Jhonny Peralta ... going, going ... gone.
Like a postman the week before Christmas, this is Mark Shapiro's busiest time. Whether or not the Indians general manager considers it the "most wonderful time of the year," depends on the prospects he gets in exchange for veteran players before the trade deadline. This year, he's started off by getting a Class A left-handed pitcher in exchange for an infielder once considered a Tribe cornerstone.
The prospect is Giovanni Soto. The veteran is Jhonny Peralta, who was traded to the Detroit Tigers for the 19-year-old pitcher.
"I don't consider this a step back," Shapiro said. "The decision is about this year and next year."
Soto has had a good season for West Michigan in the Midwest League. In 16 starts, he is 6-6 with a 2.61 ERA, striking out 76 in 82 2-3 innings and allowing 75 hits and 25 walks.
He has been very consistent -- not allowing more than three earned runs in any start. His best outing was a complete-game shutout of the Indians' farm team at Lake County on June 16. No doubt Tribe scouts were impressed that night when Soto allowed only three hits and one walk while striking out seven Captains.
Soto was assigned to Lake County and could pitch today against West Michigan.
"He's a lanky, projectable left-handed starter," Shapiro said. "There's definitely some projection involved. It's a tall, wiry frame. The velocity is not 'plus' right now, but he's got a good cutter and good feel for a curveball and changeup, as well."
The 6-foot-4 native of Puerto Rico was drafted by Detroit in the 21st round a year ago. He got off to a fine start as a professional, going 4-0 with one save and a 1.18 ERA last summer for the Tigers' team in the Gulf Coast League. In 45 2-3 innings covering 13 outings including six starts, he allowed only 33 hits, walked 20 and struck out 37.
To take Peralta's place on the big-league roster, infielder Luis Valbuena was recalled from Triple-A Columbus. Valbuena opened the year as Cleveland's starter at second base, but hit only .166 and was sent down June 24. In 25 games with the Clippers, however, he hit .313 with eight doubles, six homers and 20 RBI.
Valbuena is now back in the mix with Jayson Nix and Jason Donald at second base. He and Nix may see some time at third, where Andy Marte started Wednesday night after Peralta was pulled from the lineup when the trade was completed during batting practice.
"Valbuena has his swing back and he's played some third," Shapiro said.
Jared Goedert may be called up from Columbus at some point and join the third-base party. He's had a productive season in the minors, currently batting .304 with 17 homers and 36 RBI in 46 games at Columbus after hitting .325 with seven homers and 32 RBI in 44 games at Double-A Akron.
Lonnie Chisenhall, the Indians' first-round draft pick in 2008, is Akron's third baseman. He has slumped at bat of late, but the 21-year-old is still considered the best prospect in the system at the position. In 77 games, the lefty swinger is hitting .271 with 10 homers and 46 RBI. In 268 professional games, he's a .270 hitter with 37 homers and 183 RBI.
"We want to take a look at some of our internal alternatives [at third base] for next year, because we think they can help us this year, too," Shapiro said. "We had come to the decision we weren't going to pick up (Peralta's) option for next year. We had multiple guys that we viewed as potential alternatives that we wanted to take a look at."
The Indians also sent some cash to Detroit in the deal, to offset the remainder of Peralta's $4.6 million contract for this season. The Indians had no plans to exercise Peralta's $7 million option for 2011. The option is now worth $7.25 million after the trade, due to a clause in Peralta's contract.
The 28-year-old Peralta hit only .246 with 23 doubles, seven homers and 43 RBI in 91 games this year for Cleveland. In 923 games, all with the Indians, he has hit .264 with 201 doubles, 103 home runs and 456 RBI.
Peralta was never popular with Cleveland fans, perhaps because he replaced the great Omar Vizquel and also because he seldom exhibited much emotion. Shapiro, however, always thought highly of him.
"He's a guy who signed here as a teenager and came through our system, replaced a legend -- a potential Hall of Famer at shortstop -- and did it extremely well," Shapiro said. "He contributed to a playoff run (in 2007) and was an outstanding professional and class individual. This is an emotional moment."
The Tigers became interested in Peralta when their third baseman Brandon Inge, sustained a broken left hand that will sideline him for at least a month and maybe more.
The Indians recently had a "Christmas In July" program at Progressive Field -- but for the past three years, it has been other MLB teams opening gifts from Shapiro.
In July 2008, he dealt reigning AL Cy Young winner CC Sabathia to Milwaukee for Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, Zach Jackson and Rob Bryson.
Later that month, he sent Casey Blake to the Dodgers for Jon Meloan and Carlos Santana.
In July 2009, another reigning Cy Young winner, Cliff Lee, was packaged to Philadelphia with Ben Francisco for Donald, Lou Marson, Carlos Carrasco and Jason Knapp. All-Star catcher Victor Martinez was shipped to Boston for Justin Masterson, Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price. Ryan Garko was sent to San Francisco for Scott Barnes and Rafael Betancourt to Colorado for Connor Graham.
Shapiro began his shopping early a year ago, sending veteran Mark DeRosa to St. Louis for Chris Perez and Jess Todd.