Best Potential Trade Packages, Landing Spots for Asdrubal Cabrera
For the Cleveland Indians, an oft-maligned franchise that has traded away stars like CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee and received minimal talent in return, there will always be a mandate to keep costs down while trying to build a playoff-caliber team.
Everything came together in 2013, as the Indians won 92 games and made the postseason for the first time since 2007. Reality has set in this offseason with Scott Kazmir and Joe Smith signing elsewhere, and Ubaldo Jimenez likely to take his talents somewhere else.
This will make it difficult for Cleveland to repeat its 2013 success again, forcing a decision on shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera.
The former All-Star is likely playing his final season with the Indians, one way or another. He's making $10 million in the last year of a three-year contract and star shortstop prospect Francisco Lindor will be ready to take over at some point in 2014.
If the Indians struggle out of the gate, the trade winds will start swirling around Cabrera once again. The team was reportedly listening to offers for him at the winter meetings in December.
He's still very much in the prime of his career at 28 years old and has at least 51 extra-base hits in each of the last three seasons.
Cabrera will have to re-establish his value this season after a disappointing .242/.299/.402 line in an injury-plagued 2013. Given his ability to hit for power and play a premium position, even at a below-average level, he could turn into one of the most attractive July trade chips out there.
If the Indians do put Cabrera on the trade block this season, these are the teams and packages they could look to receive in return for the two-time All-Star.
Boston Red Sox
Trade proposal: Indians trade SS Asdrubal Cabrera to Red Sox for LHP Brian Johnson
It may seem strange to put the Red Sox on a list for a shortstop. This is a franchise that has Xander Bogaerts ready for the starting job, as well as a chance to re-sign Stephen Drew at their price given the lack of market for the 30-year-old.
But here's where Boston's ability to get creative, as well as Cabrera's versatility, comes in handy. Bogaerts isn't going to move off shortstop, nor should he. If you have a player with his offensive upside capable of playing in the middle of the field, you keep him there as long as possible.
However, there are question marks about Will Middlebrooks' ability to be an everyday third baseman. He was given an opportunity last year, struggled early and was sent down to Triple-A to fix his swing.
Middlebrooks did hit better after returning to the big leagues in August, posting a .276/.329/.476 line in 145 at-bats. That's still a small sample size, and the postseason was a humbling experience for the 25-year-old, who hit .160/.250/.240 in October and lost his starting job to Bogaerts.
Let's assume Boston goes into the season with Middlebrooks as the starting third baseman and he struggles again. What are the defending champions supposed to do?
Asdrubal Cabrera has only played 1.1 innings at third base in his career, but he shouldn't be a shortstop much longer. It's a surprise he still is, as Fangraphs' defensive metrics rated him as the worst defensive shortstop in baseball last year.
Cabrera didn't hit well last year as he battled a leg injury, but is just one year removed from hitting .270/.338/.423 with 35 doubles and 16 home runs. Insert him in the sixth or seventh spot in Boston's lineup and suddenly it's a more formidable group than the one that will start the season.
In return, Cleveland will receive something it desperately needs: starting pitching. Brian Johnson, the 31st pick in the 2012 draft, doesn't have a high ceiling as a finesse left-hander, but he commands a deep arsenal well and can get to the big leagues by 2015.
The Indians need to find starting pitching for the future after losing Scott Kazmir and, likely, Ubaldo Jimenez. Justin Masterson is also eligible for free agency after this season.
Johnson isn't an impact arm, like Jimenez or Masterson, but could turn into a solid innings-eater very soon.
New York Yankees
Trade proposal: Indians trade SS Asdrubal Cabrera to Yankees for RHP Bryan Mitchell
Like the situation with Boston, there isn't an immediate opening at shortstop in New York.
Unlike the Red Sox's situation, which includes one of the best prospects in baseball ready to take over the position, the Yankees do have a lot of questions on the left side of their infield.
Let's start with Derek Jeter. His iconic status in New York isn't going away, but the 39-year-old's ability to both stay healthy and play the field aren't what they once were.
That's not entirely true, as Jeter has never been a good defensive shortstop, so no one expects much from him in that department. But no one should expect him to return this year and play 140-plus games with a .300/.350/.430 slash line.
Eventually time is going to catch up to the Captain, if it hasn't already. He missed 145 games last season and wasn't impressive in the handful of games he did play (.190/.288/.254).
