Fresh off being swept by the lowly Twins in a three-game weekend series, and lugging a 3-7 record over their last 10 games, the Cleveland Indians are fading out of playoff contention. At 50-52, they are still in the hunt for the second wild card spot, yet they have a young ballclub that is likely a few years away from emerging as a legitimate World Series contender.
With the Indians struggling, there are numerous rumors that they could trade valuable chips like outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, starting pitcher Justin Masterson and even closer Chris Perez. Dealing Choo and Masterson would be a mistake, but getting a package of top prospects for Perez might be a palatable option.
Unlike the Houston Astros, which have the worst record in baseball and are around three years away from fielding a contender, the Indians are already competitive and can build a winner by next season.
For a club that often struggles to score, trading Choo would further deplete the lineup. The 29-year-old Choo is batting .291 with 12 home runs, 39 RBI, 11 stolen bases and a .862 OPS. He is under team control through next season and has publicly stated his fondness for playing in Cleveland, but his agent is Scott Boras, so it is uncertain if the Indians will be able to sign him to a new deal. If the Pirates offer 23-year-old outfielder Starling Marte for Choo, that would be worth considering, yet Choo’s presence in the lineup this season and next year give the Indians a much-needed run-producing bat.
The 27-year-old Masterson – who allowed 10 runs (eight earned) and seven hits over 5.2 innings in a loss to the Twins on Sunday – is 7-9 with a 4.47 ERA this season. Those are disappointing numbers for a guy Cleveland was expecting to serve as a reliable top of the rotation arm.
Still, Masterson is a durable arm who is effective when his sinker is working. He is under team control through 2014.
Though Ubaldo Jimenez has not given the Indians the ace they expected when they acquired him from Colorado, and Derek Lowe is nearing the end of his career, Masterson represents a starting pitcher the team can build around. Cleveland’s rotation also features 24-year-old right-hander Zach McAllister, who is 4-2 with a 3.18 ERA in 10 starts and provides a promising back of the rotation arm.
Dealing the 27-year-old Perez would be tough for Indians fans to stomach. The right-handed closer has a 2.82 ERA and 29 saves. Opposing hitters have a .212 average against him, and he has 44 strikeouts in 38.1 innings. Perez will not be a free agent until after the 2014 season, but he is making $4.5 million this year and will surely get a bump in salary in the off-season.
It is not difficult to replace a closer, and Perez could bring back a harvest of major league ready or near major league ready prospects. With Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley, the Indians have some appealing young players. They should focus on adding to the group instead of tearing it apart.