Cleveland Indians: 3 Indians Who Must Go by 2013
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Mid-market teams like the Cleveland Indians have a short shelf-life.
Without the ability to retain their top players past arbitration, the Indians need to stockpile prospects. To do so, they have to be willing to trade talented players at the tail-end of their cost-controlled years.
The Indians haven't been in the postseason since 2007 when they came just a game shy of the World Series. Though they've taken calculated gambles (including last year's trade for Ubaldo Jimenez) to try and put their team over the top, it's clear that the franchise, as presently constituted, isn't a contender.
With Cleveland now 17 games back of the division-leading Chicago White Sox, and 18 games below .500, it's clear that their front office needs to start over.
As painful as it sounds, some of the Indians' big pieces and valuable assets need to be moved.
Let's take a look at three Tribe players who will be wearing other uniforms in 2013.
1) Shin-Soo Choo
Choo will likely price himself out of the Indians' market next year.
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The Indians can't afford to keep OF Shin-Soo Choo.
That's because the talented outfielder, who turned 30 this year, will hit free agency after 2013.
He's a client of super-agent Scott Boras, and Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that Choo has been unreceptive to Indians' GM Chris Antonetti's attempts to lock him into a long-term deal:
Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said they have tried to extend Choo 'multiple times' over the past few years, to no avail. Antonetti was asked how much reception he's gotten to the possibility of a multi-year deal, and the GM answered candidly, 'None.'
Choo should command a hefty return, as a player with a reputation for consistent production (three of his last four healthy seasons he's topped an .880 OPS) and a cannon for an arm. Trading away a full year's worth of Choo to a contender this offseason should net the Indians a couple of strong prospects.
Though, they could let Choo walk and come away with a compensatory pick, the Indians might be best served by trading him for a haul of multiple blue-chippers this offseason.
As painful as it is for Indians fans to lose another franchise player to salary-cap constraints, the Tribe's best chance at a successful rebuild will come from a trade of Choo.
2) Chris Perez
Chris Perez is due a raise in arbitration that the Indians will want no part of.
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Indians closer Chris Perez is about to get expensive very, very quickly.
Perez, who made $4.5 million this season, has now had three strong years as the Indians closer, all with ERAs under 3.50 and over 20 saves. This season, he's also been striking out guys at an electrifying rate of 10.0 Ks-per-nine-innings.
While the merits of all these statistics (particularly saves) can be debated, third-party arbitrators tend to look at these kinds of bubble-gum card stats when evaluating a player's value.
After all, they're usually lawyers, not sabermetricians.
Perez has two more years of arbitration, and in each one he'll likely be due a substantive raise. He has minimal value as a closer on a non-contending team, and his ERA has gone up in each of the last three seasons (though that's not especially worrying given that his BB/9, SO/9, and HRs allowed have all improved).
Trading two years' worth of Perez to a contending team in need of a closer might bring in a great haul of young players. General Managers still tend to overpay for a proven closer, and might be wowed enough by his strikeout numbers to unload the farm system.
At this point, Perez is worth more as a trade chip than he is to the Indians. It's time to ship him out.
3) Justin Masterson
Justin Masterson's star has fallen quickly, but he still has value.
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A trade of SP Justin Masterson might be difficult to justify, given his low salary and reputation as an innings-eater.
Still, the return value should be enough to warrant moving the young sinker-baller this offseason.
Masterson has struggled in 2012, wracking up a career-low 84 ERA+ (ERA relative to league-average) and what will soon be a career-high in walks.
As a durable 27-year-old who induces ground-balls with regularity, however, some team will value him as a #2 or #3 starter. His 3.21 ERA in 216 innings last season will almost certainly be enough to entice a team to part with one of their top prospects.
Masterson made just under $4 million last season, and even given his relative down-year, he's due for a raise. The Indians might not want to pay him, given that he'll likely be entering his 30s by the time they are in contention again.
A team like the Boston Red Sox in need of a dependable, cost-controlled starter might be willing to pony up for Masterson.
The Indians should exercise discipline in considering a Masterson trade, but if the right deal comes along, they'd be foolish to pass it up.