CLEVELAND — Another day, another Indians veteran leaving town.
Approximately 24 hours after trading ace Justin Masterson to the Cardinals for minor league outfielder James Ramsey, Cleveland dealt two-time All-Star shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to the Washington Nationals on Thursday for infield prospect Zach Walters.
“It was another tough day for a number of us personally because of how much Asdrubal has meant to our team and our organization,” Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said of Cabrera, who has been a starting middle infielder for the club since breaking onto the big league scene in 2007. “He’s a guy that’s impacted two postseasons for us and been an extraordinarily valuable member of our team.
“We’ll obviously miss Asdrubal a great deal, but we were able to make this trade and acquire Zach Walters, who’s a versatile infielder, switch hitter, has extraordinary power, especially for an infielder, and a guy who we think is capable of contributing at the major league level soon.”
The Indians reportedly had to pick up the remaining $3.5 million of the final year of Cabrera’s contract ($10 million) to acquire Walters, a 24-year-old middle infielder, who hit 29 home runs at the Triple-A level last year.
Much to Tribe fans’ chagrin, Mike Aviles and Jose Ramirez will replace Cabrera at shortstop, not the team’s top prospect, Francisco Lindor. Lindor, 20, was recently promoted to Triple-A Columbus, where he is batting .323 (10-for-31) with two home runs and four RBIs in eight games.
“For the short-term, we were able to make this trade because of our belief in Mike Aviles and Jose Ramirez,” Antonetti said. “We still feel that we’re a good team and that those guys will do more than a capable job.
“With Francisco, our focus is what’s best for him developmentally. He’s just now getting his first exposure to Triple-A. Right now, for us, it’s Mike Aviles and Jose Ramirez at shortstop.”
Cabrera, an All-Star in 2011 and ’12, has seen his production fall since. He hit a career-low .242 last year and was batting just .246 with nine homers and 40 RBIs in 96 games this season. He committed nine errors in 136 games last year, but already had a team-leading 14 for the Indians this season.
“It wasn’t for any lack of effort,” Antonetti said. “There’s no one in the clubhouse that cared more about winning. He gave everything he could.”
Though the perception with fans was that Cabrera didn’t play hard, nearly everyone that spoke with the media Thursday disputed the notion.
“I’ve heard numerous times about how much respect people have for him, so that’s not fun, ever,” manager Terry Francona said of trading Cabrera. “Once you get past that, I think it’s an opportunity for us to get better and that’s exciting.”
Aviles tweeted: “Wishing best of luck to another great teammate and friend!!! the deadline can be rough sometimes!!”
Walters, a ninth-round draft pick of Arizona’s in 2010, has split this season between Triple-A Syracuse and the majors with the Nationals. He hit .205 with three homers and five RBIs in 32 games for Washington, striking out 16 times in 39 at-bats. In 60 games at Syracuse, Walters hit .300 with 15 homers and 48 RBIs.
Though he possesses plenty of power, a National League source labeled Walters a utility infielder with holes in his big swing. He is expected to report to Triple-A Columbus.
According to Antonetti, the Indians were working on other deals as the trading deadline ended at 4 p.m. Thursday. They were reportedly interested in starting pitching, but were not linked to any of the big-name starters — David Price, John Lackey and Jon Lester — that were dealt.
“There were probably three or four other things that were very active until the last few minutes,” Antonetti said. “You’d always like to do more, but we’re really pleased that we were able to make the deals we were because it positions us better moving forward.”
Cleveland could still make a move during the August waiver period.
“There’s that opportunity in August to try to continue to improve the team,” Antonetti said. We’ll continue to explore opportunities that may become available to us.”