Well, we’re 86 games into the 2011 season, and the Cleveland Indians are still in first place. With just three weeks left before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, they’re likely to make an upgrade or two, even if they can’t afford to make a blockbuster deal.
With Shin-Soo Choo out until the end of August—if not longer—a natural place for the Indians to upgrade is right field. And GM Chris Antonetti told Anthony Castrovince that he’s looking for a bat:
“We’re open in any way we can to improve the team, whatever that might be,” Antonetti said. “Especially with Choo suffering the injury that he suffered, we’ll probably focus most of our efforts on improving our offense and getting a little more consistency there.”
Cleveland probably won’t spare the prospects to acquire a premium player or the cash to bring in a big name in a salary dump, but that doesn’t mean they won’t look to upgrade at all. One buy-low option who could be had for an affordable price is Oakland Athletics right fielder David DeJesus.
DeJesus, 31, was in the midst of a career year in 2010—he hit .318/.384/.443 (124 wRC+) with 2.6 WAR in 91 games—and was one of the hottest names on the trade market before he tore a tendon in his thumb and missed the last two-and-a-half months of the season.
The Royals traded DeJesus to Oakland this winter, and his comeback hasn’t exactly gone according to plan. He’s hitting a mere .221/.313/.340 (86 wRC+) with 0.2 WAR. Even his defense is down—his UZR/150 has slipped from 4.4 last year to -5.2 in 2011.
Luckily, DeJesus’ peripheral numbers have actually shown some improvement. His walk rate is up from 8.6% to 9.3%, and his Power Factor has increased from .393 to .536.
The problem is bad luck: DeJesus’ BABIP is down to .246, a full 76 points below his pre-season .322 career hit rate. Plug in the .322 figure and his triple-slash leaps up to .284/.375/.435, good for a 130 xOPS+. Even at his .310 year-adjusted BABIP—a reflection of his slightly worse batted-ball profile—he’s still got a 118 xOPS+, making him a well above-average hitter.
Either way, that would be a massive upgrade over Travis Buck (88 OPS+), Shelley Duncan (88 OPS+), and Austin Kearns (72 OPS+), who make up the Tribe’s current right field platoon. And when Choo comes back, he’d make a more-than-capable backup for Grady Sizemore, Michael Brantley, and Travis Hafner.
The Baseball Musings Lineup Analysis tool has Wednesday’s Indians lineup at 4.758 runs per game. Throw DeJesus in there with his career BABIP-adjusted numbers and that goes up to 4.982. That’s an upgrade of roughly 3.6 WAR over 162 games—easily more than a full win if he were to play every game between now and Choo’s return.
Oakland may well realize that luck is part of the problem, but it doesn’t matter. The A’s are all but out of the playoff race—they’re eight games back in the AL West and looking up at even the Seattle Mariners in the division—and with DeJesus’ contract expiring at the end of the season they have no reason not to trade him now.
The Indians could afford DeJesus, both in terms of trading for him and paying him. There are many far flashier right fielders available on the trade market this year—Andre Ethier, Carlos Beltran, Ryan Ludwick, and Kosuke Fukudome, just to name a few—and most contenders aren’t going to spring for a .221 hitter with a recent history of health problems. The A’s won’t give him away for nothing, but they can’t ask for too much since there isn’t much market demand for DeJesus.
He wouldn’t be too expensive in terms of payroll, either. DeJesus is owed less than $3 million for the rest of the season, and that would fall closer to $2 million as the deadline approaches. That ain’t nothing for a small-market team, but if the Dolans are willing to spend in support of a playoff spot, it’s a relatively modest payroll bump that could make a huge difference.
If the Indians want to trade for a new right fielder, it will be hard for them to get more bang for their buck than DeJesus. Or, they could just call up Jerad Head.