Many fans were surprised — and probably disappointed — when the Indians chose not to make any major additions last month in advance of the trade deadline (no offense, Chris Dickerson).
But, although fans might not want to hear it, the Indians did the right thing.
How could that be? They’re a team with playoff aspirations, and they could have used another starter, and maybe even some bench help.
Well, there were two pretty big problems for GM Chris Antonetti.
First of all, there weren’t that many productive options on the market. Although the starting pitching market featured impressive names like David Price, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jeff Samardzija, and others…that was the problem.
The Indians likely couldn’t have afforded Price’s contract, even though the haul Tampa Bay got for him seemed fairly small. Lester, meanwhile, was strictly a rental and moving future impact players to help a playoff chase that’s admittedly just hanging by a thread didn’t make sense. Samardzija netted the Cubs a huge return, one that would have been too rich for the Tribe’s blood. Lackey would have been a nice addition to the Indians’ rotation, but the Tribe didn’t have a lot of major league talent available that the Red Sox would have wanted in return.
That brings me to the other problem: after the starting pitchers listed above (and a handful of others), the pitching market thinned considerably. I know the Indians need pitching, but their internal options are better than Kevin Correia. Right? Anyone?
What about Kyle Kendrick? How would he look in an Indians uniform? Okay, that’s enough. We’re moving on now.
Anyway, sometimes the best moves are the ones you don’t make. Sure, the Tribe’s starting rotation (other than Corey Kluber and sometimes Trevor Bauer) hasn’t been great this year, but making a move just for the sake of making one isn’t smart business practice.
And Cleveland’s pitching staff has been much better since the All-Star break. After ranking 22nd in baseball with a 3.98 ERA prior to the All-Star Game, the Indians rank 9th in the majors with a 3.09 mark since.
That’s eerily similar to last season, in which the Indians ranked 26th in team ERA before the All-Star break and 4th in baseball after. And we all know what happened last season: after many people had counted them out of the playoff race (like they have this season), the Tribe went 41-26 to end the year and took the top AL Wild Card spot.
Could this season be shaping up like 2013? Maybe.
My point? The Indians didn’t make any major acquisitions last year.
They acquired Marc Rzepczynski from the Cardinals, but that’s all they did. And they still went on that incredible late season run.
So what I’m trying to say is this: the preconceived notion that you have to make a huge acquisition to make the playoffs isn’t necessarily true.
That’s part of the reason why I don’t understand the panic behind the Indians not acquiring a marquee player before the deadline. (They still have until August 31 to make trades through waivers, if you’re still holding out hope.)
I also don’t understand why some people were so angry that the Indians traded players away. They traded four players (Justin Masterson, Asdrubal Cabrera, Vinnie Pestano, and John Axford) who had no future in Cleveland.
None of the four had done much to help the team this season, and keeping any of them would not have gotten the Indians any closer to a playoff spot.
So Antonetti had a brilliant plan: he traded expendable players to add some much-needed minor league depth to the Tribe’s farm system. In the case of Axford, the Indians only got salary relief, but the Tribe avoided having to pay a little over $1 million for a struggling reliever who had seemingly fallen out of favor in the organization.
Masterson is 2-1 in his 3 starts for the Cardinals, but that’s part of the problem with judging a pitcher by record. He’s allowed 10 earned runs in his 15 innings with St. Louis (good for an ERA of 6.00), his peripherals are even worse than they were in Cleveland, and his 5.26 FIP doesn’t create a lot of optimism. It’s a small sample size, to be sure, but Masterson doesn’t look any different than he did earlier this season.
In exchange for Masterson, the Indians received minor league outfielder James Ramsey, who’s rebounded from a slow start in his new organization and now carries an impressive .304/.371/.518 slash line in 14 games with Triple-A Columbus. He’s also added 2 home runs and driven in 7, and he had 5 hits on Thursday in a 7-4 Clippers victory.
Cabrera has been solid for the Nationals, hitting .267/.358/.422 in 12 games since the team acquired him. However, the Indians have been able to get a look at prospect Jose Ramirez at shortstop in Cabrera’s place. Mike Aviles has gotten more of a chance to prove his worth to the Tribe as well, and capitalized with a walk-off homer to beat the Orioles on Friday night.
And let’s not forget the player Cleveland received for Cabrera: utilityman Zach Walters, who’s hit .267/.353/.667 in a miniscule sample size of 17 plate appearances with the Indians.
More important, however, are the two clutch homers he’s hit already: a walk-off to beat the Diamondbacks in the first game of a doubleheader on Wednesday, and a go-ahead solo shot Friday night against Baltimore.
His initial success with the Indians already has our own Brian Heise wondering if he could be the next great trade acquisition for the Tribe.
Pestano and Axford have each pitched a scoreless inning of relief for their new clubs (the Angels and Pirates, respectively). But Pestano brought the Indians talented pitching prospect Michael Clevinger, while cutting ties with Axford saves the Indians over $1 million in salary.
Both Pestano and Axford looked like non-tender candidates after the season, so getting value back for both now instead of losing them for nothing later was the best route for the Indians to go. Neither one of them had really been needed in Cleveland anyway.
Fans might not be pleased with the Indians’ moves at the trade deadline, but the fact is this: even though they didn’t go out and acquire a big-name player, last year showed that a big move isn’t necessary.
And while it’s risky to simply point out last season as an excuse to not make a significant addition this season, the options available to the Indians wouldn’t have been worth acquiring anyway.
Despite the fact that the Indians weren’t “buyers” at this year’s deadline (for lack of a better term), that doesn’t mean that they’ve given up on this season. Quite the contrary.
The Indians simply gave up players they didn’t need now, and in exchange received players who could help them later. If Walters can keep up his success, that makes it even better.
From the initial results of the trade, it’s hard to imagine that the Tribe could have done any better.