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Published: Sunday, 7/27/2008

Peralta productive as shortstop

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The Cleveland Indians entered a series against the Tigers on the heels of trading CC Sabathia earlier this month.

The Tribe will welcome

Detroit to Cleveland tomorrow after just dealing another household name - Casey Blake.

The question is, will either team make any major roster moves during this upcoming four-game series? Something like, say, the Indians possibly trading Jhonny Peralta.

Peralta entered play last night leading all American League shortstops with 15 homers. He'd hit in 13 of his last 14 games, batting .382 (21-for-55) during that stretch.

Peralta was tied for seventh in the AL in extra-base hits (46) and tied for sixth in doubles (28). For the season - again, prior to last night's game - he was batting .270 with 17 homers and 52 RBIs.

Perhaps Cleveland could strike while the iron is hot and deal Peralta by Thursday's non-waiver trade deadline. His trade value might never be higher.

Trading Peralta, however, is not as clear-cut as it was to ship Blake to the Dodgers.

Blake is 34, has an expiring contract, and the Indians are not in contention.

Those circumstances scream trade for prospects! and that's exactly what they did.

Peralta is 26 and is developing a track record for offensive production as a shortstop. If he didn't play another game this season, he'd enter 2009 averaging 19 homers and 68 RBIs over the last four years. His lowest batting average during that stretch was when he hit .257 in 2006.

Those are all numbers not to be taken lightly.

Peralta's critics will quickly point out that he seems too slow of foot to play shortstop, that his range to either side is limited.

He had nine errors in his first 424 chances this year. That's not bad, but it's not good enough for those who long for the days of Omar Vizquel.

Fans who don't like Peralta as a shortstop but appreciate his offense might be rooting for him to play third base. But even that one gets sticky.

Yes, Blake is out of the picture now, but Andy Marte is out of minor-league options and is almost exclusively a third baseman. He's struggled to hit this year, but the Indians are leery of losing him after what happened with Brandon Phillips.

A hot prospect when the Indians acquired him, Phillips was considered the future at second base or shortstop for the Tribe. But he struggled in parts of three major league seasons and was dealt to the Cincinnati Reds in 2006.

Phillips, of course, blossomed into an all-star caliber second baseman and has 63 homers in three years. The Indians don't want the same thing to happen to them with Marte, and will probably give him every chance to prove he can play.

There's also the issue of who will play short and second if Peralta is gone. Asdrubal Cabrera has shown defensive abilities that remind you of Vizquel, but he's not hitting for average (.185) or power (one homer).

With Peralta at short next year, the Indians can let Cabrera and Josh Barfield battle for second base and perhaps trade the loser if both have decent springs.

You're right, Cabrera or Barfield could become the next Phillips if dealt. But as of now neither produce like Peralta, who sounds more and more like a keeper.

DIFFERENT IN DETROIT: If the Tigers make a move this week, it will be as a buyer rather than a seller.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland told reporters Friday "absolutely nothing" was occurring on the trade front, but that was before closer Todd Jones blew another save in a loss to Chicago.

If the Tigers were to trade for an impact reliever, like Baltimore's all-star closer George Sherill, it might cost them two or more prospects.

Mud Hens Brent Clevlen, Jeff Larish and Michael Hollimon are all major league ready, while Single-A West Michigan pitchers Alfredo Figaro and Mauricio Robles are having fine seasons.

The question is this: Is Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski comfortable parting with one (or more) of them when it's not clear if the Tigers will be within striking distance of Chicago come September?

BALLS AND STRIKES: Figaro and Robles were both featured in The Blade earlier this month for taking part in the Tigers' cultural assimilation program for Latin players. Figaro leads the Midwest League with 12 wins and is second with a 2.05 ERA. Robles is 1-0 with a 1.55 ERA in his last five starts. Indians ace Cliff Lee is well on his way toward his first AL Cy Young Award. At 14-2, he's the first pitcher to win 14 of 16 decisions since Toronto's Roy Halladay in 2003. Halladay won the Cy Young that year. Sabathia won in 2007. Ryan Strieby, drafted by the Tigers in the fourth round in 2006, is tied for the Florida State League lead with 23 homers and 77 RBIs for Single-A Lakeland.

Contact Joe Vardon at:

jvardon@theblade.com

or 419-410-5055.



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