Indians Right To Shop Cabrera, Masterson

In the past 24 hours, we have learned that the Indians are open to at least listening to offers for both Asdrubal Cabrera and Justin Masterson. We can debate the merits of trading Masterson, but moving Cabrera is a slam dunk decision. On the whole though, the willingness to listen on two players who are nearing free agency and may fetch something juicy on the trade market shows that Cleveland is very much conducting their offseason properly.

During the course of the offseason, the market can change drastically. With the free-agent pitching market brought to a near-standstill at the moment, the trade market is blooming. Since the Winter Meetings started, we have heard a number of trade rumors, be they credible or not. That is somewhat the nature of the beast at this time of year, but with last week’s flurry of transactions taking a number of “sexy” options off the board, it seems that trade rumors are all we have until Masahiro Tanaka either is concretely posted or not posted by the Rakuten Golden Eagles. As such, putting it out there that the Indians are happy to listen on Cabrera and Masterson is a great idea.

With Cabrera and Masterson both only a year away from free agency, trading them both now would make a lot of sense from an organizational perspective. You don’t need me to tell you that. Soon they may lose them for nothing. But there is a difference between a team on the cusp of contention actually taking the steps to balance short-term and long-term goals and actually seeing it first-hand. And with the free-agent market what is right now, perhaps they could fetch something nice in return.

Let’s start with Cabrera. Putting Cabrera on the block is a pretty easy call to make. For one, Cabrera’s skills have declined since his breakout in 2011. He’s solid offensively for a shortstop, but he’s nothing special. He also is very much not special defensively. And that’s where the Indians are in prime position. The defense of prospect Francisco Lindor is so well regarded that if he is everything he is projected to be, the Indians might not have much drop off at all, holistically speaking. If you examined Cleveland’s 2014 ZiPS projections yesterday, you saw this:

Cabrera: 609 PA, 2.8 WAR
Lindor: 539 PA, 1.8 WAR

And that is with a very conservative .281 wOBA projection for Lindor. Steamer has him at a .293 wOBA, so they are both in the same ballpark. But if Lindor hits even close to the mark that he has in the minors, he will blow away those projections. Lindor has progressed from LoW-A, to A, to High-A and then Double-A, and his wOBA has increased at each stop: .323, .328, .363 and .376, respectively. Also, he was 19 when he reached Double-A. Here’s a list of players to reach Double-A at the age of 19 (or younger) in the last three seasons: Lindor, Rougned Odor, Xander Bogaerts, Jurickson Profar, Manny Machado, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. Obviously being in that company doesn’t guarantee that Lindor will hit well when he reaches the majors, but I like his chances. Cleveland could probably call him up for Opening Day and not miss Cabrera one bit. If they wanted to let Mike Aviles keep his seat warm for a little bit, they’re probably not going to lose a ton of value that way either.

There’s also the matter to consider that Cabrera may have a pretty decent market. At this time, the only starting shortstop still on the market is Stephen Drew, and he has a draft pick attached to him. And there are likely a few teams who will see the combination of not having to give up a draft pick plus Cabrera’s past success and see him as more desirable than Drew. Cabrera is also three years younger, and might be seen as a more durable player than Drew as well. I suppose you could squint and see Clint Barmes as a starting shortstop, but the Pirates started platooning him last year, and there is little reason to think his status around the game has somehow elevated in the interim. In other words, the market may be lining up just right for the Indians to take advantage of that one team still desperate for a shortstop.

Trading Masterson is a different animal altogether. For one thing, he was the best pitcher on what was technically a playoff team a season ago. For another, he’d likely be that same pitcher again this season, depending on how bullish you are about Danny Salazar. For a third, he’s also still pretty young, at least relatively speaking. Of the potential free-agent pitchers who don’t have a club option for 2015, the only three pitchers younger than Masterson are Brett Anderson, Homer Bailey and Clayton Kershaw. Anderson is a giant question mark, and I’ll be pretty surprised if Kershaw pitches for anyone other than the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015. That leaves Bailey. There are actually some pretty good options on the market next season aside from those guys, but age is always a big factor, and Masterson has that on his side. He’s also been pretty durable, and pretty consistent. In his four full seasons in Cleveland, only 25 starting pitchers have tossed more innings than has Masterson. And while Masterson isn’t the best pitcher alive, he compares pretty favorably to those currently on the market.

