Critics overlooking Shapiro's foresight

Critics overlooking Tribe foresight

It has become clear that another voice needs to be heard regarding the Coco Crisp trade. The overwhelming response to the deal (on talk radio and as evidenced in Anthony Castrovince's Tribe Mailbag) has been negative, but please allow me to explain why this isn't just a good trade for the Indians, but a great one.

Let's all take a deep breath (feel better?) and break down this deal. Once you take a step back and analyze it, it's clear that there are four straight-up swaps in the deal.

1. Arthur Rhodes for Jason Michaels: Rhodes was a pitcher who made only five appearances after July, allowing runs in three of them, while missing time when the Tribe needed him most due to knee trouble and a family emergency. Jason Michaels is a 29-year-old outfielder who posted a .399 on-base percentage in part-time duty last season. Looking at his career -- a solid sample of 808 at-bats -- he has a .380 career OBP (that's almost 50 points better than Crisp's, by the way). Can he play every day? The statistical sample suggests that he can. Furthermore, he is very tough on left-handers (.323 BA in 2005), a need for the Tribe, while proving capable of hitting righties (.289), too, in roughly an even amount of at-bats against both. This is a no-brainer.

2. Josh Bard for Kelly Shoppach: The Tribe had so little faith in Bard's ability to contribute at the plate that he garnered just 83 at-bats as the sole backup to Victor Martinez in 2005. Bard hit a paltry .193 and carries a career .238 average into 2006. He's a good backstop, but so is Shoppach, who threw out 44 percent of baserunners last year at Triple-A, where he also pounded 26 home runs. So Shoppach can hit, too. He'll likely be the backup catcher this year, giving Wedge the option of resting Martinez more, or playing him at first occasionally. Is he good enough to become a starter and allow the Tribe to move Martinez to first? We don't know that -- but at least it's possible. It was clear that Bard was never going to be that guy. Another no-brainer.

3. David Riske for Guillermo Mota, cash and PTBNL: Indians manager Eric Wedge lost so much confidence in Riske late last year that he called for him only seven times in September, a month in which Riske went 0-1 with a 5.19 ERA. The concern was justified: Riske allowed a whopping 11 home runs in 2005 after allowing 11 in 2004. Calling for a reliever who has surrendered 22 home runs in a span of just 150 innings is playing with fire. Basically, there's no way you can bring him into a tied or one-run game -- that's a huge liability and one the Indians can do without. Mota, by contrast, has allowed three fewer home runs than Riske in his career despite throwing almost 100 more innings. There are health concerns with Mota, but those have been mitigated by both cash -- if he's not healthy, the Tribe can recoup more from the Sox -- and a PTBNL. I make this trade in a heartbeat.

4. Coco Crisp for Andy Marte: Ah, now we get to the crux of the issue. No question: Crisp was a heck of a player for the Tribe, providing solid outfield defense, surprising power and a spark atop the lineup. It's hard to give up a player the caliber of Crisp, but you don't get something for nothing in baseball. And Marte is worth getting. He hammered Triple-A pitching at the tender age of 22, and, by most accounts, he's a solid defensive third baseman. Is there a chance that Marte will be a flop? There always is, but typically, players who perform that well at Triple-A at such a young age translate to the big leagues. He's under the team's control for the next 5 1/2 years, he's a needed right-handed power bat and he plays third base -- that's a trifecta, folks, and reason enough to pull the trigger, especially when you've gotten clear wins at the other three areas of the deal.

Still not convinced? Let's continue to break it down. Here are five more reasons this was not just a good deal for the Tribe, but a great one.

