What If?

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com

Let’s play off the Indians’ marketing motto and have a quick game of “What If?”

And please, please understand that these are not fully fleshed out ideas (far from it, in fact) but merely the meanderings of a mind that has spent the last three days wandering the Hilton Anatole lobby at the Winter Meetings waiting on Albert Pujols developments. If you spread word that I’ve reported any of what follows as fact, you’re dead to me.

What If? … This Carlos Santana-to-first base stuff that I’ve brought up before has some teeth to it. After all, Manny Acta certainly didn’t shoot the idea down when it came up in his manager session a little bit ago.

“Ideally,” Acta said, “you don’t want guys bouncing back and forth that much. He had a big split there (40 starts at catcher, 63 at first). But because of the fact of our inconsistency at first base and also because of all the injuries that we had, we had to keep him in the lineup as much as possible. And he led our team in at-bats and games played coming back from a knee surgery.

“We value him as a catcher, but to tell you the truth, he’s a very good middle of the order hitter. Wherever you put him, he’s going to be able to produce. And it all depends what we can accomplish right now, during the off season. What can you acquire?”

Doesn’t sound so inconceivable, does it?

I’m admittedly all about this idea. I think Santana, unlike Victor Martinez, has the power to be a prototypical first baseman. I think his body will respond well to being removed from the wear and tear of catching, and that will only aid his power potential. And I don’t think he’s nearly enough of a defensive whiz or game-changer behind the plate to place too much emphasis on his need to catch.

I know Lou Marson is an easy out, at present. I’m not entirely convinced there’s not more in the tank for him with more consistent playing time. But more than anything, I know he has the attributes behind the plate to have a tangible impact on what the Indians do defensively. I also know that there’s something to be said for having a veteran backup catcher in the mix (the Indians, obviously, would have to go out and acquire one, somehow), especially with such a young staff.

Carlos Santana to first, full-time. I like it, in the context of how difficult it’s going to be for the Indians to find any sort of power presence at that particular position on such a limited budget.

Or maybe…

What If? … The “surprise” trade proposal to which Chris Antonetti alluded involves Asdrubal Cabrera?

OK, let’s get one thing straight. This supposed trade might not happen. Let’s not kid ourselves. General managers talk about tons of proposals over the course of the winter and at these meetings. The only caveat with this one is that Antonetti happened to mention it to reporters. Maybe he did so just to break up the monotony or just to make a point that it’s the deals nobody sees coming (Sergio Santos to the Blue Jays, for instance) that quite often get accomplished. I certainly don’t think he did it to stir up the rumor mill or get people back home talking about a potential “blockbuster” in the works.

And once again, to be clear, I’m not looking to stir it up either. We’re just talking here as friends, OK? OK.

So here’s the thing: Antonetti said we could take 50 guesses as to what the trade is, and we wouldn’t get it. He’s probably right, but that adds intrigue. That would lead one to believe the Indians have discussed a player on their roster that one wouldn’t expect to get dealt. We all know they have bullpen depth, so it would be no shock to assume they’ve listened to possibilities involving arbitration guys like Chris Perez and even Raffy Perez. We all know Travis Hafner eats up a ton of payroll space. We all know Fausto Carmona is overpaid (but nonetheless needed in this rotation).

One would assume the Indians wouldn’t move any pre-arbitration “core” guys like Lonnie Chisenhall or Jason Kipnis or even Vinnie Pestano. One would assume Ubaldo Jimenez is unmovable and Justin Masterson untouchable. One would assume Shin-Soo Choo’s value is at its lowest point, given his bum year.

Or maybe these assumptions are all incorrect and that’s the surprise.

But I look at the roster, and I see one guy whose value is, arguably, as high as it’s ever going to get after an All-Star season in which he broke out at the plate. I see one guy who is in his second year of arbitration and due for a huge raise from the $2 million and change he made last year. I see one guy who the Indians have been understandably loathe to give a long-term contract to in the past because of concerns about his body and consistency.

Yes, I’m looking at you, Asdrubal.

I think Asdrubal is a terrific ballplayer and he’s certainly exceeded all expectations the Indians had for him when they acquired him from Seattle way back when. But I somehow don’t trust that 25 homers and 92 RBIs is his new norm. Maybe I’m turned off by his second-half slide and lingering concern over his conditioning. It’s quite likely I’m reading too much into that second half. But I think the goal of the trading season, for a team like the Tribe, ought to be to move guys at the peak of their powers, before their price tags drastically outpace their performance. I fear, for the Indians’ sake, that Cabrera could be headed in that direction.

Now, granted, I have absolutely no idea what the Indians would do to replace Cabrera at short if they moved him. That’s why this is a half-baked blog entry and nothing more. But you have at least two teams in the Cardinals and Brewers who are in need of a starting shortstop and have the resources to afford his rising price. Maybe there’s interest there.

Ask yourself this. Wouldn’t five years of contractual control of Allen “The Wrench” Craig look good in that Indians’ lineup? You could plug him into that first-base hole, leave Santana behind the plate (thereby nullifying everything I wrote earlier) and let him rake.

What’s that? Craig just had knee surgery and is out four to six months? Oh, be quiet. You’re killing the mood.

The point is, sometimes it makes sense to sell high. Maybe this is the time for Indians and Asdrubal. Maybe not.

What If? … I just wasted 20 minutes of my life typing out a bunch of stuff that won’t happen? I don’t know. Wouldn’t be the first time, though, and it sure beats wandering the lobby.

~AC

10 Comments

Good read that brings home the point: sports teams are in the business of winning.

Good food for thought. I’ve thought about the Marson-Santana > Santana-LaPorta a bunch of times. As much of a non-factor as Marson has been at the plate, he had some decent numbers in the minors-especially in terms of plate discipline and his defensive potential makes that option more attractive to me than watching LaPorta scuffle. I’d love to see LaPorta fulfill his potential, but the Indians put all their eggs in one basket when they acquired Ubaldo.

I couldn’t help but think of Asdrubal immediately when Antonetti said that. I love watching him play short and he put up a great season overall, but I can’t help but feel the odds are great that he’ll never hit 20 HR again. They all seemed to just clear the fence and his defense in not rated well sabermetrically, although he has some of the craziest baseball instincts I’ve seen. He’s almost definitely at his peak value and, though trading him away will draw the ire of the casual fan (as most Indians fans seem to be) it makes tremendous sense given the Indians’ circumstances. He could be sold as a star in his prime and a solid return could really push the Indians into an excellent opportunity to compete. He would be difficult to replace at short, but smart money is on him not living up to the expectations he set this season and we saw this year, that even if he does it means nothing if our team isn’t healthy.

I’m convinced that if our offense stayed healthy, you could replace Cabrera’s offense with Donald (or another) and Choo, Santana, Sizemore, Kipnis and Hafner could carry the weight. As you suggested, Craig (1B) and Donald (SS) > Cabrera (SS) and LaPorta (1B). Or you could trade Cabrera for a pitcher and still have Donald at short and the Santana-Marson variation. There are a ton of possibilities – obviously it depends entirely on what’s being offered, but in theory, trading Asdrubal could be a great idea.

Love the speculation. I would be completely on board with Santana at 1B and Marson our starting catcher if I thought we had the luxury of letting Marson get the ABs in that he needs to produce at a reasonable level. Sadly, at this point I think we need a known quantity on offense.
The AC idea is interesting, although it would require the Tribe to get at least some kind of middle infield help in return, plus a substantial right handed bat, and maybe some starting pitching depth.
At this point, I really wouldn’t discount any idea.

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