Victor Martinez: Trade Winds are Blowing (from the East)

Jeremiah Graves@cheapseatchronAnalyst IJuly 9, 2009

NEW YORK - APRIL 18:  Victor Martinez #41 of the Cleveland Indians runs the bases against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on April 18, 2009 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Bob Dylan’s classic ballad “The Times They Are A-Changin'” rings true for many people, especially Cleveland Indians fans.

In Cleveland, the times sure are a-changin’. Unfortunately, the changes are not for the better.

Two years ago, the Indians were one win away from the World Series. Today, they have the second-worst record in all of baseball.

In 2007, CC Sabathia and a surprisingly effective Fausto Carmona anchored the Indians rotation. Today, Sabathia pitches for the rival New York Yankees and Carmona is learning how to pitch again in the minors.

The present day staff is lead by Cliff Lee, a southpaw who returned from obscurity last season to win a Cy Young and has looked solid again in 2009. After Lee, the rotation is a hodge-podge of developing young arms and retreads playing for their next contract.

In 2007, the offense was electric with power and speed all over the diamond in the form of Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner. All three are still with the team, but all of endured struggles.

Sizemore has spent time on the DL this season with elbow issues and figures to have postseason surgery to fix the problem. Hafner has also spent time on the DL in 2009 and is still attempting to work his way back from multiple injuries to his shoulders and back over the past two seasons.

Martinez was marred by a right elbow injury last season that robbed him of his power and forced him onto the disabled list and operating table for two and a half months. Although Martinez was having a resurgence early this season, he has since fallen into a lengthy slump.

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The Indians’ only All-Star is batting .090 since June 20 with two home runs and four RBIs. During the slump, his average has fallen from .342 to .299. If the slump continues, Martinez may make the Indians’ decision easy on whether he—along with others—should be traded at the deadline.

Of all the Indians who may be on the trading block, Martinez figures to be the most attractive option. He is one of few backstops in the game who can consistently hit for both power and average. Martinez is a switch-hitter with a career .298 batting average.

His abilities behind the plate are somewhat suspect. Many opponents run freely against his arm. For his career, he’s caught roughly a quarter of the would-be base stealers. Martinez’s offensive abilities, however, figure to trump any concerns about his ability to hold runners.

General Manager Mark Shapiro said if the Indians make any more trades prior to the trading deadline, the team’s needs are very clear.

“We’re looking to add young upper-level pitching,” Shapiro said. “Starting pitching, relief pitching. Guys we can control for multiple seasons, not three months. I don’t know if we can get that, but that’s where a lot of our focus will be.”

As such, the Boston Red Sox, who possess a bevy of young pitching prospects, will be one of the many suitors who willing to meet the Indians demands. The Red Sox could logically offer top prospect Clay Buchholz as the centerpiece of any deal and then mix and match an assortment of prospects from a very deep farm system.

The Mets could start a package with left-hander Jon Niese and right-hander Bobby Parnell as the base and build from there. To match-up with what the Red Sox could offer, it would probably cost the Mets either outfielder Fernando Martinez or shortstop Wilmer Flores. This may be more than the Mets can afford to give up.

The Yankees could begin preparing for life after Jorge Posada and start a package with Phil Hughes. Given Hughes' lack of success at the Major League level, it is entirely possible the Indians could request an additional top-tier arm such as right-hander Alfredo Aceves or lefty Phil Coke in the deal.

Martinez is signed through 2010 for $5.7 million this year and a $7 million base salary next year that increases to $7.5 million if he is traded and contains numerous performance bonuses.

The price is definitely right for the four-time All-Star. He would definitely be an impact bat for any contender. The three teams listed above all have aging catchers and serious playoff aspirations. As such, all three figure to be among the most aggressive in adding a player of Martinez’s caliber.

Other suitors could step forward, but many of the other teams in contention are set at catcher or do not have the depth—or desperation—to give up the prospects it would take to land Martinez.

The Indians would prefer not to move Martinez, but the team is clearly playing for the future. As such, they have to be listening to any offer that comes in.

As always, the loudest offers figure to come from the Big Three out east.

Clearly, there are some things that aren’t a-changin’.


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