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Trading for Samardzija at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario

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Jeff Samardzija (Morry Gash--MLB.com)

Jeff Samardzija (Morry Gash–MLB.com)

I’m daydreaming again here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

It’s not a hard thing to do when you’re a Cleveland Indians’ fan floating through an offseason, because they tend to be about as exciting as watching the Browns play football, Anthony Bennett set a pick, or perhaps more appropriate to the baseball conversation; it’s been as exciting as watching MLB’s top free agent pitchers sign contracts.

In all seriousness, there’s been a legitimate lack of movement from the Indians this offseason, which truly is the norm here on the North Coast. Now I’m not necessarily knocking the moves that they have made; they’ve been solid acquisitions to be sure. But after the major moves made last year, this one feels a bit like a dud, even if it’s not. Let’s put it a bit in perspective:

  • October 31, 2013: Released Chris Perez, granted Matt Albers, Rich Hill, Scott Kazmir and Joe Smith free agency
  • November 1, 2013: Granted Ubaldo Jimenez free agency and signed Jason Giambi
  • November 25, 2013: Signed David Murphy as a free agent (2-year, $6 million)
  • December 9, 2013: Signed David Cooper as a free agent
  • December 16, 2013: Signed Shaun Marcum as a free agent
  • December 17, 2013: Signed Matt Treanor as a free agent
  • December 18, 2013: Traded Drew Stubbs to the Colorado Rockies for LHP Josh Outman
  • December 19, 2013: Signed John Axford as a free agent (1-year, $4.5 million)
  • January 6, 2013: Signed Jeff Francoeur as a free agent
  • January 16, 2013: Signed Nyjer Morgan as a free agent

I suppose that this exercise was to hopefully showcase that while the Indians haven’t as of yet made a big-splash signing, that they did manage to utilize their resources to acquire several needs. While all of these players have their flaws, they were all very pointed signings that addressed specific holes in the roster. All of the holes aren’t as filled as I’d like them to be, but there is still three weeks left (or longer) to make that move.

The truth is that the in the past, the Indians’ front office rarely had the money to make substantial moves to improve the team, especially when in comparison to the rest of the AL Central. While that may be true in a sense this year, there is clearly a different message and feeling coming from 2401 Ontario Street as the Indians have meandered through the 2013-2014 hot stove season.

The Indians actually didn’t have much that they had to do.

The needed a closer and they got one, after getting rid of Perez. They needed a lefty out of the bullpen, and they got one. They wanted a change in the outfield, and the made it. They also added potential “Ryan Raburn” acquisitions to supplement the major outfield move. They even addressed a potential hole in the rotation with a starter with questions, but one that has performed in the past.

The Indians are also counting on a minor league system for the first time in years, as players such as Jose Ramirez, Danny Salazar, Francisco Lindor, C.C. Lee and Jesus Aguilar could all make a Cleveland landing this year. That’s not to mention Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco, who could play a major role as well.

They could do more, and they still may, but it’s not the same situation that we’ve seen in the past.

What’s likely enhanced the feeling of offseason emptiness is that all four of the Indians AL Central-mates have made major deals. What has made me smile though is that most of these moves have been excessively reckless.

I’m not going to tell a lie. I think Dave Dombrowski, the President and GM of the Tigers is a witch. Year-after-year, I look for the Indians’ rivals in the Motor City to make a major blunder, but it rarely ever happens. It may have this year, when they dealt away Doug Fister and Prince Fielder, then lost Jhonny Peralta, Joaquin Benoit and Omar Infante to free agency. Sure, they brought in Joe Nathan, Ian Kinsler and Rajai Davis, but are they even close to as good as they were last season? Don’t forget, they lost Jim Leyland as well, and as good as I think Brad Ausmus will be, it will take time for the never-before-manager to find his way. Of course there is a prospect or two in there I like, and that Dombrowski-witch thing I mentioned before.

Many rave about the Royals bringing in Infante, Jason Vargas and Norichika Aoki as putting them “over-the-top.” I’m not going to slaughter these moves, as they clearly should help them. But, Infante signed a four-year, $30 million deal. I mean, he’s a nice player, but he had a career-year in 2013, and is 32. Vargas just got overpaid in a big way. No, he’s not Brett Myers, but there is no upside there. He was a just below-average pitcher in parks pitcher’s parks. Now he’s in a better park to hit in. I do like Aoki, who is a real nice right fielder…who is going to be 32 and hits a boatload of singles. They’ll be good, but their pitching will likely not be as good, and did their offense really get better?

