Aside from the addition of left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski, the Indians’ front office let the July 31st trade deadline quietly come and go. Fans may have been disappointed by the lack of action, but it was the right decision for the team to make.
At the beginning of the season, the Tribe was primarily regarded as a team that had greatly improved but was not likely to be a serious contender until at least 2014. Most of their best prospects were at the mid or lower levels of the farm system, and despite the major free agent acquisitions that Chris Antonetti and Mark Shapiro made this winter, there were still serious doubts about both the starting pitching and the lineup.
It’s not that the Indians haven’t proved that they are a contender. As of Monday morning, they sat three games behind Detroit in the Central Division standings and one game ahead of Baltimore in the race for the second Wild Card.
No one expected the success that has carried the Tribe throughout the season. Many of the players have excelled far beyond their projections and supposed ceilings, from starting pitchers like Corey Kluber to bench players such as Ryan Raburn. More importantly, guys like Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley have continued to grow and develop into valuable members of the team.
At the trade deadline, there wasn’t a lot of top talent available. The Indians could have added a starter like Bud Norris, with his 3.95 FIP and 1.39 WHIP, or the even-less appealing Yovani Gallardo, who has posted a 4.05 FIP and 1.48 WHIP throughout this season. Either pitcher would have added depth to the rotation, but what would it have cost the Tribe? Their teams, along with the teams marketing bats and relievers, wanted major-league-ready prospects in exchange for average-to-below-average players. While there were certainly some areas where the Indians could have improved in trade, would it have been worth mortgaging the future for a marginal upgrade in a year that the front office viewed as a stepping-stone to next season?
There is no guarantee that Francisco Lindor, Danny Salazar or any other highly touted prospect will actually pan out in the major leagues. Even if injuries are not an issue, it’s always possible that someone who had success in Double- or Triple-A will arrive in Cleveland and find themselves unable to compete at such a high level. However, the Indians are not in a position to risk losing a future star for a rental player that doesn’t give them a major competitive advantage.
The Tribe’s farm system was ranked as just the nineteenth best in the major leagues by ESPN columnist Keith Law earlier this year, and it is not well-stocked enough to dole out multiple top prospects to other organizations. While the Indians have a lot of good talent, especially in the middle infield, there is no sense in giving up that depth just for the sake of making a move.
The Tigers acquired Jose Iglesias at the deadline out of necessity, and they were forced to part with a great outfield prospect in Avisail Garcia in the process. Iglesias-for-Garcia is not a bad deal for Detroit, and they might actually have improved their team by replacing Jhonny Peralta. As soon as the deal was made, many Cleveland fans wondered why Antonetti did not respond with a trade of his own.
While the Tigers made a trade to fill a specific need on their team, the Indians are not in the same position, and they were wise to ignore the pressure to make some kind of deal as well. The Tribe’s pitching staff and lineup are not perfect by any means, but there was no clear need that could be easily filled via a trade. They could have used one more bat, another reliable bullpen arm, or extra rotation depth — but none of those things were available for a reasonable price. The team has had a lot of nice surprises this season, and hopefully those players will continue to have success, but the front office should wait until next year before going all-in.
If the Indians can win with their current team, it will be great for the city, but under no circumstances should Antonetti have traded away the future of the Indians for a temporary fix. It makes much more sense to plan ahead for a few years of continued success, rather than gamble everything away on one season.