fairly safe bet to eclipse 130 games per season for the next few years. I will continue to use that assumption below.
To cut right to the chase, I project him as a 2-3.5 win player depending on his HR/FB%'s which range anywhere from 3.0% to 13.3% per season. To back up this assertion, I present to you a graph of his career WAR/130 and his career HR/FB%:
Hey, look, they correlate with one another!* In fact, taking out 2009 (where a .360 BABIP drove up his AVG and OBP 30 points apiece), that correlation becomes 0.81. So yes, it is safe to say that Asdrubal's ability to hit home runs is a key determinant, if not the key determinant, in his overall value.
(* - Note: r=0.50 to be exact)
Considering that his defense and base running are both slightly below average, and have been that way for the last few years, it is a fairly safe to assume that they will remain at that level. They certainly should hold steady during the rest of his age-27 season and his age-28 season in 2014. In conclusion, it is not a stretch to say that he will be worth between 1.0-1.5 fWAR during the rest of 2013 and 2.0-3.0 fWAR during 2014. In total, you could likely get 3.0-4.5 fWAR for around $13 million of salary. All in all, this is a pretty good trade chip.
Certain teams are already bona fide sellers including: Minnesota, Chicago (AL), Seattle, Houston, Philadelphia, New York (NL), Miami, Milwaukee, and Chicago (NL).
This presents the following list of shortstops who start for those teams: Brian Dozier, Alexei Ramirez, Brendan Ryan, Marwin Gonzalez, Jimmy Rollins, Omar Quintanilla, Adeiny Hechavarria, Jean Segura and Starlin Castro.
Out of this group, the only candidates that are really potential trade targets are Ramirez and Rollins. Everyone else is either replacement level/below and not worth trading for (Ryan, Dozier, Gonzalez, Quintanilla, Hechavarria) or a young star that won’t be traded (Castro, Segura).
Ramirez is an above-average defender, but a dwindling hitter. His wRC+ has been at 70 for the past two seasons and he was merely average before that. His glove creates value and he has a decent power/speed combo for a middle infielder. Overall he could generate about 0.5-1.0 fWAR over a half season. He is signed through 2015 at ~$8 million a year with a club option, so it seems unlikely that the White Sox would sell him unless they went into full fire-sale mode. As long as Kenny Williams is
GM running the show in Chicago, that will probably not happen.
Rollins has been an above-average defender throughout his career (and surprisingly still is -- 2013 Fld of 2.2 in only 77 games) and about league average or a touch better offensively (wRC+ of 103, 101, 93 from 2011-13). He is a difference maker on nearly any team as he can provide value in all phases of the game. Additionally, he is a high-profile player that will attract fans and he possesses lots of post-season experience. If available, he is likely No. 1 on the wish list for those teams seeking an upgrade at shortstop.
Placing Cabrera among these two players, I'd say he is about equidistant between Ramirez and Rollins in terms of total value. However, because offense is typically put at a premium when trade targets are identified, Cabrera’s potent bat pushes him closer to Rollins.
So who could use a player like Cabrera?
It’s surprising how solid most teams are at SS, but here are all current contenders' * starting shortstops with 2013 fWAR through June 24th:
* - "Contenders" defined by author's subjective opinion
The Yankees have a gap at SS until Derek Jeter comes back, but there is no way that they will trade for one, even as a temporary replacement, before Jeter comes back from his ankle injury.
The Royals have Alcides Escobar who is a bit of an unknown commodity. His offense seems tied to his BABIP and his defense has been all over the map from a metrics standpoint. His contract through 2015 with options for 2016 and 2017 pretty much keep the Royals handcuffed to him.
The Rangers have Elvis Andrus and his recent eight-year contract extension. He is young and hitting poorly, but his defense is superb. The Rangers aren’t trading for a SS.
The Angels have Erick Aybar who has been a four-win player the past two seasons and isn’t performing up to his normal standards. The Angels, as crazy as they are some years, aren’t going to trade for a SS.
The Cardinals have Pete Kozma who can’t hit and only fields slightly-above average. He is a replacement-level player -- even if he had some big hits last October. This is a big gap.
