When the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline is nearing it is always more fun for a team’s fans to talk about which player the team could acquire to improve its chances at reaching the postseason than it is lamenting at what could have been and unloading established players for prospects in hopes of building a better future. The buyers (contenders) and sellers (non-contenders) are generally categorized after the All-Star break and about a week and a half before the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline.
Contenders are usually teams that are within five games of a wild card berth or the division lead. Using July 20, as a reference point the Indians fit the guidelines of being a contender only three times in the last ten seasons. In 2005, the Indians were just four games behind in the wild card race but had a record of only 48-47. In 2007 they were the division and wild card leaders with a record of 57-37. And in 2011 they were in first place in the AL Central at 51-46.
So often we get caught up in prognosticating the baseball season based on who is in camp with the team and who among the minor league prospects may come up and help during the season. The first question I ask myself is: Do I believe the Indians today have the horses to win the AL Central? My response to that question is usually no. The second question—one that is just as important—is: Do the Indians have the talent to remain competitive and put themselves in position to be contenders come July 20?
What is the minimum record the Indians would need to have by mid-summer in order to be considered contenders? Looking back at the records of some of last year’s playoff teams on July 20: The Tampa Bay Rays were 51-46 (.531), the Detroit Tigers were 51-46 (.526), the Milwaukee Brewers were 53-46 (.536), the St. Louis Cardinals were 50-47 (.515), and the Arizona Diamondbacks were 52-46 (.531). Do the Indians have the talent to play a bit above .500 over their first 100-110 games of 2012? I believe the answer to that question is yes.
Much like 2011, it will be very important for the young Indians to get off to a good start. They will have an opportunity to take advantage of what Buster Olney of ESPN.com has called the easiest early season schedule in the American League. He points out that the Indians play 18 of their first 30 games at home, and only 6 of their first 30 games are against teams with winning records in 2011. As Olney points out, the Indians don’t play a team with a winning record until April 27 against the Angels.