Perez, Cabrera deals pay off with All-Star trip
Closer, shortstop key cogs in surprising first half
PHOENIX -- They arrived to the Cleveland Indians' organization in what were, at the time, fairly low-profile trades.But on Monday, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and closer Chris Perez sat beside each other, in a room filled with some of the Majors' top talent, ready to represent the Indians on the All-Star stage. This, then, was a showcase of the shrewd thinking of Mark Shapiro, Chris Antonetti and Co. that allowed the Indians to rebuild at a rapid rate following the fire sales of the past few summers. Cabrera and Perez, after all, are a big reason why the surprising Tribe entered the All-Star break just a half-game behind the first-place Tigers in the American League Central standings. "Shapiro hit a home run," Perez said. "Trades are kind of weird like that. To get the kind of talent we got ... especially Cabby. We gave up Eduardo Perez for him? It's great. That's what we have to do in our market is hit on those trades, not miss on those trades and maybe find those diamonds in the rough that other teams have thrown away or given up on. We're not going to sign five guys in free agency. We have to be smart and diligent in who we get in our trades." Cabrera was a Triple-A infielder in the Mariners' system when the Indians landed him in the June 2006 trade that sent Eduardo Perez to Seattle. Chris Perez was in the Cardinals' bullpen when the Tribe acquired him in the June 2009 trade that shipped Mark DeRosa to St. Louis.
Both of those deals, which came early in the summer swap season, signaled that the Indians were officially raising the white flag on those seasons. Now, they surely won't be sellers in 2011, as they have an eye on winning the division for the first time in four years. That Cleveland is in this position is also a credit to manager Manny Acta, who is part of these All-Star festivities as a coach on AL manager Ron Washington's staff. Washington tabbed Acta for the honor in Spring Training, well before the Indians shocked the baseball world with their hot start, and Washington's decision now looks to be a prescient one. Washington made another announcement that showed respect to a member of the Indians when he made Cabrera his No. 2 hitter in a bloated AL lineup. Cabrera, of course, is in the starting lineup because Derek Jeter, elected by the fans to start, pulled out of the festivities following a calf injury and the conclusion of his 3,000-hit chase, but Cabrera had the superior season statistics, anyway. Cabrera, 25, has undoubtedly been the Indians' MVP this season. Not only has he had his most consistent and impactful season at the plate, but he's also been a superb defender at shortstop, making the spectacular look routine. "To me, arguably," teammate Orlando Cabrera said recently, "he's the best shortstop in the American League." The elder Cabrera, who is not related to Asdrubal, but nonetheless likes to call him his "nephew," gave the younger Cabrera some good advice in Spring Training, telling him to take one at-bat for himself each game, looking for a pitch to take deep. Asdrubal was never known as much of a power threat (before this season, his career high in home runs was six, in 2008 and '09), but, thanks in part to that advice, he's come into his own in that department in '11. Asdrubal's 14 homers tied him with the Tigers' Jhonny Peralta -- a backup on the AL squad and the man Cabrera replaced as the Indians' regular shortstop in 2009 -- for the most among AL shortstops in the first half. Cabrera led all AL shortstops in RBIs, with 51. Those numbers paired well with his .293 average, .347 on-base percentage and .489 slugging percentage. "This is a great moment," Cabrera said of being at the Midsummer Classic. "For me, it doesn't matter that I'm batting in the second hole. I'm just going to give 100 percent." Acta, though, said Cabrera has a lot to be proud of with regard to that No. 2 spot.
AL STARTING NINE
"He should feel pretty good about himself," Acta said. "We feel great that the guy who is representing us is in such an important spot. He's earned every bit of everything he's getting. He has played like a true All-Star from Day 1 up until today. The consistency he has shown offensively and defensively has been impressive." Perez has been pretty consistent, too. From the day he arrived in Cleveland -- then a clean-shaven, baby-faced kid who had yet to grow his now-standard beard or inspire the nickname "Pure Rage" -- he made it clear that he intended to become a closer in the big leagues. Injuries and then a trade of Kerry Wood made that dream a reality in 2010. And with his role secure going into '11, Perez has anchored one of the league's most reliable bullpens. The 25-year-old Perez ranks fourth in the AL in saves with 21, to go along with a 2.43 ERA in 33 1/3 innings over 36 appearances. "Can you pitch any better out of the closer role?" Acta said. "He's been fantastic." Fantastic enough to stand among the best of the best. "Obviously, it's a nice reward for me," Perez said. "But it's also great to meet all the great players I go up against and all the great hitters I try to get out. Maybe I can get some secrets from them." Washington will go with the Tigers' Jose Valverde, who has a league-leading 24 saves, as his closer Tuesday night, even though Valverde worked four of the five days leading into the All-Star break. So if Perez is used at all, it will be in middle relief. "That's fine," Perez said. "Valverde hasn't blown a save all year. He's on a first-place club, he's a veteran, he's been around for years. He's a great choice." The Indians, obviously, made some great choices in trades past. For a couple of aging veterans in marginal roles, they landed their 2011 All-Stars.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.