What's Next: Cleveland Indians Edition

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It is once again that time of year across Major League Baseball where teams are adjusting their goals. For some, it’s a time to scale back their once lofty expectations and instead build towards the promise of next year. For the more fortunate clubs, this is a time to asses their needs and devise plans to fill holes as they make a push for October baseball.

The Cleveland Indians are one of those clubs that will soon begin re-tooling their roster for 2011. For a club that was one victory away from an American League pennant just three seasons ago, there isn’t much left. Cleveland has already traded away Cy Young winners in each of the past two seasons, and there aren’t any of those guys left to deal, but they do have a couple of attractive pitchers that could be moved. (more after the jump)

Right hander Jake Westbrook missed almost all of the past two years recovering from Tommy John surgery and while he isn’t experiencing the same success he had prior to the injury, the 2010 version hasn’t been all that bad. Westbrook has always been a groundball machine, and this season is no different. He’s sixth-best in the league in groundball rate.

Westbrook is making $11MM this season, but he’s in the final year of his deal. After not throwing a single pitch in 2009, there is no shot at him reaching even Type-B status at the end of the year, so there will be no compensation pick for the team that loses him to free agency.

Cleveland would certainly like to keep Westbrook (4-3, 4.62) around to help mentor a young staff, but if there is a reasonable offer, the Tribe would certainly be wise to make a move and hope to re-sign him in the winter.

Considering his salary and the lack of compensation draft picks attached, Cleveland shouldn’t expect much of a haul for a two month rental of Westbrook, but for a team that is going nowhere in 2010, adding even marginal prospects would be a good idea. Of course, if the Indians were to pick up a portion of his contract, their return would increase, and they’ll find a much larger market for his services.

Westbrook would be a fine fit with his former club, the Yankees, as well as the Dodgers, Cardinals, and Mets. I also like him as a fit with Texas and Colorado, where his groundball rates would be particularly helpful.

If you’re looking for a pitcher with a bit more upside, you can find that in former 19-game winner Fausto Carmona. Along with Westbrook, Carmona (5-5, 3.23) has found a bit of his old form with Cleveland this year. He isn’t striking out batters at anywhere near the clip he did a few years back, but he’s gotten his walks under control this season and is still just 26 years old.

On top of his pitching ability, Carmona is under a team-friendly contract that pays him just $4.9MM this year and $6.1MM next season. He also has club options in 2012, ’13, and ’14, any of which can be declined without buyout.

The market for Carmona should be greater than Westbrook’s simply due to the contract. Unlike Westbrook, Carmona is under team control well beyond this season, and at age 26, seven years the junior of Westbrook, Carmona still has upside potential. We’ve seen the kind of dominance he can offer, especially if he can control the inside part of the plate against left handed batters.

In short, any club looking for rotation help should be scouting Carmona, expect the Mets to be at the head of the line, as not only do they need help in 2010, but beyond as well. The Mets can not only afford the relatively small salary that Carmona is due, but they wouldn’t have to surrender a ton to get him. A package of two or three prospects would be enough to pry him loose, perhaps centered around right hander John Maine, who could use a fresh start with another club.

In addition to those two hurlers, the Indians would happily part ways with closer Kerry Wood (1-2, 8.74, 4 Sv), you could likely have him no next to nothing, just so long as you’ll pay his $10.5MM salary. He has a vesting option for next season that kicks in with 55 games finished in 2010, but that’s a number that he seems very unlikely to reach given all his missed time already this year. He’s so expensive that there isn’t likely to be much interest, however.

Whatever pieces the Indians can add at or before the deadline this year will go a long way toward helping out the many quality youngsters they already have in the fold. Rookie catcher Carlos Santana made his debut this past weekend and has been drawing comparisons to former Indian Victor Martinez ever since he came over from the Dodgers in the Casey Blake deal a of 2008.

Ironically, it was that trade, not the deals involving Cliff Lee, Martinez, or CC Sabathia, that has brought the greatest potential return for Cleveland. While Santana has torn up the minor leagues on his way to the Tribe, other highly-touted prospects like Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley (Sabathia trade) and Carlos Carrasco (Lee trade) has seen mixed results with the big club.

Cleveland does have a good-looking middle infielder in Jason Donald, acquired in the Lee trade, that projects to be their everyday second baseman of the future, although he’s playing shortstop these days thanks to an injury to Asdrubal Cabrera.

Unless your club is looking for a decent bat off the bench, you’ll have to look elsewhere for hitting help. Third baseman Jhonny Peralta could be had for a reasonable trade. The former shortstop doesn’t play great defense and hasn’t been the power threat he once was in a couple of years now, but he’s a free agent after the season ($250,000 buyout of $7MM club option). Peralta has been the everyday man at third simply because of his contract it seems, as his numbers (.700 OPS in last 800 at bats) don’t justify a regular gig.

Outfielder Austin Kearns and First baseman Russell Branyan have both shown episodes of success with Cleveland this year, and both are free agents at the end of the season. Of the two, Kearns (.877 OPS) has been the better player, but right handed hitters are easier to come by than lefties with the power potential of Branyan (8 HR, .796 OPS).

The Angels are the one team that could have interest in Branyan as a regular player as they are coping with the loss of first baseman Kendry Morales, and struggling to replace his pop in the order.

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Tags: Austin Kearns Carlos Santana Cleveland Indians Fausto Carmona Jake Westbrook Jason Donald Jhonny Peralta Kerry Wood LA Angels New York Mets Russell Branyan

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