“I choo choo choose you”

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com

On Twitter: @Castrovince

ImageWhat will the Indians do with Shin-Soo Choo? The answer will tell us quite a bit about the Indians’ evaluation not only of their 2012 season going astray but also about 2013, too.

The Indians have known for two and a half years that Choo is their property through the 2013 season and not a day longer, given that he’s a five-tool talent who latched on with an agent — Scott Boras — known for getting his players to free agency as quickly as possible.

Naturally, the pending Trade Deadline, coming as it does just as the Indians spiral out of contention in the American League Central, has a way of forcing a club to take stock of its standing and its assets, both present and future. And there is no question that one of the Tribe’s greatest assets in the immediate is Choo.

It comes as no surprise, then, that interest in Choo, who has a .292 average and .862 OPS and has had an impactful presence in the leadoff spot for the Indians, is high right now. Reports have run rampant that the Pirates have particular interest, and they have the ability to dangle promising prospect Starling Marte, among others.

It comes as equally no surprise that the Indians are at least willing to listen to offers for the 30-year-old native of South Korea, because this is an organization known for trying, with varying degrees of success, to reel in returns for its top talent before that talent bolts.

Choo’s, though, is a particularly delicate case because it comes at a time when the Indians are still trying to repair relations with a fan base that largely turned its back on the latest rebuild, and his sheer presence is a key element of any effort to maximize the so-called “window of contention” the Indians have outlined for themselves.

Because beyond Choo, the Indians’ outfield arrangement at the upper levels of their farm system can best be described as barren with a side of bleak. The most illustrative moment came midseason, when former No. 1 pick Trevor Crowe, drafted nine slots ahead of Jacoby Ellsbury in the famed 2005 First-Year Player Draft, was released by an organization that too often whiffed on amateur talent.

The Indians, though, got it right on several relatively low-profile trades, and that was undoubtedly the case when they acquired Choo from the Mariners six years ago. All it cost them was Ben Broussard, the second half of their 2006 first-base platoon. The first half, Eduardo Perez, had also gone to Seattle in exchange for future All-Star shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera.

Those two swaps are still nothing short of amazing.

It’s altogether possible, six years later, that the Indians could get it right again and move Choo for a prime piece or two. They are definitely targeting upper-level bodies with the ability to play in the Majors in the present tense.

But if the return is, say, Marte, who is young (23), controllable and — bonus — right-handed (the Indians’ lineup famously leans to the left), you’re still sacrificing a good deal of 2013 output from the loss of Choo’s leadoff lumber in order to attain a longer-term projection.

And maybe the Indians are comfortable with that, given that Ubaldo Jimenez, the man whose arrival signaled the Indians’ embrace of the aforementioned “window,” has established himself as anything but an ace and Justin Masterson has also taken a step back in 2012. Those two have been leaders of the Tribe rotation only in the sense that they have been equally unsteady as the rest of the starting five.

Masterson, for the record, has also been rumored to be a movable piece, but he’s under the Indians’ control through 2014.

For this club to contend both in the immediate and in 2013, a rotation upgrade is definitely in order, and that is, of course, the most costly and difficult area to upgrade.

So maybe the Indians use a strength like Choo to address a weakness, be it in the rotation or the long-term outfield alignment. The Deadline presents a frenzied environment in which clubs act impulsively, so this could be a time to reap a robust return. Or if the Indians are really serious about dangling Choo, they can also wait until winter, when more clubs can get involved. Or they could keep him, knowing they could always monitor this market a year from now, if 2013 goes off-track.

Choo is the hotter topic at present, but if the Indians are really swaying toward “sell” mode, they would be wiser, simply as a function of in-house replacement options, to part with closer Chris Perez.

Perez won’t be a free agent until after 2014, but he’s already making $4.5 million with another raise looming after a stellar season. If his pay gets bumped to somewhere in the $7 million range, then the Indians, realistically, could be investing about 10-12 percent of their 2013 player payroll into the erratic commodity that is a closer, knowing full well that lower-cost option exists in Vinnie Pestano and that bullpens, in general, can be pieced together on the cheap. Late-game relief is definitely a seller’s market at present and could be in the winter, as well.

Naturally, the Indians have the option of standing pat and letting the 2012 season resolve itself, hoping the first sustained winning stretch this current club goes on will be the one that triggers a rapid rise in the Central standings.

But even if the Indians hold firm now, these questions will come up again in the winter. It says here that you can trade Perez and probably still build a winner next year, especially if you wisely apply the money saved. Trading Choo, on the other hand, would present a more difficult proposition for 2013.

According to Baseball Reference, Choo has created 71 runs this year, or 16 percent of the Tribe’s total output. Combine that with his rocket arm in right, and his impact is impressive. Any returns on a trade better be the same and better be ready for prime time, or else the Indians would have a tough time selling this current “window” as anything other than shut.

~AC

6 Comments

Very well-written article. The Indians are trying to walk a fine line by not letting Choo leave in free agency but still trying to win next year. The problem is that the Jimenez trade has been a disaster at a time when the team could least afford to whiff on another major trade. If the rotation has to be rebuilt as a result, then the harsh reality is that there really is no window of contention at all and they might as well sell everybody and start over.

The pieces they have as it stands look like they will continuously struggling to score runs, and with a staff who’s 1-2-3 are all sitting with ~5 ERAs and 1.6 WHIPs, this is an inherently flawed design if people are expecting to content with spenders like Chicago and Detroit.

I was at the Fanfest, and its clear that there is no marketable value to the current roster in terms of star power. The last time this existed was with Grady Sizemore, and unfortunately he hasn’t been able to see the field much the last several years. The team needs to roll the dice to get 1-2 guys who can really be the marketable stars of this team (no offense to Asdrubal), build some momentum in attendance, and leverage the otherwise great pieces around them in the lineup to build a winning offense. The rotation will have to be built carefully looking for guys like 2011 Tomlin (not 2012) to fill in the back end ahead of hopefully a more consistent young crop and a veteran replacement for Lowe.

The problem with swinging for the fences is that you can often miss, but this team, if its ever going to contend needs to pick up some of these 5-star pieces through trades and the draft in order to be sustainably good as it was in the mid-late 90s, and hope to do it quickly while Kipnis/Cabrera/Santana/Brantley are still in their primes.

Even though it might make sense dollar wise to trade Choo or Perez, I think it would be a PR mistake to do it so quickly after the last rebuild. That rebuild isn’t finished yet. The fans and management can keep going around in circles on dish out the money for players so will come, or come and then we’ll dish out the money for players but sooner or later someone has to blink. I don’t see how management can build a contender without shelling out some money.You can’t build a contender solely on cheap upcoming players and aging stars. You need some good solid veterans in the mix that aren’t in their late 30’s and should retire.

Pingback: While We’re Waiting… Talking Training Camp, Sports Writing and Outfield Depth | WaitingForNextYear

Pingback: “Everybody’s doing something; we’ll do nothing!” « CastroTurf

Why you are criticizing Indians more here? Its not good.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 61 other followers

%d bloggers like this: