So, you think Cleveland Indians shortstop prospect Francisco Lindor might be ready for the show, do you? Paul Swydan makes a great case for why the Tribe should turn to one of the game's top 10 prospects, not just to reap defensive benefits but to follow a time-honored tradition of fast-tracking a top-shelf shortstop prospect.
The question is, who needs one year of Asdrubal Cabrera? He's a free agent after 2014, so if you get him, you get him because you need a shortstop now, because you have big expectations for your team in 2014 and maybe because you think you can sign him next winter.
The Mets' gains are pretty obvious, especially if you accept projections of Cabrera rebounding in 2014, whether Baseball Prospectus' .734 OPS, Dan Szymborski's ZiPS (.736 OPS, 17 home runs) or the Bill James Handbook's projecting a .746 OPS. That's a 100-point jump from what's generally expected from incumbent Ruben Tejada at the plate. Like Cabrera (minus-16 in BIS' plus-minus last year), Tejada's defense wasn't an asset last year (rating minus-9 in almost a third of a season); unlike Cabrera, there's no past track record to suggest that he can do better. And why Duda and not Ike Davis? Well, if you're drinking the Kool-Aid that says 90 wins is possible for this team now, I have to believe Davis' .954 OPS in the second half last year is a big part of the reason. And trading for Cabrera means you're drinking pretty deeply from that pitcher of Kool-Aid.
Why does this work for the Indians? Because it gives them help now and upside. Starting with the least valuable player first, Duda would give Cleveland a lefty bat to mix in at first, DH and the outfield, another moving part with platoon punch to fit within Terry Francona's lineup-card shifts. Duda's career numbers against right-handers (.255/.356/.456) will come in handy, especially if David Murphy's awful 2013 season (.656 OPS) was his career's death rattle, leaving the Tribe without a good answer for lefty at-bats at first or in right.
Moving to the long shot with upside, Fulmer is the injury-prone arm in the Mets' stack of talented arms who might reach a middle slot in a big league rotation. Between shoulder and knee problems last year, he didn't log much time on the mound after making his full-season debut in low Class A in 2012, and his bulk combined with the knee injury and the general fragility suggests he might wind up as "just" a bullpen asset. But with a plus fastball/slider combo that he throws with command, and heat that can hit the mid-90s in a bullpen role, he's an upside guy who wouldn't be on the 40-man roster and who could move up fast from high Class A in the next few years if he's healthy.
Which brings us to the top-shelf prospect, which is something you have to give up to get something of value. The question isn't the big league value the Indians would get in the deal. By starting with Duda to help out at first base, DH and the outfield corners, they're getting three years of adequacy. And they already have Mike Aviles around as an insurance policy at short if Lindor stalls, gets hurt or even just needs that initial month in the minors. But what moves the dial for the Tribe is a prospect, especially since trading Cabrera means giving up their own shot at compensation picks. They need a quality prospect, and the Mets, thanks to the sixth-best farm system in baseball according to ESPN Insider's Keith Law, have something to offer.
The easy thing would be to ask for a first-round-quality talent, either a high-OBP tweener like Brandon Nimmo or a ready-now option for third base like Flores. But I don't see the Mets giving up Nimmo, while Flores is blocked by David Wright and his new deal. And frankly, third base is where the Indians have a need, now and into the immediate future. They're already forced to ask themselves how good Lonnie Chisenhall is ultimately going to be, either as a lineup regular (since a .300 OBP or a .700 OPS aren't automatic for him) or as an everyday defender at third base. Chisenhall's shortcomings have already inspired this spring's experiment with putting starting catcher Carlos Santana at third base, a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul the Tribe should forgo so that they can keep Santana behind the plate or at first and DH.
So they get Flores in the Cabrera trade. He's just 22, but is about as ready as he's ever going to be after an .888 OPS in Triple-A last year and .855 at Double-A the year before that. He has a quick bat and good power to all fields, and he comes with .500 slugging potential. Like Chisenhall, he's already projected to produce around a .700 OPS in the majors, but his youth suggests higher eventual upside. Assuming the Indians aren't permanently scarred from the Andy Marte experience -- the last time they traded for another organization's top touted hot-corner prospect -- Flores is a perfect fit.
Finally, remember, the Mets wouldn't be trading for Cabrera to have and to hold forever after -- they're just renting him for a year. But once you have him, you also have a season to make a sales pitch on why he should stick around. If you're the Mets, wouldn't you want to be able to exploit that window, before free agency? Because the other thing to consider is that if the Mets don't trade for Cabrera now, they may well be in the exact same situation in nine months: Making him a multiyear pitch paying eight figures per year, but while competing against every other team on the market. Why not take your chance now, gain that brief, exclusive negotiating window in the offseason?
There are also side benefits come draft day. Let's say getting Cabrera is already something the Mets are thinking about for next winter. By getting Cabrera now they don't just protect their own future first-round pick that they might lose by signing him in December (if they wind up outside the 10 protected picks), they potentially gain one if they instead lose him to free agency. As one former governor of Illinois put it, that's a frickin' valuable thing.
Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN; you can follow her on Twitter.