There are some good vibes surrounding the Cleveland Indians right now. Their series split with the Yankees leaves their record at 45-46, just a scant two games out of second place in the AL Central, behind a team that voluntarily starts Raul Ibañez as their cleanup hitter on occasion, and just 3.5 games out of a Wild Card spot. They’ve displayed some of the gritty grittiness that a team wants, nay, needs from their players if they want to experience success. With 71 games left on the schedule, many of which come against AL Central opponents, the Indians are certainly still in contention.
But being in contention, and really, being just on the outskirts of contention, does not make a team a buyer at the trade deadline.
The first thing to consider here is where the team could most use the help from a deadline deal. Adding a player worth 3.0 wins above replacement (WAR) isn’t that beneficial when he takes plate appearances or innings away from a 2.0 win player.
A few days ago, it stood to reason that there was no singular spot in the lineup crying out for an immediate upgrade. But Michael Bourn and his papier-mâché left hamstring going back on the shelf has created an opening in the outfield that should probably be filled by someone other than the Pirates’ Triple-A centerfielder. The other place where the team could use an upgrade is in the starting rotation. Nothing against Josh Tomlin, T.J. House, or Zach McAllister/Justin Masterson/Danny Salazar, but a team that needs to make a big push just to reach the postseason probably could stand to do better on that front.
So those are the two areas where the Tribe could make the biggest impact via a deadline trade. The thing is, there are only a finite number of wins available at the deadline, and they all have a cost associated with them. David Price might be the best player available at the deadline. He has been worth 2.8 fWAR (Wins Above Replacement as calculated by FanGraphs) so far in 2014. Considering that his career high fWAR is 4.8, it’s fair to guess he’ll be worth around two wins over the rest of this season. He’s also under club control for 2015, so any team that deals for him is looking at adding the 2.0 wins this year and roughly 4.5 wins in 2015.
What will those wins cost? If the price the Oakland Athletics paid to get Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel is any indication, it’s a hefty one. Or, in other words, the Indians aren’t getting David Price (or whatever other high-end target under contract past this season) without giving up Francisco Lindor. I highly doubt there are any Indians fans out there that would be happy if the team dealt six seasons of Lindor for one-and-a-half seasons of David Price. (Actually, who am I kidding? Of course there would be fans who would be thrilled the team was “going for broke” and “trading a guy who is just a prospect for a proven big leaguer” and crap like that.)
So simply due to a lack of supply and an unwillingness to meet the asking price for what supply is available, the Indians will in all likelihood be looking at dealing for a player worth 3.0 WAR or less over an entire season. Prorate that over the balance of this season, and the Indians would be adding just one more win to the ledger.
Is the potential to add one win worth raiding a farm system that ESPN’s Keith Law ranked seventeenth in baseball ($)? Probably not.
Which invariably leads to this next question: Should the Indians decide to be sellers at the deadline?
As it stands now, the Indians’ spot as a playoff contender is tenuous at best. Dealing away a significant contributor for future help would further squash the team’s chances of reaching the postseason.
But let’s put a number on what those chances actually are. According to FanGraphs, the Indians have a 3.8% chance of winning the division and a 18.0% chance of nabbing a Wild Card spot. So the Indians have an 18.0% chance of getting a 50% shot at simply making the ALDS.
So while I’m telling you there’s a chance,the Indians are a long shot to win the World Series this year. They can, however, bolster their chances of winning a championship not only a few years down the road, but also as soon as 2015. And they can arguably do so without doing too much damage to those 2014 playoff odds.
The Indians have a few players that won’t be providing much (or any) help next year. The most obvious one is free-agent-to-be Asdrubal Cabrera, and the other obvious one is currently on the disabled list with a right knee issue. The Indians probably wouldn’t get much for Michael Bourn or Nick Swisher, but if they can find a team desperate enough to take either of those contracts off their hands, they have to at least consider it in order to free up those payroll dollars for guys who A) aren’t terrible and B) have two functioning hamstrings. Fortunately, all the Tribe relievers that are worth a damn still have at least a couple years of team control remaining. Unfortunately, that also means the ones that could be traded either stink and have no trade value or are Scott Atchison.
It may not seem like much (and it’s not exactly as if some of those guys are helping the team win right now), but Tribe fans need look no further than their own starting rotation to see that seemingly minor deadline trades can have lasting impacts. Current Final Vote contender and sometimes Agent Smith impersonator Corey Kluber was acquired at the 2010 deadline as part of a three team deal for Jake Westbrook, who had just come off a Tommy John surgery and had posted a 4.65 ERA through the first four months of that season.
Or how about Zach McAllister, who was acquired from the Yankees at that same deadline in exchange for Austin Kearns. Austin Kearns! McAllister may never be a Cy Young candidate, but to get a major league pitcher in exchange for two months of Austin Kearns is nothing short of incredible.
We live in a TNSTAAPP world, and when you live in a TNSTAAPP world, sometimes you have to throw elbow ligaments at a wall and see which ones don’t get shredded to pieces. If the Indians have an opportunity to acquire a pitcher who could provide them six years of major league level pitching in exchange for a couple months, or in some cases even one year and a couple months, of veteran players, they have to seriously consider it. And if a team is willing to give them a Michael Brantley-level PTBNL even better.
But one thing the Indians absolutely should not do is be deluded into thinking their precarious place in playoff contention automatically qualifies them as buyers at the deadline. They may even have a unique opportunity to add help for future seasons, and maybe even enhance their ability to win in 2015. They’d be foolish not to at least consider it.