Sunday, July 1, 2012

Buyers, sellers or neither?

Dear Cleveland Indians,

Stand pat at the trading deadline.  Don't be buyers, don't be sellers, stand pat!


Cleveland Indians Perspective

It's that time of year.  July rolls around and I start to shiver.  No, I don't live in the Southern Hemisphere where winter has started.  I live in the US...but I am a fan of the Cleveland Indians.

July should be a joyous month.  The Indians should either be in contention and there should be a buzz of hope around Progressive Field that those "Wait 'til Next Year" placards waived around on opening day might have been a tad premature.....or the Tribe should be out of contention already and shopping their good players who are close to free agency for stud prospects, making prospect geeks like myself giggle with anticipation not seen at any other time but Christmas morning.  I mean, we are Indians' fans, right?  Hope for the future is what many of us were raised on. 

So this time of year should be guaranteed fun but, given recent history, it is a scary time as both of these scenarios have led to disaster for the Indians in recent years, disasters that could have already turned them into a non-competitive second- or third-tier club for the next 9-10 years (unless you want to call hovering around the .500 mark being competitive).   Disasters that have also led to us not coming close to a playoff berth.

As teams approach the trade deadline they are either a buyer, a seller or standing pat.

A lot of the strategy you pick should be based on three things:
(a) The strength of your division and how you project out the rest of the season, based on no one making a significant move in your division.
(b) How you project your team's competitiveness over the next 3 years
(c) What other teams are holding fire sales.

Two shocking announcements/rumors came out in the last couple of days:
(1) The Phillies,  with their all-star roster, are predicted to have a fire sale in July
(2) 41-year old Jim Thome was traded to Baltimore for two prospects, one of who is actually a legitimate prospect.

Two other rumors also got the trade deadline ball rolling
(1) The Brewers may actually be sellers at the deadline
(2) Carlos Lee is about to be traded to the Dodgers 

So, looking at the 3 things the Indians' deadline strategy should be based on here is what I see:

(a) The AL Central division is in flux.  No way the Royals hang on.  The Twins are done.  That leaves the underperforming Tigers and the surprising White Sox.  Looking at those teams, the Tigers are most likely to be buyers at the deadline.  The Tigers have a stronger farm system than the Indians and have the ultimate prospect chip to spend in Jacob Turner if they want to make a run.  The White Sox, on the other hand, are rebuilding as they need to as their farm system was rated the worst in baseball by Baseball America last winter.  So, if the Indians make a move that costs them prospects/young players you can count on the Tigers making a bigger move.  When the Indians traded for Jimenez last July thinking they had 2 1/2 years of him left, the Tigers theoretically shut the door on the Tribe by signing Prince Fielder over the winter to negate the impact of us getting Jimenez.  While it hasn't worked out for the Tigers so far, on paper, they are clearly the better team AND have deeper pockets, both in prospects and money, than the Indians to counter an Indians' desperate move or two this July.

(b) The Indians will have their core through next season and, in two years, will have only lost Shin-Soo Choo, Roberto Hernandez, Travis Hafner, Joe Smith and Rafael Perez.  None of those guys except for Choo are irreplaceable from the farm system or non-compensation type free agency, especially factoring in salaries.  Thus, their team will remain essentially almost as strong (or weak) as it is now if they don't acquire a guy they control through 2014 at the deadline this year or over the winter.  Considering that draft compensation for free agents will be limited, frankly, only to franchise players, the free agent market should be a place the Indians can play next year.  While I could see the Indians doing a complete fire sale of Masterson, Jimenez, Choo, Chirs Perez and Cabrera, I just don't see the current production by those guys to bring back impact prospects nor do I see the rest of the pieces (young major leaguers/ML ready prospects) being in place that would result in a quick rebuilding and allow us to compete by 2014 if we DID decide to have a fire sale.

(c) With the Phillies and Brewers rumored to be having fire sales and the Phillies already extracting pretty good value for Thome, the market appears to be a seller's market at this point.  That sounds good for the Indians but they don't have the prospects to trade to get a big name player who they will control through 2014 after which all heck will break loose when Asdrubal Cabrera, Justin Masterson and Chris Perez all can become free agents.

So, should the Indians be buyers, sellers or stand pat at the trade deadline?  By the above logic I hope you can see they should stand pat.  They don't have the stud players to sell and, if they did, historically they have shown they are pretty pathetic in making deals (see CC and Cliff Lee with Victor Martinez being the exception).  Last year should have shown you how trading your stud prospects can kill your long-term future.  Ubaldo Jimenez should have never been traded for.  That is obvious now.  It did nothing for us last year, it is likely to do nothing for us this year and, given his performance so far, is unlikely to help us next year.  I said at the time that the Indians better know what they were doing as this trade killed a lot of potential for them to compete for the next 10 years if it blew up in their face.  Well, it blew up in their face big time.

Given all this I wouldn't trust the Indians to make a good deal either way: buyer or seller.  They have blown it big time both ways over the past 5 years and it is killing their long term competitiveness right now, something I said was the likely outcome after each of the CC, Lee and Jimenez trades.  The only thing that makes sense to me is that they stand pat.  That is, they ONLY acquire either bargain-basement talent or talent at bargain basement prices.  That means a right handed bat who costs them no one in their top 20 prospects or a trade to make the team incrementally better like the August 2012 trade that brought Thome back here. 

I know mine will not be a popular opinion but that is my opinion.  Given the dismal failure of the Indians to impact the end result in the past few years, I think standing pat is the only way to go.  If they are buyers they are crazy, if they are sellers they need to do a MUCH better job than they have in the past and there is no reason to think they will be able to do that.  So, stand pat Tribe. 

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