The Twins literally spent a billion dollars on Ricky Nolasco, Phil Huges and Mike Pelfrey. They didn’t really lose anyone of not, but they didn’t really have much to begin with. No moves made me scratch my head more than the Twins. The White Sox, however, have made the best moves in the division up to this point. They brought in outfielder Adam Eaton and Cuban defector Jose Abreu, and also acquired Matt Davidson, a young power-hitting third baseman, who really could be an interesting sleeper. I’d be worried about this Sox this year, but they still have a ways to go, and I’m not sold on Robin Ventura.

So while the Indians haven’t made that big splash as of yet, I’m not sure that the Central did anything to get better. Time will certainly bear that out though, as the season gets closer and we can begin to see this players perform on the field. My opening monologue has already gone the route of way-to-long, so let’s get back to the Indians, my daydreaming, and that splash.

The Indians haven’t made that big move yet, and while the Indians could still sign a free agent (especially after Hoynsie broke this major, MAJOR tidbit when he said that “the Indians still have some money left to spend for the upcoming season,”), I do wonder what the Indians are planning after they low-balled Masterson by $3.75 million with their arbitration proposal. It appears as though the Indians are likely to end up going to arbitration with a player for the first time since Greg Swindell in 1991.

The Indians have been in talks with Masterson this offseason, but his “fair-market value” has likely increased by the bundle after all of the offseason signings. How legitimate his value is remains to be seen, but with Clayton Kershaw nabbing a seven-year, $215 million deal and Masahiro Tanaka likely to sign a six or seven-year deal in the realm of $140-$160 million, Masterson could be holding out for more years and money than anticipated.

Masterson will likely want a seven-year deal, hoping to settle for a five-year deal. You can argue whether or not he gets it, but there is no doubt his agent is going to likely hold firm there. How much per year? I would have to imagine that he’s going to be asking somewhere above $15 million, and somewhere below $20 million. Again, I don’t think he’ll get that from the Indians, but I do think that’s what he wants.

The Indians are clearly sending a message to Masterson if they take him to arbitration. While money will always talk, I would certainly have to believe that they are letting him know in no uncertain terms that he won’t be back.

Does that mean they are going to sign Ubaldo to a deal? It may, but it could also mean that they are just going to ride out the year with Masterson until they can make him the qualifying offer next year. The hope would be that Masterson would pitch well this year and help the Indians to the playoffs, and would likely force the Indians to go a different route long-term.

They could sign Ubaldo to a deal knowing that Masterson comes off the books next year, but my daydreaming has really gotten the best of me today, as I just can’t get trades out of my mind.

With or without Masterson, the Indians need to address their starting rotation. While some think the depth of Shaun Marcum, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin are enough to fill the #5 spot and depth, I am a lot more spotty than most. The Indians need to get another good, quality starter. The only other legitimate hole on this team is at third base. Can the Indians make a move to get what they need?

Here’s a look at a few moves that are likely out there, or could be as we roll towards spring training.

The Indians trade for the Cubs Jeff Samardzija

The biggest pitching prize in the trade market right now is the Tampa Bay Rays left-handed ace, David Price, along with his two years of control for Trevor Bauer and Francisco Lindor. What would the asking price be for Price? I’ll get into that in a minute, but it’s certainly going to be a lot, and should be a lot more than Jeff Samardzija. I think the Cubs starter is simply a more cost-effective option that could net the same result as Price…or better.

The Chicago Cubs are far apart with Samardzija with regards to their submitted arbitration figures, although not close to how far apart the Indians are with Masterson. Samardzija submitted $6.2 million, while the Cubs submitted $1.8 million less, at $4.4 million. The gap isn’t excessively substantial, but enough to cause concern for the pitcher and his agent.

Samardzija, like Masterson, has been unable to sign a long-term deal. While he wants to stay with the Cubs, the fact that they haven’t come to terms on even a one-year contract could boost his chances of being dealt as we close in on the start of Spring Training.

The biggest issue facing the Indians so far in any deal for the big righty is that the Cubs are asking far too much in return based on both his upside and his club control. The former Notre Dame wide receiver won’t become a free agent until after the 2015 season, which would give any team dealing for him two more seasons under contract.

This move would be perfect for the budget-conscious Indians though, who still need to find a cost-effective way to improve their team. Samardzija might also sign a long-term deal that’s slightly less substantial than Masterson, although that’s debatable. Samardzija has already reportedly turned down a five-year, $55 million deal, so it may be that they end up closer when it’s all said and done.