1. Value for value: As Indians general manager Mark Shapiro has said, Crisp held much more value to the Red Sox as a center fielder than he did to the Indians as a left fielder. Typically, you want to get some power from your corner outfielders, and Crisp likely has maxed out in that area. Is Michaels the answer in left field? Likely not long-term, but he will help the team in 2006 (more on that in a bit). And the Indians have a plethora of talented young outfielders on the brink of the big leagues, but none at third base. The reality is that they likely can replace Crisp with a player from the system, while they had no options at third, where Marte could very well be the right-handed, middle-of-the-order power bat the Tribe desperately needs. Bottom line: If you have two players of roughly equal ability, a third baseman if far more valuable than a left fielder. So even if Marte proves to be no better than Crisp, he'll be worth more to the Indians.

2. Core players: You've often heard Shapiro talk about core players ... was Crisp a core player? No, he was not. When thinking of a championship team, you don't envision your left fielder posting a sub-.350 on-base percentage with moderate power. In center, he might have been, but the Indians are set there with Grady Sizemore; in left, he cannot be considered a core guy. Marte stands a much better chance of becoming a key core player at a very difficult position to find offensive talent. And Shoppach could become a core player behind the plate if he hits at the Major League level and pushes Martinez to first. Or, as a high-value offensive catcher, he could bring a core corner outfielder via trade.

3. The two-hole: Hey, we all loved watching Crisp play, and he's got a catchy name, but the reality is that Michaels may very well turn out to be a better No. 2 hitter. He doesn't have Crisp's power, but he has a much better on-base percentage. He may not have Crisp's speed, but he can run well enough, and speed never helped Crisp steal bases. Michaels also cut his strikeouts in half from 2004 to 2005, and he will make more contact than did Crisp, who struck out 81 times last year. And Michaels is more balanced at the plate, hitting both righties and lefties while Crisp was a liability vs. left-handers. I'm not arguing that Michaels is a better player than Crisp overall, but it's a lot closer than you think, and Michaels has abilities that fit what the Indians will ask him to do.

4. Potential: The reality is that Crisp likely has gotten as good as he's going to be. He's been in the big leagues four years and his power has leveled off at around 15 to 18 home runs -- nice, but not outstanding for a left fielder. He has speed, but he can't steal. And he doesn't get on base enough to lead off (although Boston will ask him to). He's a good defensive outfielder, but has a weak arm. He's a very good complementary player, but he's not a star -- and he likely never will be. Marte has huge upside, some say he could be a 30-homer guy. Shoppach has shown very good power in back-to-back seasons at Triple-A, so he has a lot of potential as well. What I'm saying is that Marte and Shoppach (perhaps by bringing someone back in a trade) have the potential to become high-impact core players, something Crisp was not going to be in Cleveland (and maybe not in Boston, either -- we'll see).

5. Financial flexibility: I know all of you hate to hear this, and the Indians wisely avoided mentioning this as a component of the trade, but the reality is that this deal also helps the Tribe financially. Both Riske and Rhodes are free agents after this season, and Michaels makes considerably less than Crisp. Mota's contract is being paid in part by the Red Sox. Longer term, Marte will be under contract to the Indians for 5 1/2 more seasons before reaching free agency, while Crisp will be a free agent in two years. So, over the course of the next five years, the Indians stand to gain millions in payroll flexibility -- paying Marte far less over that time span than what Crisp will earn in his final two arbitration years, then in his first three free agent years, and far less than what a comparable third baseman would cost them on the open market.

So, if you wouldn't make this trade straight-up, would you make it if it meant the Indians had another $20-25 million over the next five years to land a corner outfielder, or keep Cliff Lee or sign that free agent pitcher?

I know you don't like to hear it, but it is what it is -- it's reality. The Indians are not the Red Sox or the Yankees, and they can't play the game the same way. If you want to root for a team that can keep everyone and buy everything else, then I'm sure the Red Sox or Yankees would love to have you.

But that's no fun. That's easy. What's fun is watching the Indians outsmart those guys, and when they win the World Series, you'll know that they'll have earned it by having made better trades, developing better players and spending their money more wisely. In the end, it'll all be worth it.

But to get there, you've got to do what Shapiro just did.

Jim Banks is an Executive Editor for, overseeing the AL and NL Central divisions. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.