The Indians Odd but Productive Deadline

Sometimes we see clear-cut winners at the deadline. This year we saw many contenders add pieces for a relatively cheap cost, making most of them winners. Yet we also saw some winners from the non-contention pool. Jack covered one this morning, when he praised the Pirates for their roster upgrades. They sent out four players and received some decent returns. The Indians, too, traded four of their players — Austin Kearns, Kerry Wood, Jhonny Peralta, and Jake Westbrook — five if you count Russell Branyan. Yet it doesn’t appear they got much in return. Would this count as a negative for the Indians?

From the returns on their players it doesn’t seem like much of a win. While they picked up some recognizable names when trading Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez last year, the players they acquired this year hit only the most dedicated prospect maven’s radar.

Giovanni Soto, acquired for Peralta, is a 2008 46th round pick who has put up very good numbers in his first two professional seasons. Ezequiel Carrera, acquired for Branyan, ranked 12th on John Sickels’s Mariners prospects list, but got off to a disappointing start in 2010. The other player in that deal, Juan Diaz, didn’t make anyone’s list, though he did get off to a good start in 2010. Corey Kluber, received in the Westbrook deal, also didn’t make any big prospect lists, but is having a high-strikeout, low-walk season in AA. Forget about the returns for Wood and Kearns; they were both exchanged for players to be named later.

With so little in return, it might seem like the Indians lost at the deadline. Then again, the five players they traded combined for 3.8 WAR this season and all would have walked without providing any compensation at season’s end. With the Indians going nowhere in 2010, they did well to acquire any talent in exchange for them. Even in the Wood deal recouped some of the money remaining on his contract, another plus for a small market team.

As for the players, the outlook appears the one Jack described for Pittsburgh. Maybe one or two of these guys turns into a solid regular, and if that happens the Indians should throw a party. If none of them works out it’s not a big deal. These were five players who would have played elsewhere in 2010 and wouldn’t have brought the Indians any return in the form of free agent compensation according to the latest Elias rankings update. Yet the players themselves aren’t the biggest return here.

Today on Rob Neyer’s SweetSpot blog, Steve Buffum of B-List Indians Blog reflects on the activity of the past weekend. He hits on the major point of moving these five players: it allows the Indians to slot in players who might help them in 2011 and beyond. It stated in late June when Matt LaPorta replaced Branyan. After a shaky start to the season which resulted in a demotion, LaPorta has demonstrated improvement since his full-time assumption of first base, producing a .340 wOBA in July. With Wood gone Chris Perez can remove the “of the future” addendum to his role as closer. Moving Kearns means a longer look for Michael Brantley, though because he was demoted on Tuesday he can’t come up again until Thursday.

These are not insignificant gains. By moving established players to other teams, the Indians not only got returns for players whom they otherwise would have lost for nothing in the off-season, but they essentially turned the season’s final two months into an audition for 2011. For at least one month they’ll play against full-strength, 25-man squads, allowing the Indians to get a better gauge of the players they control. It might not make them contenders in 2011, but it’s a good first step towards 2012.

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

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