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Indians Indians Archive Did the Indians Choose Wisely in Their Latest Pitching Deal?
Written by Thomas Moore

Thomas Moore

2012 12 choo choose wiselyThe Cleveland Indians finally decided to join the Hot Stove party on Tuesday, dealing right fielder Shin-Soo Choo to Cincinnati in a three-team, nine-player trade.

When it was all done and dusted, the Tribe ended up with pitchers Trevor Bauer (the third overall pick in the 2011 draft), Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw from Arizona, along with center field Drew Stubbs from the Reds.

Joining Choo in the Queen City will be infielder Jason Donald and $3.5 million of the Dolans' cash. The Tribe shipped reliever Tony Sipp and first baseman Lars Anderson to Arizona. The Diamondbacks also ended up with minor league shortstop Didi Gregorius.

The Indians have received almost universal approval for the deal - ESPN's Buster Olney referred to the deal as "stunning" - but when one team is presented as clearly being on the "winning" side of a trade, it gives us pause.

As talented as he is, Choo had to go. He is entering the final year of his contract and if the Indians believed they could not resign him (a near certainty given the combination of Scott Boras as Choo's agent and the fact that the Dolans have some of the shallowest pockets in all of Major League Baseball) then making a deal now makes sense.

Plus, what's the downside? That the Indians will lost 90-plus games without Choo in the lineup? Yeah, we'd hate to see that happen (again).

But there are still a lot of questions surrounding the players the Indians received in return, even if the team wants fans to believe otherwise.

"We feel we're getting a young pitcher with a ton of potential," Tribe general manager Chris Antonetti said, "a guy who we feel has a chance to pitch at the top of the rotation once he develops and a guy who we had longstanding interest in. (Stubbs) is a great defender in center field. He brings an element of speed and power to our team. ... He's one of the best defenders in center field and provides a great deal of athleticism out there."

That's all true, but Antonetti glossed over a few important parts.

The first is why would the Diamondbacks give up a prospect like Bauer, who was named the organization's minor league pitcher of the year after going 12-2 with a 2.42 ERA in 22 starts between Class AA and AAA this past season, a player that Baseball America ranked as baseball’s No. 9 prospect prior to the season?

All just to acquire a player who has hit .271/.323/.376 in five minor league seasons?

Supposedly the Diamondbacks had grown tired of Bauer's stubbornness, his odd training program and his Twitter account (and we all know how much Tribe fans love pitchers who Tweet). According to an article in the Aug. 15, 2011, issue of Sports Illustrated (h/t to Matt LaWell), Bauer's training regimen consists of:

"vigorous exercises that last no more than a fifth of a minute. (Bauer) will tell you that every hitter must decide to swing no later than the first 20 feet a pitch is in the air, so he practices throwing into a metal grid 20 feet in front of the mound to ensure that all his pitches start on the same plane. Bauer has at one time or another deployed 19 different pitches, some of which he may have invented: They include the "reverse slider" (a harder variation of the screwball) and "the bird" (a splitter thrown with the middle finger raised).

"Here is the modern pitcher, New Age but down-home, a product of both Southern California think tanks and East Texas back roads. Bauer throws at least six days a week with baseballs, weighted balls or medicine balls. He long-tosses 380 feet, even before starts. He warms up for his outings with about 45 pitches in the bullpen, and during especially long innings when his team is at bat, he heads back to the pen for more work. On his first warmup toss between innings, he crow hops across the mound and unleashes a fastball more than 100 miles per hour."

The Diamondbacks knew all that when they drafted Bauer, but just a year later where willing to move him.

Makes you wonder.

The Indians will say that Bauer just wasn't a good fit in Arizona, especially with manager Kirk Gibson, who got his knickers in a twist because Bauer liked to wear headphones while warming up because the music helped him find his rhythm (because nothing says "successful manager" like being an old grump).

"My mechanics are so finely tuned that if one little piece gets out of whack, it kind of throws me all off," Bauer told ESPN over the summer. "If I’m able to listen to my music, I can get in sync and stay in sync better than when I’m not able to. It also helps me focus; it helps me be singular with my mindset. Because for me, being able to focus in on one thing and separate what’s happening on the field from what’s going on off the field is huge.

"(But) the Diamondbacks asked me not to wear headphones on the field, so I can’t do that anymore. It was kind of a bummer, and in my first couple starts I was having focus problems; I’d lose focus after the second inning and couldn’t really get back in. There was a lot of stuff going on in my head because I wasn’t listening to my pregame playlist. So I started to listen to the same playlist an hour before the game. It’s better than nothing."

If Bauer wants to listen to music before a game, then more power to him. Cleveland Rocks and all, you know?

Then there is Stubbs, who is speedy (100 combined steals in the past three seasons) and a good defensive player.

But about that offense.

In three full seasons with the Reds, Stubbs has seen his offensive numbers drop like a lead zeppelin. Consider that from 2010 to 2012, his:

  • batting average has gone from .255 to .243 to .213
  • home runs have dropped from 22 to 15 to 14
  • his RBI have declined from 77 to 44 to 40
  • his OPS has deflated from .773 to .695 to .610

There is one area where Stubbs has been consistent: strikeouts. Over the past three seasons he has averaged almost 180 strikeouts per year, or almost one every three at-bats. Combine Stubbs (who led the National League with 205 strikeouts in 2011) with fellow newcomer Mark Reynolds (who led the American League with 196 strikeouts in 2012) and it is going to be some kind of party at Progressive Field this summer.

Eh, strikeouts may be overrated anyway.

And at least Stubbs bats from the right side, which will help a Tribe lineup that tilted too far to the left last season. What's that? Among the 144 players who qualified from the 2012 season, Stubbs' .186 batting average was dead last in the majors? Oh, crap. (h/t Ryan McCrystal)

Well ... at least the Indians have all of these guys under control for a few years, which is probably just as important as the potential talent involved in the deal. The Tribe is one of those teams that needs as much cost certainty as it can get from year to year.

And you can never have enough pitching, so adding three arms to the team is a plus. And if you can't hit or score runs, you need a good defense.

But given the team's record in making these kind of deals - especially when it comes to acquiring pitching - well, let's just say we're not ready to start setting aside money for playoff tickets.

For now, we'll just be happy that the Indians are actually doing something. Soon enough, we'll know whether or not they chose wisely.

(Photo by Getty Images)

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