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What Indians should do this offseason

11/4/2012

The power outage in our area north of New York City is really no big deal, relative to the devastation in other parts. You throw an extra blanket on the kids at night, relearn to make coffee in the fireplace in the morning, spend the days cleaning up branches and leaves, and you're good to go. They're telling us it may be five or six more days until the electricity is back on, and that's fine. It'll work out. We were very, very fortunate.

But with the cell service also either completely out or sporadic on most days, the information blackout on baseball moves is a much greater frustration -- for a baseball reporter, anyway -- than waiting in line for gas. So we checked into a hotel for a morning, and like a caffeine addict who reaches for a long-awaited cup of coffee, I think my hands were shaking as I got to text and dial and type for the first time since colleague Steve Berthiaume and I drove out of Detroit last week.

Some thoughts looking ahead, and looking back on moves that were made:

The Indians traded for a couple of infielders, in Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes.

Aviles is a useful player, someone you can move around. But his presence could also give the Indians' front office the opportunity to be aggressive this offseason.

Cleveland doesn't have a good farm system in the eyes of rival evaluators, and in particular, the Indians lack quality starting pitching at the big league level and in the minors.

If I were in Chris Antonetti's shoes, as GM of the Indians, I'd take a look at what the Oakland Athletics have done in recent years and follow their example -- and this is what I'd do:

1. Trade shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera

He's set to make $6.5 million in 2013 and then $10 million in 2014, before becoming a free agent. He's an All-Star-caliber player just days away from his 27th birthday, and the Indians could get a nice package of prospects for him -- especially pitching prospects -- in a deal with a team such as the A's, Seattle Mariners Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees (who could use him as an everyday super utility player at third base, shortstop or second base, as they cope with the advancing ages of Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter and the possible exit of Robinson Cano).

2. Trade Carlos Santana

He is under contract through 2016, a deal that the Indians made believing he would be their catcher of the future. But around baseball, there are growing questions about whether his future is as a catcher, or whether he will become a first baseman. There were the same questions about Jesus Montero, of course, and the Yankees traded him -- and put that positional question in the hands of the Mariners -- while his value was still high. The Indians should do the same thing, and with teams such as the Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs all in need of long-term catching solutions, Cleveland would get really good return in a trade -- likely more pitching.

3. Trade closer Chris Perez

But the Indians should also deal Vinnie Pestano, who is their best reliever, because by the time Cleveland rebuilds its rotation to the point where it can contend again, Pestano will be far enough along in his service time when he would start to get expensive. Pestano would generate really, really nice return now, while he's still cheap, especially as teams look for alternatives to expensive free-agent bullpen options such as Rafael Soriano.

4. Trade Shin-Soo Choo

He's a free agent after next season, he's represented by Scott Boras and he's not coming back after next year. The Indians might get 80 cents on the dollar in return, but as we saw last summer, what teams can recoup in value in midseason deals is only diminishing.

5. Trade Justin Masterson

Although he had a terrible season in 2012 (4.93 ERA), he is 27 years old and will have trade value; the Red Sox know him, and have been interested, and the Cubs may, as well.

A massive overhaul like this would not go over well with hard-core Indians fans, but again, the Cleveland front office could look to the Athletics as an example. Because Oakland wasn't drawing well, anyway, the Athletics swapped assets such as Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill for young pitching, figuring that its best chance to regenerate interest was to rebuild its staff. Last year, the Indians drew 1.6 million fans, which ranked 13th among 14 teams in the American League.

What does Cleveland really have to lose by trading in its best assets, and betting that it could pick prospects that could turn around the franchise in two or three years?

If the Indians just keep that same group of players and try to tinker, they probably aren't going to win, and Cabrera, Choo, Masterson and Perez will probably all be gone soon, anyway.

Issues for Angels

Remember the good ol' days -- just months ago, actually -- when we looked at the Los Angeles Angels as having perhaps having one of the deepest rotations in years?

Dan Haren is gone, after the Angels chose to not pick up his 2013 $15.5 million option. Ervin Santana is gone, after he was dumped in a trade to the Kansas City Royals.

And now the pressure on the Angels to re-sign Zack Greinke is enormous, because they don't have a lot of alternatives. Given the confluence of forces working for the pitcher now -- the fact that he's easily the best pitcher in a relatively weak market, which is flush with cash -- Greinke may well wind up with a deal right in the range of the seven-year, $144 million contract that Cole Hamels got from the Phillies a few months ago. Within the next two months, Greinke will be the highest-paid right-handed pitcher in baseball history -- by a significant margin. (Think about that for a moment: Two years ago, some big-market teams wouldn't touch Greinke because of his history of off-field issues, and now he's going to wind up being the highest-paid right-hander in history.)

Some rival executives say that the Angels' ownership isn't as open to spending big dollars as it was last winter. We'll see.

Royals' big gamble

The Royals have long been reluctant to trade their best young position players, and their deal for Santana is an early sign that they will again try to upgrade their rotation without making significant investments -- either in a trade, or in a free-agent signing. From here, the Santana deal seems like a Jonathan Sanchez redux: All of the numbers point to a decline in Santana:

ERA since 2008: 5.03, 3.92, 3.38, 5.16

Homers allowed: 24, 27, 26, 39

And here's the big set of numbers that would scare the heck out of me -- average fastball velocity, from fangraphs.com:

2008: 94.8

2009: 92.5

2010: 92.4

2011: 92.7

2012: 91.7

Look at it another way: The Angels, one of baseball's most affluent teams, which has a desperate need for rotation help, could have simply kept Santana on a low-risk (for them) one-year deal -- and they dumped him quickly.