How good is Samardzija? His normal statistics aren’t going to jump out at you, although he did manage to throw well over 200 innings last year. But his peripherals are phenomenal, especially considering his last three seasons.

Year

Age

W

L

ERA

G

GS

GF

CG

SHO

IP

H

R

ER

HR

BB

SO

FIP

xFIP

WAR

ERA+

BB/9

SO/9

SO/BB

2011

26

8

4

2.97

75

0

18

0

0

88.0

64

35

29

5

50

87

3.66

4.27

0.6

132

5.1

8.9

1.74

2012

27

9

13

3.81

28

28

0

1

0

174.2

157

79

74

20

56

180

3.55

3.38

3.0

107

2.9

9.3

3.21

2013

28

8

13

4.34

33

33

0

2

1

213.2

210

109

103

25

78

214

3.77

3.45

2.8

91

3.3

9.0

2.74

In Samardzija, you get an elite level K/9, with substantial control. His 9.13 K/9 over the past two seasons is the fifth-highest among pitchers with 300 innings or more during that same timespan. The other four pitchers are Chris Sale, Yu Darvish, Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer. His ERA has climbed up over the past three seasons as he’s thrown more innings, but his FIP and xFIP suggest that he’s pitching much better than his basic stats would indicate. Wrigley also tends to be one of the worst hitter’s parks in the league, so moving to Progressive Field could be beneficial, although his home and away stats do fluctuate to the point that that’s questionable.

If the Indians were to make a move for the Cubs right hander, he would slot in that #2 or #3 spot, depending on how good you think Danny Salazar is. Here is what the rotation would look like:

#1: Justin Masterson

#2: Danny Salazar

#3: Jeff Samardzija

#4: Corey Kluber

#5: Zach McAllister

Not too shabby.

Unfortunately for the Indians, Cubs president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer are looking to rebuild their team, so the price won’t be cheap. While I think Samardzija is better than most, I’m not sure he’d ultimately be worth what the Cubs would ask for.

What will the Cubs want?

They’ll want a pitcher first, and start with Danny Salazar, and likely a secondary starter such as Dylan Baker or Dace Kime. They’ll probably want a bullpen arm as well, such as CC Lee or Austin Adams, and one of the Indians up-the-middle players like Joe Wendle or Jose Ramirez. If I’m a betting man, they’d ask for Salazar, Baker, Lee and Ramirez, since Tony noted in a Smoke Signals last year that they had shown interest in the Indians middle infielder.

I wouldn’t touch that deal with a ten-foot pole.

What would be a fair offer? I’d consider Cody Anderson or Trevor Bauer, Lonnie Chisenhall or Joe Wendle and any reliever you would want to throw into the equation. That’s asking a lot, but you are getting back a potential high end starter about to enter his prime with two years of control, and won’t cost more than $10 million in any of the next two seasons. They are probably asking for more than that, and would possibly take less. By the way, I’d also include Bauer or Baker in lieu of Anderson, who is our top pitching prospect.

I think a side benefit of this deal is that it would also give the Indians leverage with Justin Masterson, who they then could deal with on their terms. No, I don’t think that it would give the Indians bargaining power in that Masterson will come down in value, but I do think that the Indians will have more options to potentially deal their #1 starter should things align. It’s not something that I would want, and it would likely open up a rotation issue, but it would buy the Indians sometime in the grand scheme of things

I’d then immediately sign him long-term, even if “long-term” meant only one extra free agent season. I don’t know how much sense that would make for Samardzija, but that all depends on what sort of “three-year deal” that the Indians offer him to buy out his final two arbitration years.

Oh, and by the way. The Cubs are definitely in on Masahiro Tanaka. If they sign the free agent from Japan, the floodgates could come pourin’ from the Cubs. Of course, I’m not the only one that’s going to note that Samardzija may be clearly on the block at that point, and many teams who lost in the Tanaka sweepstakes will be in the mix for the righty.

The Indians could still make a very competitive offer, and he would definitively be the type of pitcher the Indians would look at long-term.

The Indians trade for David Price

I want to preface this part of Corner by saying unequivocally that I don’t want to deal for Price, and I certainly don’t think that it would happen. Sure, I’d love to have him and I wouldn’t mind paying a prospect sum to get him, but not what would likely be asked for.

There are two takes on prospects.

The first take is that you build a phenomenal minor league system as your foundation, set up the bulk of your team, then begin to maneuver those prospects for other players across the league to better suit your roster.

The second take is that you foster your prospects as commodities to acquire major league ready players.

There are grey areas in the middle for organizations, of course, but you can generally point to an organization and fit them into one category or the other.

