What kinds of moves could Indians GM Chris Antonetti have up his sleeve to upgrade the team this July? (Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

Where Can the Indians Upgrade at the Deadline?

With the calendar recently flipping to July, it’s becoming an exciting time for baseball fans.

In addition to celebrating Independence Day and watching Joey Chestnut win another Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, July is also the month of the yearly non-waiver Trade Deadline, set for July 31 each year. Players can still be eligible to play in the postseason if they are traded in August, but they must first clear waivers before doing so, which is why many of the trades that occur during each season happen before August begins.

Teams believing that they are just a player or two away from a playoff berth are usually willing to deal a few minor leaguers to rebuilding teams for a shot to improve their rosters, and in turn, their hopes of playing baseball in October.

The Cleveland Indians are one such example of a team that could be looking to “buy” at the Deadline. As of this writing, Terry Francona’s club has fought its way to a 45-40 record, good for second place in the American League Central and just a game behind the Detroit Tigers.

However, the Indians are not without their flaws, and if General Manager Chris Antonetti can address these issues at the Deadline, the Indians could make the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

So where could the Indians improve?

The following is a list of areas in which Antonetti could certainly consider upgrading his ballclub (in no particular order).

  • Third Base

Candidates on 40-Man Roster:

Lonnie Chisenhall, Mark Reynolds, Mike Aviles, Juan Diaz, Cord Phelps

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Why the Indians Could Use An Upgrade:

The Tribe’s offense has certainly done its part so far in 2013, as Cleveland’s 407 runs rank fourth in the American League and fifth in all of major league baseball. However, one area the Indians could be looking to upgrade is at the hot corner, as Indians third basemen have combined to post an average of .205 (last in the majors), an anti-Billy Beane on base percentage of .275 (27th) and a slugging percentage of .347 (24th).

The hitting (or lack thereof) that Mark Reynolds has provided this season at third base has been underwhelming, to say the least. In 115 plate appearances at first base in 2013, Reynolds has posted a slash line of .260/.339/.450 and a .275/.367/.569 line in 60 plate appearances as the designated hitter. However, at third base (where he has played the most), he has posted a slash line of .178/.279/.318 in 147 plate appearances. Combine that with the fact that his defense at third base has cost the Indians a total of roughly 8 runs so far this season alone and it’s clear that alternatives at third base should be considered.

Enter Lonnie Chisenhall.

The Indians’ first round selection in the 2008 draft, Chisenhall has shown flashes of becoming a terrific all-around hitter, but has been inconsistent this season, posting a slash line of .230/.262/.378, although a well-below league average BABIP of .267 (league average is roughly .300) suggests he has experienced some bad luck so far this season and the Indians might feel that a more experienced option would suit them better. Still, Chisenhall is in an awkward position in that he is clearly too good of a hitter for AAA (.390/.456/.676 in 125 plate appearances), so there would be little point in sending him down to the minors. Chisenhall is also at the stage in his career where he needs consistent playing time to figure everything out as a hitter, so benching him probably isn’t the best of options either.

Mike Aviles has played well all across the diamond for Terry Francona, and using him as a utility man would probably be a good idea to keep added flexibility on the roster, as he can play anywhere in the infield or outfield.

Diaz and Phelps provide depth in the minors, but neither are natural third basemen and wouldn’t be ideal candidates to start regularly.

Potential Upgrades Available

Aramis Ramirez (.278/.360/.426) of the Brewers is certainly a name to keep an eye on if the Indians choose to upgrade at third, as the 35 year-old still provides good right-handed power in the middle of a lineup. However, the Indians would most likely be interested in sticking with Chisenhall and Reynolds at third, with Aviles serving as the utility man. The $16 million salary for next year owed to Ramirez could be an issue as well.

  •  Starting Rotation

Candidates on 40-Man Roster:

Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Corey Kluber, Scott Kazmir, Zach McAllister (DL), Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar

Why the Indians Could Use An Upgrade:

While the Indians have found contributions from unlikely sources, the rotation still has serious holes in it. The Indians’ team ERA of 4.31 is 27th in all of baseball, and the starting rotation has combined for a 4.47 ERA which places them 22nd in the league in that department.

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The Indians have a promising core of the rotation in Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, and – when healthy – Zach McAllister. Ubaldo Jimenez has bounced back from a few rocky outings to start the season and has pitched well since, but high pitch counts have limited him to short outings which have overworked the bullpen (more on that later). Scott Kazmir has been very inconsistent so far this season, and reinforcements are likely needed if the Indians want to make the playoffs this season.

The rotation has not been bad this season, but the Indians need more consistent and experienced starting pitching.

The Indians have quality depth in the minor leagues, but Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco still need seasoning in the minors, while Danny Salazar has yet to pitch in the majors.

The Indians also have Josh Tomlin, who is recovering from Tommy John Surgery and could return at the end of this year or sometime next year.

Potential Upgrades Available

Luckily for the Indians, there are multiple arms that could fit what the Indians are looking for. One name to keep an eye on is Miami’s Ricky Nolasco, as the Marlins have been aggressively shopping him in recent weeks and want to move him as soon as they can. They have set a fairly low asking price for the right-hander, asking an acquiring team to pay most of the $6 million or so Nolasco is owed through the rest of the year, as well as a decent prospect or two. Nolasco will likely be one of the first pitchers to be traded, so if the Indians plan on pursuing him, the time to act is now. The 30 year-old Nolasco is 5-8 with a 3.85 ERA for the Marlins this year, and will be a free agent after the season. He would add a consistent arm to the Indians’ rotation, and provides experience at a very reasonable price.