Take a look at this custom table I customized all by myself. What, you don’t want to? Fine, I’ll simplify it and pop it right here for you:

Name ’14 Age IP ERA- FIP- xFIP- RA9-WAR WAR
Bartolo Colon 41 495.2 82 91 97 10.5 8.9
Ubaldo Jimenez 30 769.1 97 92 99 10.7 13.1
Scott Baker 32 317.0 96 94 93 5.3 5.2
Justin Masterson 29 780.0 104 94 92 8.0 11.1
Matt Garza 30 661.0 93 95 94 9.3 9.9
Paul Maholm 32 688.2 110 106 104 4.6 6.0
Ervin Santana 31 840.1 98 111 100 11.4 6.5
Bronson Arroyo 37 818.2 104 120 110 9.8 3.3

Now, to be fair, if you’re using ERA- and RA9-WAR to evaluate, Masterson doesn’t come out looking all that great here. But if you are of the belief that Masterson has generally pitched better than his ERA, it’s hard to see much separation between him and the rest of the remaining-non-Tanaka-free-agent pack. Masterson is projected to make $9.7 million this year in arbitration, and in a world where Phil Hughes is making $8 million a year, Masterson’s arbitration salary figures to be lower than what these guys will get in free agency. Of course, you’ll have to part with some prospects to get him, but for a team that wants to contend this year and is skittish about handing four-plus years one of the free agents, parting with a prospect or two for Masterson might seem a lot more palatable. Especially since teams will have to part with a draft pick in order to sign Garza or Jimenez.

Either way, it’s in the Indians’ best interest to find out. Trading Masterson without getting a major league starting pitcher in return would leave them pretty thin in the rotation, but it probably wouldn’t be a disaster. Salazar, Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister are going to keep the team in a lot of games, and they may be able to take the money saved from dealing Masterson and re-invest it back in the market. Perhaps they will be able to wait out Jimenez and get him at a bargain because no one else wants to give up a draft pick. If they could turn Masterson into Jimenez and a prospect or two, that’d be a pretty nice trade. Especially if Jimenez continues to be the pitcher we saw in the second half.

Asdrubal Cabrera and Justin Masterson, as things currently stand, figure to be an important part of the Indians in 2014. In 2015 though, they may be long gone — in Cabrera’s case, almost certainly so. And since the Indians expect to contend, parting with them in July is less likely to happen. But shopping them around now — when they could get more value for them, especially given the state of the free-agent market — could end up netting them some nice pieces. Trading them could set the Indians back a touch in the short-term, but whether they do or not, in the long-term this type of strategic thinking should keep the Indians in good position.




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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for the Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


22 Responses to “Indians Right To Shop Cabrera, Masterson”

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  1. Professor Ross Eforp says:

    It is too bad the Indians couldn’t make the Cardinals bit on Asdrubal last offseason. I am disappointed that it took them a year of Pete Kozma to realize he is not the answer. The level of desperation that led them to sign Peralta to that deal would have been nice to see when Cabrera was looking (at least superficially) like a very good SS option.

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    • Sparkles Peterson says:

      They were not any more desperate this offseason than they were at the trading deadline. If anything, they were a lot less desperate. They signed Peralta and passed on Cabrera because they decided it was the better move for them.

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      • Professor Ross Eforp says:

        Cabrera wouldn’t have been a real appealing option at the trading deadline.

        Cabrera and Peralta have nothing to do with each other.

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        • Sparkles Peterson says:

          You were the one drawing that connection. What I’m saying is that Mozeliak didn’t suddenly wake up in September and realize that Kozma sucks. He knew how badly he needed to upgrade the position at the trade deadline, he checked in on Cabrera, and chose not to make whatever deal was available.

          He then signed Peralta as soon as he was available. If that was a move of desperation, then it would have taken even more desperation to make the deal for Cabrera.

