The Cleveland Indians could compete in the American League Central in 2013, depending on how they go about their business. The thing is, they would likely be a weak playoff team relative to others, the victors of a division that won't challenge them in the way either of the coastal divisions would. Because they have so many young players not quite in their peak years yet, the Indians could just as easily be convinced to focus more on a rebuild, and deal the productive -- but soon-departing -- players on the roster instead. The goal? Boost their chances of assembling the next great Indians team, rather than just the next good enough one.
That's where the Red Sox come in. Boston is attempting to bridge to their next great team with competitive clubs in the interim. Re-signing David Ortiz was the first step in that process, but it won't be the last. They can't possibly keep all of the prospects they currently have in the system -- 40-man roster rules and the Rule 5 draft won't allow that -- but they should hold on to the very best, the ones they most believe in as part of a future core. That's been Boston's way for years now, and it's worked out. Trading the others, the B-level players, or prospects with high ceilings who might be a little risky, or even one of the top prospects should the deal be absolutely perfect, should be -- and most likely will be -- something the Red Sox get to work on starting this off-season.
The Indians, according to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, are likely open to moving shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, right fielder Shin-Soo Choo, starting pitcher Justin Masterson, and closer Chris Perez. They aren't actively looking to do so, but like was said above, for the right deal, one that will make the future Indians great rather than merely good, they might be willing to move one or more of these players. While Boston would have little use for Chris Perez, the other three are intriguing for different reasons.
Shin-Soo Choo, RF: Choo hit .282/.373/.441 last year, and thanks to that on-base percentage, it was a line 31 percent above-average. Boston desperately needs that kind of patience in their lineup, far more than they need extra power out there. Even though he was worse than that in a rough 2011 campaign, Choo's three-year average gives him a 132 OPS+, with a .378 on-base percentage. Except for in 2012, Choo has been a solid defender using advanced defensive metrics. It's tough to put too much stock into those, though, whether you're talking about the good or the bad.
The real issue with Choo is that he's under contract for 2013 only. He's headed into his third and final year of arbitration, and if he has a strong follow-up campaign, it's likely he'll get paid by someone, somewhere, in 2014 and beyond. That team could be Boston, of course, and an extension might even be negotiated before 2013 begins. But unless something can be worked out, it's difficult for the Sox to give up too much for one season of the right fielder. Then again, the one year could play into the price in their favor, but the Indians might not be willing to move him for that. And other teams are going to be intrigued by him, as well.
Asdrubal Cabrera, SS: Cabrera is the real prize, as he's a shortstop who is under contract for the next two seasons, at a total cost of $16.5 million. Over his last three seasons, ages 24 through 26, Cabrera posted a 111 OPS+ and .273/.333/.419 line, but has been better than that in each of the last two seasons. Even if he fell to 2010 levels once more, for shortstop, things wouldn't be so bad: it's sad, but true, that .276/.326/.346 is a solid season at short. Cabrera is also a productive defensive player, so he'd be the total package for two years. Because of this, he'll cost Boston. Possibly too much, unless the Indians are willing to take quantity over quality, and will take a deal that doesn't cost Boston one of their top five prospects. Cabrera is definitely the kind of player that prospects like Garin Cecchini, Bryce Brentz, and others like them can be dealt for with a clean conscience. Boston would give up talent, sure, but they would also get back an impact player at a position where competence has been enough as of late.
Justin Masterson, SP: Masterson has two years of team control left, his second and third years of arbitration. Masterson has been below-average during his time with the Indians, posting a 92 ERA+ over 659 innings of work. However, there have been flashes of a quality starter here, such as in 2011, when the right-hander tossed 216 innings over 33 starts along with a 3.21 ERA and 2.4 K/BB. His control wasn't quite as good in the years flanking that one, though, hence the overall product being worse than that.
Masterson in Boston would mean a reunion for the pitcher and John Farrell. And while Farrell isn't the pitching coach, it's not as if he would never discuss his former charges with the new coach, should the need to talk shop arise. Masterson showed promise while with the Sox, hence the Indians taking him in a 2009 trade in the first place. Boston shouldn't overpay for the right to get him back, but if the price is right, it might be worth taking a chance on him once more. The Indians might not want to sell low on him, though, so there's more of a chance he'll stick with Cleveland than the rest of these players.
Will the Indians be willing to take the kind of prospects the Red Sox are willing to deal? It's likely, since Boston's farm system is strong, and their prospects in the six-to-15 range are actually pretty good, including the likes of Cecchini, Brentz, Brandon Workman, Henry Owens, Alex Wilson, Keury De La Cruz... the list goes on, and that's a good thing for a team that could make some trades. Prospects aren't just there for hoarding, as they can be used to improve the major-league team without ever putting on that specific uniform, too.