Another name to consider is quite possibly my favorite pitcher available. That would be Bud Norris of the Astros, who is 6-7 with a 3.22 ERA for Houston in 2013 and is in his first season of arbitration eligibility, making $3 million this season and due for a raise next season. Norris isn’t a high strikeout pitcher (6.3 K/9) but has above average control (2.9 BB/9) and isn’t overly homer-prone (0.6 allowed per nine inning
What kinds of moves could Indians GM Chris Antonetti have up his sleeve to upgrade the team this July? (Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)
s). To date, the 28 year-old Norris has given the Astros an approximate worth of 2.7 wins above replacement (WAR) this year. It will probably take a fairly large offer to pry Norris away from the Astros, but he carries much less risk than some other starters available and should be well worth the cost.

Another attractive arm on the market is the Cubs’ Matt Garza. Garza is a free agent after the season and has only made 9 starts this season, but could be the best pitcher on the market. Garza’s mark of 8.2 K/9 is almost identical to his mark of 8.3 last season, while his walk rate of 2.8 per nine is identical to last year’s mark. Garza has remarkable consistency, too, posting an ERA between 3.32 and 3.95 in every year following his rookie season in 2006. Garza is also battle-tested, having spent three seasons with the Rays from 2008-2010 while consistently facing some of the best lineups that baseball had to offer as a pitcher in the AL East. The issue with Garza is that he is also a free agent at season’s end, but would be much tougher and more expensive to retain than Nolasco. The Cubs are also seeking impact prospects for Garza, and that is a price that could potentially turn away clubs like the Indians. However, Garza could have the biggest impact of any arm traded this month. Don’t count the Indians out of the Garza sweepstakes.

Other names to consider include the Phillies’ Cliff Lee (if the Indians really want to go the aggressive route), Jake Peavy of the White Sox, and the Brewers’ Yovani Gallardo. Low-risk additions could be in play as well, such as Seattle’s Joe Saunders, who was terrific for the Orioles down the stretch last season after they acquired him in an August trade with the Diamondbacks.

  • Bullpen

Candidates on 40-Man Roster:

Matt Albers, Cody Allen, Scott Barnes, Nick Hagadone, Trey Haley, Rich Hill, T.J. House, Matt Langwell, C.C. Lee, Joe Martinez, Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano, Bryan Shaw, Joe Smith

Why the Indians Could Use An Upgrade:

Entering the season, the Indians’ bullpen was viewed as one of the team’s strengths. However, it, like the starting rotation, has had trouble this season, posting an ERA of 4.03, which also ranks 22nd in baseball. However, that number has been brought down by the left-handed relievers, who have especially struggled. Rich Hill and the recently-demoted Nick Hagadone have posted respective ERAs of 6.55 and 5.33 so far this season. Scott Barnes posted a 7.27 ERA in limited work this season before being sent down to AAA Columbus. The rest of the Tribe’s bullpen has been good overall, but shaky at times as the team’s relievers have pitched poorly on occasion this season. This is a situation that is worth watching for the rest of the season.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Indians have J.C. Romero and lefty specialist Clay Rapada pitching from the bullpen at Columbus, but it is unclear what kind of impact either one could have on the team’s bullpen. That could motivate Antonetti to ask around the league for left-handed relief.

The Indians also have Frank Herrmann, Brett Myers, and Blake Wood on the 60-day DL.

Potential Upgrades Available

Of the lefties that could potentially be on the trading block, James Russell is the one who could draw the most trade interest. For the Cubs this season, he has posted an ERA of 3.06 in 40 games. Russell is in his first year of arbitration eligibility and is making a little over $1 million in 2013. It doesn’t appear that the Cubs have a lot of interest in dealing the 27 year-old Cincinnati native, but they would certainly have a lot of suitors if they did. Although right-handed hitters are hitting .327/.413/.545 against him, he has dominated left-handers this season, holding them to a line of .185/.221/.292.

Other southpaws available could be Mike Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny, both of the Brewers. The 35 year-old Gonzalez has an ERA of 3.30 in 43 appearances on the year and has been equally effective against both lefties and righties this season, holding lefties to a line of .258/.333/.403 and righties to a line of .228/.353/.404. He will be a free agent at the end of the season. The 30 year-old Gorzelanny, a former starter, has posted a 2.31 ERA in 32 appearances (1 start) for the Brew Crew this season. He is a good strikeout pitcher (8.8 K/9) and has also been tough to hit, limiting left-handed hitters to a .200/.333/.418 line and right-handed hitters to a .167/.250/.231 line. Gorzelanny was signed to a 2-year deal last offseason, so he would still be under the Indians’ control next year as well.

The Tribe could also consider late inning arms like Steve Cishek of the Marlins or even the Phillies’ Jonathan Papelbon, although either scenario seems unlikely.

The Indians, like any other team in baseball, have holes on their roster that could be exposed if they aren’t dealt with. The team has surprised many baseball pundits who didn’t think that the Indians would contend very far into the season.

GM Chris Antonetti has a variety of avenues with which to explore, and if he is able to pull the trigger on a deal to upgrade any of these areas of need for the Indians, the team could surprise even more people with a potential playoff spot at the end of the season.

After all, this is baseball. Anything can happen.

Tags: Aramis Ramirez Bud Norris Cleveland Indians Jonathan Papelbon Lonnie Chisenhall Mark Reynolds Matt Garza Mike Avles Trades

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