Indians' untouchables getting touchable?

May, 20, 2009
5/20/09
12:48
PM ET
After another brutal loss last night for the Indians, Paul Hoynes writes about the circling vultures ...
    Seven weeks of bad baseball have made the Indians the subject of several trade rumors.

    Boston reportedly is interested in catcher Victor Martinez to help carry the offensive load because of a slumping David Ortiz. It's been speculated the New York Mets may go after infielder Mark DeRosa to help replace injured first baseman Carlos Delgado. Pitcher Cliff Lee, last year's Cy Young winner, is said to be on several contenders' radar in anticipation of a deal at the trading deadline.

    GM Mark Shapiro is talking to general managers, but it's not about subtracting players in preparation for next year.

    "We're doing everything we can to get better for this year," Shapiro said.

    Said manager Eric Wedge: "I've heard that talk and it's crazy. This division [AL Central] is still wide open. If we get on a roll, we're right back in the thick of it."

    It's hard to see how trading Lee or Martinez would give the Indians a chance to get back in the AL Central or make them better in 2010. Lee is their No. 1 starter. Martinez, who entered Tuesday night's game against the Royals leading the AL with a .401 batting average, is their best hitter.

    The Indians hold affordable club options on them for 2010 - $9 million for Lee and $7.2 million for Martinez. If Martinez is traded this year, his base salary for 2010 will increase to $7.7 million.

    --snip--

    The Indians set themselves up for such rumors by their fire sale last year. Yet even that didn't start until July 7 when they shipped pitcher CC Sabathia to Milwaukee. The trades of third baseman Casey Blake and pitcher Paul Byrd followed.

As always, it depends. Are Lee and Martinez likely to be worth those club options in 2010? Absolutely. Does that mean the Indians can't trade them in 2009 and be better in 2010? Absolutely not. Let's assume for a moment that the Red Sox, right now, were to trade the Indians two MLB-ready players for Martinez. In 2010 the Indians would have two major leaguers and the $9 million they would presumably have spent to retain Lee ... $9 million that might be spent instead on some other player (or players).

Granted, that's not necessarily the best way to win a pennant, because you can't really replace one Lee with two half-Lees. But if you add the value of two good young players for five or six years to that $9 million -- oh, plus whatever Lee's still owed this season when he's dealt -- it's just not all that hard to come up with a deal that makes sense for the Indians.

On paper, that is. Organizationally, it's not easy to give up on a season in May, or even June. In this case, the Indians probably shouldn't because they do have some talent on the roster and they're not faced with particularly stiff competition. But Mark Shapiro must be flexible when his fellow GMs begin to covet some of his better players.

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