The Indians traded for one of the top second basemen in the game and did so without having to give up any of their top 15 prospects, acquiring Mark DeRosa from the Cubs for righthanders Jeff Stevens and Chris Archer and lefthander John Gaub.
The Indians acquired DeRosa with one year and $5.5 million left on his contract, though his projected performance makes him probably worth approximately double that amount. DeRosa, who will be 34 next season, batted .285/.376/.481 in the best year of his career in 2008, his third year of better than league-average hitting. Over those last three seasons, DeRosa has combined to hit .291/.368/.453. Among players with at least 1,000 plate appearances in that stretch, DeRosa’s .368 OBP ranks third among second baseman, trailing only Chase Utley (.388) and 2008 American League MVP Dustin Pedroia (.369).
Though his production should regress from his 2008 numbers after moving away from Wrigley Field, coming down after a career year and accounting for regular aging for a 34-year-old player, DeRosa should be good for an OBP around .350 and a slugging average near .430. As an average defensive second baseman with an average but accurate arm and good instincts, DeRosa is an above-average player overall. He’s one of the 10 best second basemen in the game, somewhere on on the periphery of the top five after Utley, Pedroia, Brian Roberts, Ian Kinsler and Placido Polanco.
|The Young Players|
The Cubs acquired a reliever who could help the bullpen in 2009 and two more arms who could be useful in a few years if they pan out. Stevens and Gaub each ranked among the Indians’ top 30 prospects, with Stevens sneaking into the top 20. He is the player in the deal who is the closest to making an impact in the big leagues, as he could help the Cubs in middle relief in 2009. He has posted high strikeout rates through every level of the minor leagues, though he doesn’t have overpowering stuff. Stevens, 25, posted a 3.24 ERA with 27 walks (4.2 per nine innings) and 81 strikeouts (12.5 per nine) in 2008 between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Buffalo before joining Team USA to win a bronze medal at the Olympics in August. He leans heavily on his fastball, which sits at 90-94 mph and touches 95, though he’ll also mix in a mid-70s curve and a cutter as well. Some of the deception in his delivery keeps hitters off balance.
Merely taking the field in 2008 was an accomplishment for Gaub, The 23-year-old’s injuries have taken a toll on his career since he was a junior at Minnesota in 2006. After striking out 65 in 39 innings and touching 96 mph as a sophomore, Gaub’s velocity dropped to 81-84 mph as a junior after he had trouble returning from arthroscopic shoulder surgery. The Indians picked Gaub in the 21st round and signed him for $155,000, but he had another shoulder surgery in 2007 and pitched only four innings that year. Gaub no longer regularly touches 96 mph, instead sitting more frequently around 90-91, but he’s learned to be successful without his pre-surgery pitch quality. He had a 3.38 ERA in 64 innings for low Class A Lake County in 2008 and struck out a whopping 100 batters (14.1 per nine innings) with 32 walks (4.5 per nine). He has ditched the curveball he threw as an amateur and now throws a slider instead.
Archer, 19, was a fifth-round pick in 2006 who has a low-90s fastball, a solid-average curveball and a changeup that could become an average offering. He needs to straighten out a few things in his delivery, such as his timing and finding a consistent release point, to become a more prolific strike thrower. In 2008, Archer had a 4.29 ERA for low Class A Lake County and struck out 106 batters in 115 innings, but he also walked 87 (6.6 per nine).
The Indians likely made themselves one to two wins better for 2009 by acquiring DeRosa and not giving away anyone integral to the team’s plans for the coming year. The trade also could allow the Indians to realign their infield. Jhonny Peralta’s defensive skill set is better suited for third base than shortstop, and he’s played at the hot corner in 19 of his 20 games this winter in the Dominican League. That move would allow the talented young Asdrubal Cabrera to shift from second base to shortstop while DeRosa slots in at second. The trade also should allow the Indians to be patient with one of their other new acquisitions, second baseman Luis Valbuena, who could benefit from more time in Triple-A. However, DeRosa is also verstaile enough to step in and play third base if the Indians opt to go forward with their current infield alignment.
The extra kick in the deal for Cleveland is that DeRosa is a fringe Type A free agent candidate. The Indians appear likely to net at least a 2010 supplemental first-round pick if DeRosa declines arbitration as a Type B free agent, but they could also gain a first-round pick if he’s a Type A. The draft pick itself could prove to be more valuable than all three of the arms the Cubs acquired, let alone the performance the Indians will reap from DeRosa.