When Zach McAllister was activated from the disabled list earlier today, the Indians made Chen Lee the odd man out in the bullpen and sent the rookie back to Columbus. This isn't the first time this has happened this year as the veteran relievers who are out of options, but less talented, than a few young pitchers are being held onto while the kids are forced to constantly shift between the Clippers and the pros.
The three pitchers most recently used in this fashion were Lee, Preston Guilmet and Joe Martinez (who is not young, but is playing for the Clippers) who combined to pitch in six games and allow a single run between the three of them. Rather than keep them around (or T.J. House, Matt Langwell, Nick Hagadone or Fernando Nieve who all also saw time with the Tribe in 2013), the Indians have stuck with Matt Albers, Bryan Shaw and Rich Hill at the bottom of the bullpen and have seen limited success.
A deal for aging closer Francisco Rodriguez (31) has shown that the market for relief pitchers is very good right now and the Indians have a few who could bring back some major value if they decided to move them before the trade deadline. With the plethora of relievers in AAA (those already mentioned in addition to possibly Danny Salazar) the Indians are in a prime position to move some of their top relievers without harming the team's play-off potential.
The best two options for bringing in the most value for the lowest price are set-up man Joe Smith and closer Chris Perez. Perez has been a thorn in Indians fans sides for the past two seasons as his mouth, rather than his pitching style, has offended the masses. He was also one of the biggest personality clashes with former manager Manny Acta and has shown no hints that he will attempt to stay in Cleveland past his years under team control. Speaking of which, 2014 is his final season of arbitration and he is likely to be valued by an arbiter at a much higher price than the Indians would like to pay for a man who throws 60 innings a season. Any team he is traded to however, is likely to enjoy that they would be getting almost a year and a half out of a player instead of just a two month rental.
While he has been a distraction, Perez has still been a dominant closer during his time in Cleveland and is one of the team's top three all time as an Indian despite his short tenure. This year he has already converted 13 of 15 save opportunities and has given up just nine runs in more than 27 innings. His biggest failing this season (other than the legal trouble) is that he has not been given enough chances to show off his stuff. Perez is a two time All-Star and has the mental toughness to be a closer, something possible trade partners will not look past.
Joe Smith has been even better than on the mound than Perez and almost silent off the field (at least this season). He has quickly become (with Vinnie Pestano) one of the greatest set-up men in Indians history and it would be sad to see him go, but if the Indians are not going to resign him (Smith becomes a free agent at the end of this season), now would be the best time to get some value out of the right hander.
If either pitcher is traded, Indians fans should not see this as a white flag maneuver. Cody Allen seems more than ready to take over any difficult late inning situation and Vinnie Pestano has been a closer waiting in the wings for the past two seasons. With the two of them filling out the back of the bullpen and Bryan Shaw taking care of early innings, it would allow the Indians to bring the two great AAA relievers, Lee and Guilmet back to Cleveland in a more permanent role. Because of this depth, the two relievers could both be moved, either to add a small amount of pep to the currently depressed offense or to add some top level minor league (hopefully outfield) talent. This type of move would be much safer than mortgaging their future by trading any of their budding young minor leaguers (that they have long term control over) or than doing nothing at all and sticking with the team that is good enough to place second behind the Detroit Tigers.