With each and every passing day it becomes more and more evident that this Cleveland Indians team as currently constructed is not a legitimate World Series contender. It’s an unpopular opinion to have when you’re a part of a fan base that hasn’t seen a World Series since 1948, but it’s the truth.
Just look at the facts. The Indians struggle to score runs almost on a daily basis. The pitching staff, thought to be one of the best in baseball to begin the season, has turned out to be one of the most unreliable. The division was theirs for the taking for the better part of three months, yet they now find themselves in third in the AL Central. Even worse, many of the acquisitions brought in early on to shore up holes on the roster haven’t worked out the way many felt they would.
When you look at things from an objective point of view, there’s a lot going on with this team right now, and much of it’s good. Besides the inconsistent play on the field, you can reasonably raise questions about particular players and how they’ve been utilized, strategies employed by Manny Acta, and front office decisions dating all the way back to the 2008 season that have gotten the Indians to where they are now.
As MLB’s non-waiver trade deadline approaches, the team seems to be caught in a limbo about what to do. But while many fans (and presumably front office personnel) are conflicted about the next step, the choice is clear: The Indians should sell.
Actually, let me clarify that. The Indians shouldn’t sell so much as they should reboot themselves. Think of it like the Spider-Man franchise. Things worked great with Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and James Franco, especially early on. However, by the third go around things had become stale, the execution was lacking, and the casting was all wrong (Topher Grace, anyone?). That’s the Indians in a nut shell.
Things worked great early on with the likes of Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez, etc. But with each and every sequel to the 2007 season things got a little less exciting and a lot more disappointing. There have been some quality casting decisions with Shin-Soo Choo, Jason Kipnis, and Chris Perez, but it hasn’t been enough to overcome terrible script after terrible script. The Indians have gotten to a point where a reboot is in order.
Let me explain—there’s a cold, calculated strategy in play for the Indians here if they decide to go against popular opinion and sell (or reboot) at the deadline. Thanks to the addition of the second wild card, the field is wide open for possible playoff contenders in the AL. Throw in the absurd number of contenders in the NL right now and there are more buyers than sellers heading into the trade deadline.
What it comes down to is basic economics: When supply goes down, price goes up. Way up.
With the limited number of sub-.500 sellers this year, the supply of available players in the trade market is lower than it’s ever been. With more buyers, any team looking to acquire talent for the stretch run is going to be forced to pay a premium. We’re not talking about prospects that will be ready in three to four years either. The Indians can use this leverage to demand MLB-ready talent or swap complementary parts straight-up.
If you’re the Indians, why not make a greater number of “core players” available, especially if there is uncertainty concerning their role on the team in coming years? I speak of players working on one-year deals who are likely to demand more on the open market as free agents than the Indians are willing to dole out next years. In no particular order:
- Derek Lowe: a veteran presence on a good contract with tons of postseason experience
- Shin-Soo Choo: not likely to sign beyond next season and his value may never be higher
- Casey Kotchman: valuable glove off the bench with postseason experience
- Jack Hannahan: valuable glove off the bench with an OK bat
- Jose Lopez: revitalized this year, could serve well as a late-inning pinch hitter on an NL team
- Matt LaPorta: never playing in Cleveland again, so why not trade him and be done with it?
- Johnny Damon: has postseason experience and has played well in recent weeks
- Shelley Duncan: potential right-handed bat for a desperate team not looking to spend much, track record as successful pinch-hitter
- Any reliever not named Vinnie Pestano: everyone needs pitching
That’s the for-sure list. The Indians should also be willing to at least discuss Justin Masterson or Ubaldo Jimenez. Neither ace has shown the type of consistency over the past two seasons to merit “untouchable” status. Chris Perez could also be extremely valuable given his effectiveness this season and the absurd number of injuries to closers early on. Why not explore their potential value in a shallow market that could reap big returns?
The Indians are in prime position to make drastic changes to this team over the next week to set them up to compete in the 2013 season and beyond. The lead-weight contracts of Travis Hafner ($13 million) and Grady Sizemore ($5 million) are set to come off the books once and for all, which frees up room to sign more productive pieces via free agency. Players who are in their prime rather than past it.
The extra added wrinkle in all of this is the prior success the Indians have had in turning their own junk parts into key pieces. Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Santana, and Chris Perez were all acquired prior to the trade deadline for pieces that were perceived as valuable to contenders but not the long term goals of the Indians. Did anyone miss Mark DeRosa, Ben Broussard, or Casey Blake?.
One could argue the Indians struggle when it comes to receiving equal value in return for superstar talent like Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia, and Victor Martinez. There’s no denying that; the lack of production the Indians have received from key pieces in all of those trades has cast doubt on the front office. But, they’ve excelled at fleecing desperate teams at the deadline with the exact same type of trades I’ve been proposing. So why not make a big play for 2013 and beyond at the expense of the 2012 season?
The downsides to this strategy are the ramifications from a public relations and marketing stand point. Fans are already disenchanted by the team’s lack of spending and impact moves in recent years. Rebooting this team, no matter how they spin it, would be considered selling and waving of the proverbial white flag once again. But, as the saying goes, if you start listening to the fans, after a while you’ll find yourselves sitting with them.
So often we hear about how being a small-market team is a hindrance to the Indians, but now they have a golden opportunity to not only improve themselves, but to do it within their own self-proclaimed budgetary constraints. If that means selling, or rebooting, or whatever you want to call it, then so be it. If this team is really serious about building a winner, we need to accept that this isn’t our year and make moves designed for 2013 and beyond.