January 2006

Why this trade is all “right” for the Tribe

   On the eve of the Indians annual winter press tour rumors began swirling that the Tribe was about to trade popular outfielder Coco Crisp to Boston and the immediate reaction was outrage and shock.  Then after a few days rumor spread that the deal was dead because of a failed physical by one of the players coming to Cleveland.  The deal was revived when Boston added a conditional player to be named later and now its time to sort out what happened and why.

   The Indians lose Crisp (starting leftfielder), David Riske (right-handed set-up man), Arthur Rhodes (Left-handed set-up man) and Josh Bard (back-up catcher).  In return they get right-handed hitting Jason Michaels, who will take Crisp’s spot in left.  Guillermo Mota, a right-handed set-up man and Kelly Shoppach who will compete for the back-up catcher spot.

   The key player however is third base prospect Andy Marte.  He came from the Braves farm system which has always been rich in developing position players.  Marte was rated the 9th best prospect in all of baseball and he fills a huge future void for the Tribe at third base.  Aaron Boone is signed through this season with an option for ’07.  The problem the Indians had was looking ahead to free agency they didn’t see anyone available to help and down on the farm they had no one with the ability of Andy Marte.  Plus, the Indians have a number of young outfielders in the system that will be major league ready within 2 years.  Brad Snyder is on the fast track and he’s slated to start the year at AA before quickly moving to AAA Buffalo.  Snyder hit .280 at AA last year with 16 homers and can play all 3 outfield spots.  Andy Marte meanwhile is a right-handed bat with power and he’s already spent time in the big league’s at the age of just 21.

   The Indians have been left-handed "heavy" for the past several years and Marte and Michaels help to solve that problem.  Coco Crisp hit .297 and .300 over the past two seasons but, against left handed pitching he hit just .248 last year with only 5 of his 16 homers coming against southpaws.   His on base percentage of .299 also tells you that he’s a bit of a free swinger and doesn’t draw many walks.  Jason Michaels on the other hand hit .323 against leftys and his OBP was a hundred points higher than Coco’s.

   Guillermo Mota, if healthy, is a big addition to a bullpen that lost Bob Howry to free agency.  He’s a big strong guy who throws hard.  He led the National League in relief innings pitched in ’03 and ’04 but, was hurt in ’05 and only pitched 67 innings.  To ease some of the Tribe’s concerns Boston will send the Indians a player to be named later based on what kind of a year Mota has.

   Losing Arthur Rhodes is no concern if Mota is healthy.  Despite being left-handed he couldn’t get leftys out.  Rhodes allowed left-handed batters to hit 131 points higher than rightys and he really struggled his last two months with the Tribe.  In June and July he pitched in 21 games and allowed 6 earned runs and 15 hits in 18 innings while walking 8 batters.

   David Riske has been a productive pitcher out of the bullpen but, the Indians feel Fernando Cabrera could be ready to take over that role.  Plus they brought in Danny Graves and Steve Karsay to help bolster the middle relief corps.

   Kelly Shoppach is a 25-year old catcher who was Boston’s 2nd round pick in the 2001 draft.  He was named to the post season International League All-Star team last year and he belted 26 homers during the year at AAA.  Unfortunately for Josh Bard he never saw any playing time because Victor Martinez caught 147 games and he really struggled in the back-up role.  He doesn’t figure to see the field in Boston though where incumbent Jason Varitek is the leader of the Red Sox.

   After all of the analysis this is still a hard trade for many fans to swallow.  Coco Crisp became a popular player while the Tribe rebuilt from the ashes and became a legitimate contender last year.  I believe however that Mark Shapiro and his staff are trying to help this team for the ’06 season and beyond.  While many are already saying the Tribe took a step backwards with this deal, I wouldn’t be so quick to judge.  Remember the outrage when the Indians didn’t bring back Omar Vizquel?  Turns out the Tribe knew what they were doing with Jhonny Peralta.  Maybe they deserve the benefit of the doubt on this one.