For the second time in as many days, the Indians traded a veteran player for a minor league prospect, Thursday’s moves coming an hour before Major League Baseball’s 4 p.m. (EST) trade deadline.
After underachieving starting pitcher Justin Masterson was shipped to St. Louis Wednesday for outfield prospect James Ramsey, Thursday slumping Tribe shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera was shipped to the Washington Nationals for infield prospect Zach Walters.
With Masterson and Cabrera set to become free agents at the end of the season, both could have walked away without compensation. Thus, the Indians made the trades for two high-level prospects that they hope will impact the big league club soon.
Walters, 24, is primarily a shortstop, but has recently seen time at a handful of infield positions. The switch-hitter batted .300 with 15 home runs and 48 RBI and had a .965 OPS at Triple-A Syracuse before recently being called up by the Nationals, where he’s spent 40 games (32 this year).
“Walter’s) a versatile infielder who has extraordinary power, especially for an infielder,” Indians General Manger Chris Antonetti said. “He’s a guy we think is capable of contributing to the major league level soon. He’s excelled at Triple-A and already contributed at the major league level.
“As importantly for the short term, we were able to make this trade because of our belief in Mike Aviles and Jose Ramirez. We feel very confident in both guys playing shortstop and maintaining a very high level of play at the position.”
After the trade, the Indians made roster moves, one of which was optioning Walters to Triple-A, where Antonetti said he would primarily play short, but also move around the infield as necessary.
Cabrera, 28, was a two-time All-Star for the Tribe in 2011 and ’12. But this season he was batting just .246 with 22 doubles, two triples, nine home runs and 40 RBI in 97 games this year. In addition to his offensive struggles, advanced defensive metrics indicate he’s below average among big league shortstops.
In addition, like Masterson, Cabrera will be a free agent after this season, and could have walked away without the Indians getting anything in return. Thus, dealing both players now at least gives the club two high-level prospects that could impact the big league club soon.
However, to move Cabrera, the Indians also had to agree to pay the remainder of Cabrera's $10 million contract, which is about $3.5 million.
“That's the business,” Cabrera said. “It surprised me a little bit, but there is nothing I could do. I knew this was going to be possible. Today when I got here, I didn't even know it was happening.”
After learning the news, Cabrera sat in front of his locker for an hour or so, making several calls on his cell phone. Once he hung up, a handful of his Indians teammates made their way over to offer goodbye hugs and parting words in English and Spanish.
A quick conversation with Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo gave Cabrera an idea of what his new club needed due to the severity of the injury Ryan Zimmerman recently suffered.
“The GM told me I’m going to play second,” said Cabrera, who 162 games of experience at second base, but hasn’t played there since 2009. “I’m going to join them tomorrow. I'll try to do my best to help them make the playoffs.”
Cabrera went 0-for-4 Wednesday in his final game with the Indians in a 2-0 victory over the visiting Seattle Mariners. Thursday he admitted to being a little emotional the previous night, thinking about the possibility of it being his last in an Indians uniform.
“Last night, I tried to do too much because I felt like it might be the last one,” he said.
Meanwhile, rookie reserve Ramirez, who manager Terry Francona said will get the bulk of time at short with Cabrera gone, watched everything unfold with wide eyes, almost as if he weren’t sure what to make of it. Most likely, baseball had always just been the game to him. But the last two days, Ramirez has witnessed the business side of the game.
“A big part of what we want to see is Jose Ramirez play,” Francona said. “He’s an exciting young kid that with coming up last year (as a September call up from Double-A), his development got so sped up. This kid’s young and he got himself to the major leagues (quickly). We’d really like to see him play.”