Coy Antonetti hints at surprising deal in works
Indians' deep bullpen could make closer Perez trade candidate
DALLAS -- It would probably take a lot to stun Indians fans these days. Only four months ago, Cleveland traded away its top two pitching prospects to land starter Ubaldo Jimenez, so shock is not a foreign reaction for the team's loyalists.
Even so, during a session with reporters in his suite at the Hilton Anatole on Tuesday, Indians general manager Chris Antonetti claimed to have one trade proposal in the works that would be very surprising if it came to fruition. Antonetti smiled as he declined to delve into any specifics.
He was content with lobbing the major tease and letting it linger in the air.
"I'm pretty sure I could give you 50 guesses," Antonetti said, "and you probably wouldn't get it."
Let the speculation begin.
Antonetti might not have been willing to spill the beans about a trade that may never occur, but it is clear that Cleveland is exploring ways to add a hitter. First base remains the biggest hole on the diamond, but the Indians are looking at outfield options, too. Free agency is one way to go, but a solution might be better sought through a swap.
Cleveland's pitching depth, especially in the bullpen, is one resource the club could potentially use for a deal. The Indians boast several young, emerging arms that are under team control. The most intriguing of the lot might be All-Star closer Chris Perez, who saved 36 games a year ago.
A few teams have called the Indians to ask about Perez, though nothing significant has developed. At this point, it has been more due diligence on the part of the inquiring clubs than anything else.
The Indians are not shopping Perez, but they are willing to listen to offers.
One thing the Jimenez trade with Colorado showed was that Cleveland is open-minded to just about anything. Top pitching prospects Drew Pomeranz and Alex White were believed to be untouchable, but both were included in a four-player package that landed Jimenez at the July 31 Trade Deadline.
"We have pitching depth overall," Antonetti said, "at the Major League level and in the upper levels of our Minor Leagues. While our preference would be to keep it, and preserve as much of that as we can, if we have opportunities to improve the team by trading from an area of depth to address other needs, we certainly have to be open minded to doing it.
"Again, we don't have luxury of being able to say, 'Here's the one avenue we intend to pursue to improve our team.' We have to be flexible and adapt to what opportunities we may have through either trade or on the free-agent market."
Cleveland might also consider fielding offers to reliever Rafael Perez, who is eligible for arbitration after earning $1.33 million last season. In 2011, the lefty went 5-2 with a 3.00 ERA over 71 games for the Tribe. The Indians also have a wealth of relief prospects on the cusp of the Majors.
The fact is that Cleveland has an offensive hole to fill.
The rumor mill continues to churn, linking the Tribe to the likes of free agents such as outfielders Josh Willingham, Andruw Jones and Mike Cameron, as well as first baseman Derrek Lee and utility man Mark DeRosa. Nothing appears imminent on any front, but Antonetti said he had multiple meetings on Tuesday.
This offseason, the market for closers has been a hot topic.
Free agent Jonathan Papelbon inked a four-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies. The Marlins reeled in Heath Bell (three years, $27 million) and the Rangers netted Joe Nathan (two years, $14.75 million). On Tuesday, the Blue Jays acquired Sergio Santos in a trade with the White Sox. One day earlier, the Twins retained Matt Capps on a one-year deal worth a guaranteed $4.75 million.
The Red Sox, Reds and Padres are among the teams on the hunt for a stopper. Ryan Madson and Francisco Rodriguez are available, but it has been speculated that one or both could accept arbitration with the Phillies and Brewers, respectively, due to the dwindling market.
Francisco Cordero is also a free agent, while fellow closers Brandon League (Seattle), Andrew Bailey (Oakland) and Huston Street (Colorado) could possibly be had in a trade.
Given the volume of late-inning pitchers available at the moment, it seems unlikely that Cleveland would be compelled to move Chris Perez in a deal.
It is not known at the moment which teams have called about Perez, but it makes sense that clubs would at least ask about the acquisition cost (starting point would likely be a Major League-ready player plus at least one prospect). The right-hander is 26 years old, coming off two solid seasons -- including an All-Star appearance last year -- and he is under team control through 2014 after earning $2.225 million in 2011.
The Indians also have a future closing candidate in hard-throwing setup man Vinnie Pestano, who struck out 84 hitters in 64 innings during his rookie tour last season. With Perez in the closer's role, though, the Indians have watched their bullpen develop into one of the best groups in the league.
"He's an important part of it," Antonetti said. "Chris has solidified the ninth inning and that's allowed [manager Manny Acta] to optimize how he uses some of the guys in front of him. That gives those guys some security and peace of mind in having some idea of when they're going to be expected to pitch."
That is a big reason why it seems unlikely that Perez would be dealt right now, when the Indians believe they can contend for the playoffs next season.
"It's comforting to some degree to have some stability back there," Antonetti said, "and have a guy that's done it and has had success in that role. But, at the same time, it's important for us to continue to build options and depth in the bullpen behind him.
"A closer can only pitch so many games and save so many games, but it's good to have some stability in that role."