Of course, there are the Indians, who rarely seem to have enough impact prospects to do much of anything. Think about it. When they dealt Drew Pomeranz and Alex White, arguably two of the top four prospects in the system at the time, the realistic depth was gone as far as impact goes once you looked past Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall.

The Indians system is better now, although you could still argue that there just aren’t enough “high impact” players to get a deal done for Price, and you can REALLY make a case that the Indians shouldn’t even if they did.

Price is a 4-WAR player, and while some point to potential diminishing returns over the next few seasons, others will point to the fact that he’s about to enter his prime years. His FIP and xFIP are elite, and regardless of expectations, Andrew Friedman is going to sell him as a legit, power-lefty who will be the ace of whatever staff he’s in for the next two season. Regardless of what you think of Price, the numbers trendy Friedman’s way.

So, what will it take to pry away David Price?

Friedman will need a minimum of two starters back in this potential deal, and likely a position player. My best guess here is that he’ll ask for either Salazar/Anderson/Lindor or Salazar/Bauer/Lindor. I wouldn’t do either.

I don’t think the Rays will come off of Salazar and Lindor, and I don’t think the Indians would offer both. Would the Indians make a deal involving Lindor and Bauer or Anderson? I think they would, and they’d run far away giggling hysterically. But Friedman is a shrewd GM, and he will never in his right mind settle for that.

Settle.

Now, I’m not trying to devalue Lindor here, and you can counter with his value long-term being more than Price. The problem with that assessment is that he’s a prospect, and as can’t-miss as he seems, he’s never played an inning of regular season, Major League baseball. That makes him less value. Bauer is tainted goods, so the two don’t equal a Price return. What do you add after that?

Do you add Frazier?

Do you add Jose Ramirez?

Do you add Dorssys Paulino?

Would the Rays even want any of those players?

My guess is no.

Steve Kinsella, who covers both the Indians at Wahoo’s on First and the Rays at D Rays Bay was throwing names back and forth with me on twitter yesterday, and ne noted accurately that “the Rays don’t have to trade Price,” and are “willing to carry risk into the season.”

Where does he think that the Rays would start with the Indians if trade talks commenced? He thinks it would be in the ballpark of Salazar, Anderson, Ramirez and Carlos Moncrief. That may or may not be a “first-volley” from the Rays, but I doubt talks would move far from there, and I’m not sure who would balk first. Likely both. I really believe that Salazar is as much as an untouchable “prospect” as the Indians have had in years.

Never say never, but I just don’t see a Price trade happening, and I’m really okay with that.

The Indians trade for Chase Headley

This is a deal that my compadres at www.clevelandsportsinsiders.com have bounced back-and-forth over the past year. Much like the Price thoughts, I want to preface this deal with a couple of things. First, Headley just signed a one-year deal with the Padres for $10.25 million, so it wouldn’t be a cost-effective move, unless the Indians sent Michael Bourn or Asdrubal Cabrera over in the deal. Neither of those make much sense. Second, Headley will become a free agent after the 2014 season, so he wouldn’t be a prototypical Indians’ “trade-with-control” type player.

I have always loved the 29-year old third baseman, and first talked of trading for Headley in the offseason between 2010 and 2011, when the Jack Hannahan era began. My goodness, what a steal a deal for Headley would have been back then. Now, his 2012 season really skewed his money numbers going forward.

Here are Headley’s stats over the past four full seasons.

Year

Tm

G

PA

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

OPS+

2011-2013 SDP

415

1738

1505

197

413

94

5

48

209

38

12

205

391

.274

.366

.439

.805

129

Average

138

579

502

66

138

31

2

16

70

13

4

68

130

Year

G

PA

Rbat

Rbaser

Rdp

Rfield

Rpos

RAA

WAA

Rrep

RAR

WAR

waaWL%

162WL%

oWAR

dWAR

oRAR

Salary

2011-2013

415

1738

59

-5

2

3

7

67

7.0

54

121

12.3

.517

.516

11.8

1.0

118

14375000

Average

138

579

20

-2

1

1

2

22

2

18

40

4.1

3.9

0.3

39

4791667

year

Age

Tm

Lg

G

PA

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

OPS+

2011

27

SDP NL

113

439

381

43

110

28

1

4

44

13

2

52

92

.289

.374

.399

.773

120

2012

28

SDP NL

161

699

604

95

173

31

2

31

115

17

6

86

157

.286

.376

.498

.875

145

2013

29

SDP NL

141

600

520

59

130

35

2

13

50

8

4

67

142

.250

.347

.400

.747

116

Just to comp Headley’s stats, here’s Lonnie Chisenhall’s numbers.