The Reds have a formerly shiny-prospect in Zack Cozart who can still field fairly well, but just isn't improving his offense. The Reds have watched his wRC+ fall from 121 in a short 2011 call-up to 83 in 600 PAs in 2012 and just 78 in 300 PAs this year. There's a surprising gap, and a bit of a dark-horse suitor -- especially if his poor performance continues and the Reds remain third in their division.
Pete Kozma was thrust into a starting role in 2012 when Rafael Furcal went down with an injury. He responded with a 26-game performance that exceeded all of his career minor league numbers and topped it off with a clutch postseason encore. In 2013, he won the starting spot again after Furcal went down with yet another injury. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Pete Kozma isn’t a very good hitter and, while his defensive numbers grade out fairly well so far, he doesn’t have the defensive reputation of an Andrelton Simmons or Elvis Andrus. But, I mean, who does?*
(* - Francisco Lindor)
Despite having a terrific farm system, there isn't an heir apparent at SS that the Cardinals can hold out for. Kolten Wong is a 2B-only player and Matt Carpenter can play all over the field, but doesn't have the glove to stick at SS as an everyday player.
The Indians would be looking for starting pitching in basically any deal they make and the Cardinals have plenty of that. In terms of a straight swap, Asdrubal Cabrera probably isn’t worth a Michael Wacha or Carlos Martinez. However, the Indians could potentially throw in a high-leverage reliever such as Chris Perez or Bryan Shaw, who could help out a Cardinals bullpen hurt by the loss of Jason Motte.
Perez/Shaw and Cabrera for one of the Cardinals' young pitchers could be a potential match. It addresses the two biggest needs for the Cardinals this season and does so by dealing from a position of strength. Conversely, it supplies the Indians with the one thing they can’t seem to grow at home: starting pitching. With Adam Wainwright looking like the Cy Young front-runner, Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller establishing themselves as legit front-line guys, there is a chance that the Cards would be willing to let go of one of their young pitchers to address two Major League weaknesses during this year’s World Series run.
Going into 2012, the Reds seemed to have a surplus at SS with Zack Cozart fielding everything and developing as a young hitter and Billy Hamilton breaking stolen base records in the minors. Fast forward to the start of this season and Cozart was viewed as a lock to provide value thanks to a solid glove and a decent idea of what to do at the plate. In fact, he was viewed so highly by the organization that Billy Hamilton was moved off SS to try his speed in the outfield. Unfortunately, Cozart has scuffled badly and the Hamilton train has left the station. The Reds have a very solid team and, despite currently sitting third in the NL Central, are still among the NL favorites to win the pennant. They are looking for a few extra wins and SS is certainly low-hanging fruit.
Cabrera could provide a major offensive boost to the Reds who have suffered through a combined wRC+ of 65 from their various SS personnel. Cabrera’s wRC+of 107 would look very good in comparison.
If the Reds were to pull the trigger, they would also need to look to their young pitchers to make something happen. Robert Stephenson and Tony CIngrani are the two big pitching prospects in the Reds system and probably are untouchable given Johnny Cueto’s injury history and an uninspiring, albeit durable, back-end of the rotation consisting of Mike Leake and Bronson Arroyo. Stephenson would be the more probable man to be dealt based on Cingrani’s dominant 42 innings with the big league club in 2013, but Cabrera for Stephenson doesn’t seem like something the Reds would ultimately sign off on.
The Reds would likely be more amenable to dealing a few lower level arms and not putting the immediate window for the Major League club at risk. Packaging youngsters Daniel Corcino and one of Nicholas Travieso or Kyle Lotzkar might do the trick. It adds interesting arms to the Indians system and addresses the Reds' surprising weak link.
Given the Indians' status as fringe-contender and a lack of current alternatives, a trade would only occur if the return was substantial. Cabrera is a talented player and merits a substantial return, but his recent injury and reliance on homers to create significant offensive value casts a shadow of risk that acquirers will be wary of.
Likely, no deal is made due to the fact that the two teams with needs are easily (six-plus games) in the clear to make the postseason. The lack of a desperation factor will prevent them from trading away the valuable arms that would be required to make the Indians dampen their plausible chances for contention over the next two years.
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All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.