"I had fun here, you know," Cabrera said shortly after learning the news. "This is the team that gave me the opportunity to play at this level. Those guys, my teammates, I'm leaving good guys. It's hard, but this is what it's about. That's the game."
In the 48 hours prior to Thursday's 4 p.m. non-waiver Trade Deadline, Cleveland parted ways with sinkerballer Justin Masterson (sent to St. Louis for outfield prospect James Ramsey) and Cabrera, who each developed into an All-Star with the Indians. As it became increasingly clear that neither player was a part of the club's 2015 plans, trading them became the probable scenario.
The Cardinals will pay the remainder of Masterson's salary 2014 (roughly $3.2 million remaining), while the Indians will still pay the entirety of Cabrera's $10-million deal for this season. It was unlikely that either player -- eligible for free agency this winter -- would receive a qualifying Offer from the Tribe after the season, meaning the team would not be in line for potential Draft-pick compensation.
With that in mind, Cleveland obtained a pair of prospects poised to possibly impact the Major League team in the near future by trading Masterson and Cabrera now.
"We were really pleased we were able to make the deals we were," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said, "because we think they've positioned us better moving forward."
Antonetti indicated that he and his staff were active up until the arrival of the 4 p.m. ET Deadline, falling short on a handful of other fronts. One area the Indians were trying to shore up was their starting rotation, but Cleveland was unable to complete a deal.
"You'd always like to do more," Antonetti said. "There were two or three other things, in particular, that if we could've executed, we would've felt even better about. Some of those would've been impacting our Major League team directly, but unfortunately, we weren't able to get to the finish line."
Now that the non-waiver Trade Deadline has passed, deals involving players on the 40-man roster can only be made if the player has already cleared waivers. In other words, the player must be offered to the other teams in reverse order of the standings and, if he is claimed, he is ineligible for a trade. The club that placed the player on waivers can either withdraw the request and keep the player, or let the player go to the claiming team.
"There's that opportunity in August to try to improve the team," Antonetti said. "We'll, as we've done in the past, explore those opportunities as they become available to us."
Both Ramsey and Walters -- each 24 years old -- will report to Triple-A Columbus. Ramsey, who was a first-round pick by the Cardinals in 2012, hit .300 with a .916 OPS at Triple-A for the Cardinals this season. Walters (a ninth-round selection in 2010 by the D-backs, who traded him to Washington in 2011) has hit .300 with a .965 OPS at Triple-A for the Nationals this season.
Walters has hit .234 with a .797 OPS in 40 career games in the Majors and has the ability to play second base, shortstop and third base. Cleveland has not ruled out giving him a look in the outfield as well. The Indians were most attracted to Walters' power numbers, which include 56 homers in the past three Minor League seasons combined.
"That's certainly one of his defining attributes -- his power -- especially for a middle infielder," Antonetti said. "He's a guy that hit 29 home runs in Triple-A last year and is off to another strong performance this year at Triple-A. That's certainly a big part of his skillset, in addition to his versatility."
The 28-year-old Cabrera -- a two-time All-Star for the Indians -- was expendable in part due to his showing this season, but also because of Cleveland's depth at shortstop. Veteran utility man Mike Aviles and infield prospect Jose Ramirez will split the duties at short for the time being now that Cabrera is out of the picture.
What the Indians will not do is rush highly-touted shortstop prospect Francisco Lindor (currently at Triple-A Columbus) to the Majors before he is deemed ready. Antonetti noted that Cleveland would likely have a meeting with Lindor within the next few days to reiterate the importance of focusing on his development, and not trying to force a promotion to The Show.
"Right now, he's getting his first exposure to Triple-A," Antonetti said of the 20-year-old Lindor. "That's a new challenge for him and the one thing Francisco always demonstrates is, any time there's that challenge in front of him, he'll make the most of it and continue to improve as a player.
"Where that leads, and how our roster will take shape in September, I'm not quite sure."
Perhaps Lindor will provide the kind of spark Cabrera did as a 21-year-old during Cleveland's run to the postseason in 2007.
In parts of eight seasons with the Tribe, Cabrera posted a .270/.331/.410 slash line with 82 home runs, 211 doubles, 430 RBIs, 475 runs scored and 69 stolen bases in 914 games. He won a Silver Slugger Award in 2011, when he had 25 home runs and 92 RBIs, but Cabrera was never able to carry that impressive showing over into the following campaigns.
Through 97 games this season, Cabrera has hit .246 with nine home runs, 22 doubles, two triples, 40 RBIs and 54 runs for the Indians. His 96 OPS+ indicates that, offensively, he has been slightly below league average. Advanced defensive metrics also do not do Cabrera any favors.
Antonetti said Cabrera's decline in recent years is tough to explain.
"That's a good question," Antonetti said. "It's hard to say and isolate any one particular thing. The one thing I know is it wasn't for any lack of effort. There's nobody in the clubhouse who cares as much as Cabby about winning. He gave everything he could to try to excel and help the team."
Indians manager Terry Francona echoed that sentiment.
"He's an easy guy to like," Francona said. "You've heard numerous times about how much respect we have for how Cabby cared about our team. So [trading him] is not fun to do. Once you get past that, I think this is an opportunity for us to try to get better. That part's exciting."