In the face of all that information, the Royals have made him the highest-paid player on their roster for next season at $13 million.

I don't think the Royals are that far from contending in baseball's weakest division; they have a solid everyday lineup and a dominant bullpen. If they can get a couple of rotation stabilizers, they could be a 2013 sleeper -- but I don't think Santana can be that. We'll see.

The Royals claimed another pitcher, as well.

Other thoughts

David Ortiz turns 37 in 13 days, but he has had as much real practice in his negotiations as he did in the years when he was one of the team's pre-eminent sluggers. The Red Sox have available dollars after their money-saving whopper with the Dodgers during the summer, and their ownership needs somebody to market after back-to-back disasters in 2011 and 2012. Ortiz was having a really good season before he got hurt, and finished the year with a .415 on-base percentage and 23 homers in 90 games. But if the Red Sox were back in their heyday of 2007, there is no chance Theo Epstein would have given a 37-year-old designated hitter a $26 million deal. However, the club's leadership is in a very different place right now.

The rebuilding has started, writes Dan Shaughnessy.

• Now that Soriano has opted out of his deal with the Yankees, his agent, Boras, has told others he believes he can get a four-year, $60 million contract for the right-hander.

• The Indians and Angels have a ton of common ground on a possible deal. The Angels need a closer, and the Indians have Perez and Pestano; the Indians need outfielders, and the Angels have Peter Bourjos and Vernon Wells (whose contract would have to be bought out significantly for him to be moved -- something that rival executives expect will happen.)

• Oakland re-signed Bartolo Colon. If you're wondering if the Athletics delved into Colon's PED history, well, don't bother. The bottom line is that teams really have no power to do their own testing or investigating. All they can do is wait for testing results, like everybody else, and assess the value of players -- and at $3 million, Colon is a good value. He is not the backbone of the Athletics' rotation, he's just a complementary piece, and if he's suspended again, they haven't built anything around him.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Jim Crane remains hands on after a year on the job, writes Brian Smith. There have been significant changes in personnel in the organization -- beyond the roster alterations.

2. Qualifying offers were made to B.J. Upton and Josh Hamilton. The Angels didn't make a qualifying offer to Torii Hunter, which is a surprise; if Hunter had accepted that offer -- and it's unlikely he would have -- then he would've been a good value on a one-year deal.

3. The Pirates hired Jay Bell as their hitting coach.

4. The Rays will seek flexibility this offseason.

5. The Tigers will offer Brennan Boesch a contract because of his potential.

6. John Mozeliak has done a stellar job as the St. Louis general manager, writes Bernie Miklasz. Part of what he did well was to create operating room for Jeff Luhnow, despite Tony La Russa's low regard for Luhnow, and the Cardinals have benefited greatly from Luhnow's drafts. None of that would've happened without Mozeliak's stewardship.

7. White Sox GM Rick Hahn has an advantage: his pitching depth.

8. The Cubs pulled the plug on a possible Carlos Marmol swap, writes Gordon Wittenmyer.

9. The Twins turned the page on Alexi Casilla.

10. The Jays added Esmil Rogers at a time when Toronto fans and media are expecting big upgrades.

11. The Red Sox should trade Jacoby Ellsbury, writes Michael Silverman. They'd probably get 60-70 cents on the dollar in perceived return, though, which might not be enough.

12. Hunter is among the free agents whom Boston will consider, writes Scott Lauber.

13. Casilla would seem to give the Orioles an alternative to Robert Andino at second base.

14. Mariano Rivera told the Yankees that he's ready to come back. The Yankees can now turn to other priorities, writes Joel Sherman.

15. The Nationals are focused on a new brand of free agency, writes Adam Kilgore. Washington is talking with Mike Gonzalez.

16. The Phillies have plenty of payroll flexibility, writes Bob Brookover.

17. The Pirates have a familiar shopping list, writes Bill Brink.

18. Hamilton is reportedly looking for a whole lot of money.

19. Mike Redmond is a perfect fit for the Marlins. He's a good baseball guy; they know him and, more importantly, he knows them; and he isn't making much money, which was a requirement.

20. Matt Williams is being brought back for a second interview in Colorado. Patrick Saunders breaks down four candidates.

21. The Padres would like Haren.

22. The Mariners re-signed Oliver Perez.

Other stuff

Brian McCann is feeling upbeat. The Braves look at Evan Gattis as a catching prospect.

Chase Headley won a Gold Glove.

• Mark Attanasio wrote a letter to Brewers' fans.

• The Cubs are looking for big TV money.

• A Brewers prospect has been tearing up the Arizona Fall League.

• John Lowe looks back at key moments in the World Series. In short, the Giants made big plays in big moments, and the Detroit bats were inexplicably cold.

• Henry Schulman relives the Giants' season.

• Don Zimmer is coming back.

• Vanderbilt is a good team that's getting better.

• Many thoughts go out to those who had their lives devastated by Sandy -- and there are so many.

And today will be better than yesterday.