The Yankees do have options for the hot corner, though none of them are appealing. Kelly Johnson, who hit a paltry .235/.305/.410 with Tampa Bay last year, is the best of the bunch. Brian Roberts, Eduardo Nunez, Brendan Ryan and Scott Sizemore are also on the roster.
If something happens to Jeter, or all those third base options flame out, Cabrera could be a solid fallback plan for the Yankees if they want an upgrade.
The Indians could use New York's desperation to their advantage. Bryan Mitchell is an impressive 22-year-old right-hander for the Yankees. He's got a power fastball-curveball combination that would play well in relief.
Mitchell could move to a low-pressure environment, work on control and develop his changeup with a full season at Double-A, and find success as a starting pitcher. He did have a pedestrian 120-58 strikeout-to-walk ratio and allowed 158 hits in 145.1 innings last year, but the stuff is impressive and would give him one of the highest ceilings of any pitcher in Cleveland's system.
Trade proposal: Indians trade SS Asdrubal Cabrera to Mariners for RHP Carson Smith
Here we have the strange case of a team, Seattle, with too many middle infielders, yet none of them have done enough to prove themselves capable of handling a starting job.
Brad Miller, Nick Franklin and Dustin Ackley are all 25 years old or younger. They all played at least 75 games last season. Miller was the only one who posted respectable offensive numbers (.737 OPS).
Again, this is where Cabrera's versatility comes into play. Assuming the Mariners want to give Miller a real chance to stick at shortstop, they have room to play around at second base. Ackley, at this point in his career with 1,324 career at-bats, has to be considered a bust.
Giving up on a 25-year-old who was the No. 2 pick in the draft is always difficult, but Ackley's shown nothing in his three years to suggest that things will turn around.
Franklin has always hit well in the minors, but has a profile that suggests he could end up as a second-division (non-playoff team) starter. He's not a rangy defender at shortstop and doesn't have a good enough hit tool for second base.
Cabrera has spent time at second base in his career, playing 162 games at the keystone with Cleveland. The Mariners are trying to build a team capable of competing with Texas, Oakland and even Los Angeles in the American League West.
They've invested a lot of money in Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano the last two years, but there is a lot of work to be done for the team to reach the postseason. Cabrera would give them another bat to use in the lower half of the order and has the ability to be a fringe-average defensive second baseman.
The Indians would get one of Seattle's most promising power arms in the deal. Carson Smith's profile is that of a reliever, as he has an excellent fastball that sits in the low- to mid-90s with good movement and a slider with excellent tilt that has plus potential.
Even though he's nothing more than a reliever, Smith has back-of-the-bullpen upside. Cleveland would get six years of control over him and fill the holes left in the 'pen when Joe Smith signed with the Angels and Chris Perez imploded last year before getting released after the season.
Trade proposal: Indians trade SS Asdrubal Cabrera to Reds for RHP Drew Cisco
For the first time we have a team, the Cincinnati Reds, that can make a trade for Asdrubal Cabrera and use him exclusively at shortstop, if they so choose.
Zack Cozart is a very good defender at shortstop, saving 20 runs with his glove in 300 career games going by Fangraphs' defensive metrics. He's also 28 years old, the same as Cabrera, and has four years of control remaining at a fraction of what Cabrera will make in 2014.
Unfortunately, Cozart also has to hit, which is where he gets in trouble. If he were merely inept with the bat and maintained his excellence with the glove, that would be one thing, but he's been one of the least valuable offensive shortstops in baseball since 2012.
The Reds, despite playing in one of the best home run parks in baseball, haven't finished higher than 12th in runs scored since 2011.
Cabrera, for all his flaws last season, still finished with an OPS+ that was 17 points higher than Cozart (98 to 81) and posted well above-average totals in that category the previous two seasons.
If the Reds want to keep up with St. Louis and Pittsburgh in the National League Central, they have to take chances. Cabrera would give them a significant offensive upgrade at shortstop, or a slight boost at third base if the team wants to keep Cozart at shortstop and move Todd Frazier.
Drew Cisco is a prospect who doesn't generate a lot of buzz in Cincinnati's system, especially after having Tommy John surgery in 2011. He doesn't have a big arm or dominant breaking stuff, but the feel for pitching and ability to manipulate hitters gives him No. 4 starter potential.
He's undersized at 5'11" and will have to overcome the stigma against shorter right-handers to stick in a rotation.
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