CLEVELAND – The Indians have been out of contention since the 2007 season, but they’ve become quite efficient at trading off veteran players the past three years.
A day after dealing outfielder Austin Kearns to the Yankees, two more veterans left the building Saturday, with Cleveland trading starting pitcher Jake Westbrook to the Cardinals and re-uniting closer Kerry Wood with Kearns in New York.
It’s been an ongoing theme for the Indians, who have alienated fans over the past two-plus seasons by unloading veterans the likes of CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez for prospects.
“We certainly don’t like doing these deals,” said Cleveland assistant general manager Chris Antonetti, who takes over for GM Mark Shapiro in 2011. “We want to be on the other end of them. That’s what we’re working towards, and we’re trying to do it as quickly as possible.”
The Indians got active as the trading deadline approached, dealing Jhonny Peralta to the Tigers on Wednesday, then shipping Kearns to New York on Friday. It was a prelude to a bigger day Saturday, with two of the team’s most high-profiled pitchers sent to greener pastures.
Westbrook (6-7, 4.65 ERA in 21 starts) was part of a three-team trade that netted the Indians Double-A right-hander Corey Kluber from the Padres, while San Diego received former Indian Ryan Ludwick from St. Louis. Antonetti said that cash was sent to both the Cardinals and the Padres but that the Indians saved money in the end.
Wood was acquired for a player to be named or cash (by Oct. 15).
Westbrook, the longest tenured Indian on the roster before being traded, worked his way back from Tommy John surgery to begin the season as the club’s No. 1 starter. Acquired in a trade with the Yankees in 2000, the 32-year-old right-hander owns a 69-71 record and 4.34 ERA in 221 career appearances, all but three coming with the Indians.
“Obviously, anytime you trade a veteran guy at this point in the season, it’s tough,” Antonetti said. “With Jake it’s even more difficult, because beyond his contributions on the field for over a decade with this organization, is that this guy epitomizes professionalism. I don’t think there’s a classier act in all of baseball.”
Westbrook displayed as much when finances threatened to nix the trade to St. Louis. Owed $4 million in the final season of a three-year contract worth $33 million, and a $2 million bonus if he was traded, Westbrook agreed to reduce the bonus.
“Any way I could help out the Indians, I needed to do that,” Westbrook said, “because I didn’t really feel like I honored my contract as well as I would have liked to, being hurt. It was in my best interest and the Indians’ best interest to do something like that.”
Josh Tomlin and Jeanmar Gomez, who will be promoted from Triple-A Columbus today, are filling in for inured starters Aaron Laffey and Mitch Talbot. The Indians will need a replacement for Westbrook, and it could be Laffey, who is eligible to leave the disabled list early this month or Columbus right-hander Carlos Carrasco.
Wood’s disappointing tenure comes to an end with the right-hander saving just 28 games in two seasons for the Indians, who signed him to a two-year contract worth $20.5 million prior to last season. He was activated from his second stint on the disabled list Saturday owning a 1-4 with a 6.30 ERA and eight saves in 23 appearances.
Despite holding an $11 million option on the 33-year-old Wood in 2011, the Indians weren’t going to bring him back, with right-hander Chris Perez set to take over the closer role.
“I’m obviously disappointed in my performance and what I did in my time in Cleveland,” Wood said. “I would have liked to have held up my end of the bargain a little better than I did, but it is what it is.”
Kluber, a fourth-round draft pick of San Diego’s in 2007, is one of the Padres’ top prospects. He has spent the entire season at Double-A San Antonio, compiling a 6-6 record and 3.45 ERA in 22 games (21 starts). His 136 strikeouts in 122 2/3 innings, leads the Texas League.
“For us, it’s an opportunity to get back a Double-A staring pitcher to add to our upper-level depth,” Antonetti said. “He gives us another upper-level minor league starter that hopefully can be a part of our rotation down the road.”
Kluber, 24, will report to Double-A Akron but is expected to be promoted to Triple-A before the season is complete. Antonetti said he could potentially be in Cleveland at some point next season, providing another piece to what appears to be a never-ending rebuilding phase that the Indians and their fans are hoping comes to fruition soon.
“What we’re hopefully starting to see is that we have a solid nucleus of position players that are starting to develop and solidify on the major league level,” Antonetti said. “We’ll get what we believe is still an impact major league player back with Grady (Sizemore).
“We’re now trying to bring and line up the pitching around it. We’ve started to see some of that on the major league level and there’s a number of guys at the upper-level of our minor leagues in both the rotation and bullpen that we feel can contribute in the near-term.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org.