Indians General Manager Chris Antonetti has said at multiple times this year that no player is safe from trade talks, that every player is available for the right price. I hope he is lying.
The Indians primary goal is as it should be, to win a World Series championship for the first time since 1948. However, this shouldn’t be the only goal. There is a secondary goal, which is to win the Series legitimately, with a team that was grown rather than assembled or purchased. Which team do you think is more proud of their championship, the 2009 Yankees, a team almost entirely purchased, filled with All-Stars gathered from around baseball, or the 2010 Giants, who won with a team mostly of internally developed players like Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner.
By saying that every player is available to at least be talked about, Antonetti is basically saying that no player on the team is better than anything he could bring back in trade. While there are many players that are expendable on this team, a few are not (at least not now) and are not worth any price another team could give. Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley would be the first two on that list. Both players were paid less than $500,000 for 2011 and are still under team control. The best player in the league, Miguel Cabrera, wouldn’t be worth trading Kipnis for as the Indians couldn’t afford to pay his salary and they would still lose a player that is more productive for his position. If he isn’t worth the best player in the league, how could any other player be good enough to trade for Kipnis. Brantley is worth a slightly smaller amount, but is certainly worth far more than any team would be willing to give for him.
The next level features players who are not untouchable, but are promising enough the Indians would have to blown away by an offer. None of these players should be traded for prospects no matter how good, because they all were great prospects, but have already made it to the majors, taking away the risk of flopping. This list includes Lonnie Chisenhall, Zach McAllister and Vinnie Pestano. Going along with the original point, even trading these players for more valuable players shouldn’t be a priority as it would mean more for the Indians to win with these home grown players rather than someone traded for a single season. Using young players like this also increases the amount of years the Indians should be able to contend as they are under control for years still.
With all these players unavailable for trade, the Indians need to have a few players available to move to improve the team. These are veterans whose time under control is ending or young players that are particularly over valued. Chris Perez is the first of these. He should not be traded because of the things he has said or for a low level player, but if the Indians could find a team that over values closers (and a lot do), he should be made available. A player who throws 60 innings a year is simply not as important as one who plays in 162 games. The Indians are very deep in relief pitching from Cleveland through Lake County. Cody Allen proved that this year. Pestano is ready to take over the reigns in the ninth and, while I would prefer to see Perez play his entire career with the Tribe, a starting outfielder, DH or firstbaseman is more important. Joe Smith and Tony Sipp are also in this boat, although they would have less value to other teams, despite the fact that Smith is almost certainly the best pitcher in the group.
There is one more player that needs to be mentioned here and that is right fielder Shin-Soo Choo. Choo is still under control for 2013 (his third year of arbitration), but has Scott Boras as his agent, leading many baseball writers to believe he will be leaving as a free agent as soon as he can. This was so severe that either Boras or some writers started a rumor that the Indians were looking to trade Choo at the All-Star break. Boras is famous for taking players from small market teams (like Alex Rodriguez from the Mariners) and getting them signed for record deals with larger market teams (like the Rangers). Somehow, a lot of his clients end up one the Yankees for some reason or another (they control 6 current or former Boras clients, only one of which came up with the team, Robinson Cano).
Unless the Indians can get something amazing for Choo, they should keep him. He is a top 20 MLB outfielder and seems to like playing for Cleveland. As with the other players brought up in Cleveland, he is worth more to the Indians because of that past loyalty. Any player the Indians got for Choo would not be as good in 2013 as Choo should be. What Antonetti does with Choo this off-season will be very telling of what he expects out of this team next year. More than any of the other players listed, the trading of Choo would signify another rebuilding process.
The Indians don’t need to go crazy this off-season. The core of the team is already in Cleveland and they need to add to it, rather than exchange it for an equal or lesser option. Cleveland can’t be New York, Boston, Detroit or Miami so they shouldn’t even try. Keep the arbitration eligible players and try to add players through free agency or possibly by trading prospects for pros, the opposite of the Indians usual dealings. This team is ready to win now and showed that when they signed Terry Francona over Sandy Alomar, Jr. It’s now up to Chris Antonetti and the rest of the front office to fix the holes in this team.