While the Indians don't appear to be in sell-at-all-costs Marlins mode -- they say they'll keep both players if they can't get what they want -- it seems clear they think their future would be better served by trading one or both players.
Their reasoning is simple, and it has a lot to do with the Tigers, the two-time defending American League Central champions who will be overwhelming favorites to win the division again in 2013.
The Indians see themselves as underdogs in the division, even with Cabrera, Choo and the other veterans they're willing to move (including closer Chris Perez and starter Justin Masterson). They can keep them all and make another run at winning, but realistically they'd be counting on the Tigers greatly underperforming.
With Choo eligible for free agency after 2013 and Cabrera eligible after 2014, and with the low-budget Indians seeming to have little chance to retain either one, they'd be going all-in on a season or two where they'd be counting on their rivals to collapse.
The alternative, they hope, would be to use those players to get pitching that would allow them to compete with the Tigers on more even footing in years to come. The Indians accept they won't be able to spend at the Tigers' level for free agents (or to keep their own potential free agents), so developing young pitching or acquiring it in trades is their best hope.
Cabrera would figure to have value this winter, given the weak free-agent market for shortstops. Cabrera's .762 OPS ranked fourth among regular major-league shortstops in 2012, behind only Ian Desmond, Derek Jeter and Jose Reyes. Cabrera is under contract for 2013, at $6.5 million (and will make $10 million in 2014).
Choo made $4.9 million last year, and is arbitration-eligible. He hasn't been able to match his strong 2009-10 seasons, but still had an .815 OPS in 2012.
The Indians actually spent the most days in first place of any AL Central team over the last two years (144, vs. 137 for the Tigers and 130 for the White Sox), but they seem to be realistic about their chances for next year.
Those chances would be somewhat better without trading away Cabrera and/or Choo. But their chances of winning in two or three years could be much better if they can find the right deal.