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        • Professor Ross Eforp says:

          So when I said last offseason what I really meant was at the trade deadline last year?

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    • BMarkham says:

      They knew Pete Kozma wasn’t the answer. They also knew Cabrera wasn’t the answer because of the high asking price. The Cardinals FO wants to keep their young core together and Cabrera offered a whole lot less control than any of the already MLB ready prospects the Indians probably wanted. I don’t blame the Indians for holding out on Cabrera during the trade deadline, they were in a playoff race so they didn’t really value prospects that wouldn’t be used in 2013.

      Mo signed Peralta not out of desperation but because it was the best option for improving considerably in the present while not harming their future. The Cardinals are still under budget even after signing Peralta so they were in a great place to make a free agent signing rather than a trade. The Cardinals FO wants to be a perennial contender and signing the best SS on the market that didn’t cost a draft pick is a great example of putting that in action. Yeah, Peralta isn’t perfect but he plays SS and will likely be a 2-3 win player which is 2-3 more wins than they got last year from SS.

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  2. Professor Ross Eforp says:

    As an Indians fan, my dream (reasonable) offseason would be to move Cabrera and Masterson for a decent starting 3B and whatever prospects they can get. I don’t think either of them are extraordinarly value, but they might fetch something interesting.

    If they use the associated cost-savings to sign Bartolo Colon and Dan Haren then I think there is a chance that the team is better in the short-term (assuming the 3B can post a WAR of ~2.0).

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  3. Brandon says:

    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.
    Haren already signed with the Dodgers.

    Took care of that one for you…

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  4. David Bruno says:

    Paul, no draft pick is tied to Garza (since he was traded mid-season), but a pick is tied to Ervin Santana.

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  5. pft says:

    The difference between Drew and Cabrera is you get Drew for 3-4 years, and less money after 2013.

    For a team like the Yankees, who will need a SS, if not in 2014 then in 2015, signing Drew makes sense. He can move to 3B for a year. The Yankees have already lost their first 3 picks so signing him loses them only a 2nd round pick.

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  6. Gareth says:

    Trade Asdrubal? Yes.
    Trade Masterson? No.

    I’ve met Justin Masterson, his wife and some family members through working in Baseball. Great people to a fault. Beyond his numbers Justin has the intangables of being a team leader and calming presence in the clubhouse. He has a significant past with Terry Francona from their time together in Boston (You should read Boston’s glowing comments about Masterson after he was traded to Cleveland). He’s also from Ohio and all his family are here.

    He’s just an all round Great guy and a talented pitcher. As a fan of the Indians and the person, I’d be very sad to see him go. You’ve got to keep someone like that.

    With Lindor on the way and the SS/2B depth in the Minors, I agree that Asdrubal is expendable. His second half fades the last few seasons (it was a full season fade in 2013) have become grating.

    In an ideal world they would extend Masterson, Kipnis and Brantley, just like a big pocketed team such as the Yankees or Dodgers would do. However the pockets of the Dolan Family are currently filled with Lint, string and Tissue paper due to their Swisher / Bourn expenditures of last year.

    I fear these aformentioned extension candidates may follow the pattern of the likes of Sabathia, Lee and Martinez. This is Sad and also scary, as Trading can be such a crapshoot.
    For Every Casey Blake for Carlos Santana deal, there is a Cliff Lee for a bunch of wash outs deal.

    I feel The Indians may also still be wary of handing out large contracts after the Hafner / Westbrook contracts quickly became Albatrosses for an extended period of time.

    I just hope they get over that and stump up the cash for that Trio.

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    • Professor Ross Eforp says:

      If his intangibles mean he will sign an extension about below market value then I am all for not trading him.

      This is still a business and the Indians still have to worry about their long-term goals as well as their short-term ones.

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    • don says:

      Roger Clemens is ans was a horrible person. but who cares? masterson being a nice person you met is nice. but again, what will he do on the field? that’s what matters.

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  7. crazyfox says:

    Addison Russell may not have technically reached AA at age 19, but he briefly skipped AA and reached AAA.

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