Year

Tm

G

PA

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

OPS+

TB

GDP

HBP

SH

SF

IBB

2011-2013 CLE

203

682

643

73

157

36

1

23

74

4

1

32

132

.244

.284

.411

.694

94

264

13

4

2

1

1

Average

68

227

214

24

52

12

0

8

25

1

0

11

44

88

4

1

1

0

0

Year

G

PA

Rbat

Rbaser

Rdp

Rfield

Rpos

RAA

WAA

Rrep

RAR

WAR

waaWL%

162WL%

oWAR

dWAR

oRAR

Salary

2011-2013

203

682

-1

1

-1

0

1

1

0.3

25

26

2.6

.501

.501

2.6

0.3

26

492900

Average

68

227

-0

0

-0

0

0

0

0

8

9

0.9

0.9

0.1

9

164300

Year

Age

Tm

Lg

G

PA

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

OPS+

2011

22

CLE AL

66

223

212

27

54

13

0

7

22

1

0

8

49

.255

.284

.415

.699

94

2012

23

CLE AL

43

151

142

16

38

6

1

5

16

2

1

8

27

.268

.311

.430

.741

107

2013

24

CLE AL

94

308

289

30

65

17

0

11

36

1

0

16

56

.225

.270

.398

.668

88

Obviously it’s an unfair comparison on many levels. Here’s where you have to balance performance and control. In Chisenhall, you have a kid who has been all about potential for three years, but hasn’t reached that level because of injuries and really bad splits. In Headley, you’d get one-year at $10 million, but would get one of the best defensive third baseman and lock yourself into a season with a player who bats from both sides of the plate pretty well.

If you would want him in a trade, I’d have to believe that Josh Byrnes is going to try and get a bunch out of him. I also believe it would likely be players who was major league ready. In the past, GM Byrnes had made overtures for the White Sox Jose Quintana, should the Sox be interested. What would that mean for the Indians? Perhaps it means a guy like Corey Kluber, or perhaps it could mean Trevor Bauer.

I’d consider Bauer, or even a starter like Zach McAllister, but that would be predicated on signing or trading for another starter. There’s no way I’d touch Kluber in any deal for a one-year player, and I truly don’t think I’d deal Bauer at this point either. They’d also likely want to include Chisenhall in the deal to fill Headley’s old spot.

I love Headley and think he’s a definitive upgrade over Lonnie Chisenhall, but with Byrnes willing to keep him heading into 2014, combined with his unwillingness to acknowledge 2013 as a permanent and significant regression, compounded by the trade being a one-year rental, I’m not sure this deal makes as much sense as it did a year ago.

There are other deals out there to be had, but you can see that there aren’t many realistic, obvious game-changing trades to be made that the Indians might be willing to make. There are some interesting days ahead though, especially with Masahiro Tanaka close to picking his team. His signing will single-handedly begin the push for free agent pitcher signings, and could also springboard a couple of trades as well, depending on the team he goes to.

The only problem is that there will be many teams lined up to either sign a pitcher or make a trade, and the Indians may not have, or want to use the commodities they have to acquire something they don’t. But things certainly don’t feel finished just yet.

One last thing. With the news that the Los Angeles Dodgers may in fact be in the running for Tanaka really showcases the fundamental issues with Major League baseball. The Dodgers signed an $8.5 billion dollar deal with TW Cable, and will keep over $6 billion of that money, while sharing $2 billion over the length of the contract. I’ve seen varied reports to what the ultimate cut is for the Dodgers from year-to-year, the “low” figure I’ve seen is $150 million per season, with the high in the $280 million.

The Indians make $40 million a year with their TV deal.

Ponder this for a moment. The Dodgers have Zack Grienke at six-years and $147 million, Adrian Gonzalez at seven-years and $154 million, Matt Kemp at eight-years and $160 million, Carl Crawford at seven-years and $142 million, Josh Beckett at four-years and $68 million, Hanley Ramirez at six-years and $70 million, Andre Ethier at five-years and $85 million, Chad Billingsley at three-years and $35 million and Clayton Kershaw at seven-years and $215 million. That’s not to mention Dan Haren and Brian Wilson, who also have one-year, $10 million deals. Tanaka would give them six players making over $100 million total, nearly half their roster making $10 million or better per season.

In the NFL, there aren’t any local TV contracts to worry about.

Take that for what it’s worth, but the Indians are going to have a lot of boring offseasons if the TV revenue gap continues to grow in the coming years.

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