There didn't seem to be much reason to think about the Indians trading Drew Stubbs in recent weeks, as he is a very strong defender and still under team control through 2015. He is expected to make under $4M for next season as well, so money isn't an issue either, however, ESPN's Buster Onley has reported the Red Sox and a few other teams have been interested in Stubbs this off-season, so it is worth looking at.
The question here, of course, is not directly should the Indians trade Drew Stubbs. If the offer is good enough, they would be foolish not to. The real question is, should a lack of depth at the outfield position force them to over value Stubbs and keep him off the trade market. This is generally only considering internal options, because any team that wants to trade for Stubbs has the same free agents available to them and likely has more money to spend on them. For Stubbs to be truly expendable, he needs to have an in house replacement already ready to play by next April.
The first option can be mentioned and dismissed almost immediately. Nick Swisher was originally signed to play right field for the Indians, with Stubbs in center, until Michael Bourn signed early in 2013. With this signing, Swisher was moved to first, but still played in the outfield for 27 games. While he wasn't a total nightmare in the field (one error and two assists in 44 chances), he was no Stubbs (six errors and six assists in 270 chances). The biggest difference between the two is obviously speed and, while they had similar fielding percents, Stubbs was able record 0.27 more outs per game. This is significant and was obvious to those watching games where both played in right this summer. Another issue with Swisher in right had to do with injuries to his shoulder. The extra throwing from the outfield seemed to inflame it, detracting from his true purpose on the team, hitting. While he may play a few games in right next season, he will likely spend the vast majority of the time at first base and may be relegated to full time DH by the time his contract ends.
The other sometimes right fielder from the past season was Ryan Raburn. He has been resigned for the next two seasons and will be making just $2.25M as an expected utility infielder. He was similar to both Swisher and Stubbs in fielding percent and assists, but looked more athletic in the outfield, making multiple outstanding plays in his limited time. Since Raburn could possibly be a serviceable defender, the real question comes down to offense. While Raburn did have a superior year to Stubbs in less time, part of this is likely due to Raburn being used in match-ups that were favorable to him, while Stubbs was used as an every day player, getting almost twice as many at bats as Raburn.
Going further into this option, it is interesting to note that Stubbs was actually luckier than Raburn, with a .319 BABIP, higher than his 2012 season, although still lower than his career average. Raburn on the other hand, had just a .311 BABIP, slightly lower than his career average, but a massive 0.87 point increase over 2012. It is highly possible that the 2013 Raburn is the real hitter once he was used consistently in the same manner and the 2012 season was the outlier. It was just this reason that the Indians gave him a three year deal based on half a season of small sample size success.
Using other rate stats that are better predictors of future success than home runs and RBI, both Stubbs and Raburn had a line drive rate of 21% last season, better than the league average of 19% and their career averages of 18%. Since neither Stubbs nor Raburn have real power, they should both strive to be line drive hitters and they did a great job with this. Also, hitting to their strengths, Raburn hit slightly more fly balls than Stubbs, as he should, considering the extreme difference in speed.
Finally, as always comes up in any discussion about Stubbs, strike out rate must come into play. Stubbs struck out in 29% of all at bats last year, exactly the same as his career average, so there is little reason to think this will change in the future. Raburn also matched his career average, but he strikes out in just 24% of at bats, a significant different when considering a starting role. Considering a 500 at bat season, this is a difference of 25 strike outs by years end. Raburn also finally figured out where the plate is as well in the past season. While Stubbs has always had a good eye, walking in almost 9% of his at bats in his career, Raburn passed the 10% mark after walking in less than 7% of at bats in the three previous years. The parts of his game that he changed in 2013 look sustainable and the Indians could do far worse than him in right field in 2014.
If Raburn is considered the starting right fielder in 2014, the Indians will need a new reserve outfielder as well. Matt Carson ended the season with the team and impressed in very limited duty and could still be an option. The Indians next best option from last year, Ezequiel Carrera was allowed to enter free agency and would have to be resigned for next season. He would likely be a cheap, available option and his combination of great glove work and even better speed would make him a perfect fit as pinch runner and late inning defensive replacement. He also has the Major League experience to step in as a starter if need be, something Carson has yet to do in his journeyman career.
Tim Fedroff is still under team control as well, but was dropped from the 40 man roster during the season, so it is hard to say exactly where the Indians think his future lies. After four solid seasons coming up in the Indians minor league system, Fedroff struggled for the first time in 2013, batting just .242 for the Clippers, dropping his overall average to .284. He is not as good of a fielder or as fast as Carrera, but is still under team control and will be for a long time if the Indians put him back on the 40 man roster before the Rule 5 draft.
After that there is a significant drop off. Both of the Indians last two first round draft picks have been highly talented outfielders, but even the college educated Tyler Naquin won't be ready for the Majors until at least 2015. If Stubbs sticks around, Naquin could be the obvious replacement once his arbitration years run out. Carlos Moncrief (17 HR and 75 RBI in AA Akron in 2013) should be considered a decent prospect still and at 24, could be ready for a reserve role at some point in 2014. He is actually more of the typical style right fielder the Indians have used over the past century, where they tend to be impressive hitters (like Manny Ramirez and Rocky Colavito), while also being very poor defenders (like Matt Lawton). If the Indians went the route of starting Raburn with a Carson type player as reserve, Moncrief could be ready in June (after a half season in Columbus) to provide that extra jolt of rookie power that always helps shoot new life into a prospective play-off team.
In the end, while the Indians aren't very deep in the outfield in general and right field specifically, there are enough options without Stubbs to get them through to the next generation. While Stubbs was an important part of the Shin-Soo Choo trade, he was not the biggest piece (Trevor Bauer and the prospect of getting rid of Jason Donald and for free) and served his role as Choo's replacement for the same amount of time that Choo would have still been on the team. If there are trade suitors for Stubbs, Chris Antonetti should be actively listening and if a good deal pops up, he shouldn't fear taking it at all. Even if Raburn looks more like the .171 version from 2012 than the .272 version from 2013, there are still further options within the team and on the minor league free agent market. In fact, it might be nice to see what a player like Moncrief could do while he is still young, instead of seeing him squandered in AAA like so many Fedroffs, Brad Snyders and Michael Aubreys have been in the past.
Could Stubbs be moving on to another team this Winter?
The Indians might be just fine without him.