Sunday, June 27, 2010

'Tis the season of giving

It's summertime so it must mean the Cleveland Indians are about to sell off the veterans on its roster for prospects, who once develop will be traded again.

The first domino of a the 2010 firesale fell last night when the Indians traded first baseman Russell Branyan to the Seattle Mariners for a two prospects.

Ezequiel Carrera is a Class AAA outfielder who is hitting .268 with six doubles, two triples, no home runs and 19 RBIs in 61 games this season. He won last season's Class AA batting title with a .337 average.

While ranked Seattle's No. 15 prospect this season by Baseball America, he is currently on the disabled list with a hip pointer, making this the second season that Cleveland has traded for an injured prospect.

Juan Diaz is a Class A shortstop hitting .295 with eight doubles, three triples, seven home runs and 41 RBI in 70 games this season. He is also 8-for-10 on stolen base attempts.

Seattle will eventually receive a player to be named later or cash to finish the deal.

The Indians will pay a $500,000 buyout to Branyan based on the mutual option in his contract for the 2011 season while the Mariners will cover the rest of this season's salary.

It is unclear why the last-place Mariners are in the buyer's market, but the trade allows Cleveland to recall Matt LaPorta from the minors and play him as the everyday first baseman.

While LaPorta has struggled in limited time at the Major League level, earning regular at-bats with Cleveland will almost certainly help him develop into the power hitter he was labeled as when the Indians acquired him in 2008 after trading C.C. Sabathia to Milwaukee.

Branyan disappointed as the team's only significant free agent signing this offseason, starting the season on the disabled list and hitting just .263 with 10 home runs and 24 RBI this season.

He had a resurgence with Seattle last season, hitting 31 home runs, making him an attractive free agent, even at age 34 with a history of back trouble. His fourth stint with Cleveland, however, caused the Indians more trouble than good.

This will more than likely be the first of many trades for the Indians, as free agents to be Kerry Wood, Jhonny Peralta and Austin Kearns are expected to be shopped for prospects.

Many teams have expressed interest in pitcher Fausto Carmona, but with one season and three club options left on his contract, he should stay in Cleveland.

The rebuilding process was brought to Cleveland by former general manager John Hart in the early 1990s, when he traded away veteran talent to create a team of All-Stars by the mid-1990s. His protege, Mark Shapiro, has found limited success during his rebuild (two winning seasons in 2005 and 2007), but he has not gained any fans by trading away several players before their primes instead of spending the money to resign them the past two seasons.

For now, the good ole' days of winning are over. Perhaps the young core of players Cleveland has this time can be signed to five or six-year contracts soon and win sooner (and more consistently) than the 2007 team did.

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