“So, you think you’re sponge-worthy?”
By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com
The Indians’ flirtation with a first-place finish has reached its fourth month, so we are definitely at a stage where it’s worth determining just how “sponge-worthy” this season is.
Undoubtedly, the Indians won’t be sellers at this year’s Trade Deadline, as they were in 2008, ’09 and ’10. And understandably, there is curiosity over whether they’ll be buyers for the first time since Kenny Lofton was brought in for his third tour of duty and the infamous third-base stop sign that ensued.
If we’re being honest – and why not? — the Indians are probably a year ahead of schedule on the contention front. A lot had to break right for the Indians to be at this point at this juncture in the rebuild, and the Tigers, White Sox and Twins have all, to varying degrees, done their part to put the Tribe in this position. An abnormally hot start gave the Indians a seven-game cushion in the Central as of May 23. They blew that cushion by going 10-21 from May 24 through June 26, but the fact that this brutal stretch was not a back-breaker either says something about the Indians’ resilience or the division’s repugnance, depending on your perspective.
So now what?
If you’re Chris Antonetti and company, how much faith do you put in this club not only remaining atop the Central standings but advancing in October? How much do you deviate from the long-term plotting in order to provide some short-term sustenance?
Those are questions likely being weighed on the corner of Carnegie and Ontario, though I’m not entirely certain they are questions keeping anybody up at night.
The reason is simple: Even if the Indians were willing to mortgage some chunk of their future in order to augment the ’11 club (unquestionably, the biggest need is another bat in the outfield, with Shin-Soo Choo out until September), it’s a seller’s market and a slow-developing one, at that. At this juncture, it’s hard to imagine the Indians being willing to give up anything of substance to land the likes of Melky Cabrera or Ryan Ludwick or Jeff Francouer.
“We’re open in any way we can to improve the team, whatever that might be,” Antonetti said. “Especially with Choo suffering the injury that he suffered, we’ll probably focus most of our efforts on improving our offense and getting a little more consistency there.”
Had the market more to offer (and again, it’s still too early to get a firm read on it, simply because, as of today, 17 of MLB’s 30 teams are within five games of a division lead), the Indians would have something of a dilemma on their hands. They’d have to calculate how the risks associated with moving a Jason Kipnis, Jason Donald or Nick Hagadone stack up against the potential upside of adding an impact bat for the here and now.
But beyond Carlos Beltran, whose contract is simply out of range for an Indians team always on a budget, none of the names bandied about at this still-early juncture of the in-season trade season strike me as the answer. The truth is, unless it’s a front-line pitcher like CC Sabathia going to the Brewers or Cliff Lee going to the Phillies and Rangers, the July hired hands rarely provide the big boost expected of them…. or at least the kind of boost you’d expect from the amount of attention this time of year receives.
Grady Sizemore looking more like the guy who came off the DL in April than the one who came off in May? That would be a big boost. Carlos Santana showing more consistency? That would be a big boost. Shin-Soo Choo pulling an Albert Pujols and coming back a month ahead of schedule? That would be a huge boost.
“It’s so hard to put percentages on external acquisitions because there are so many variables in play,” Antonetti said. “The benefit that we have with our internal options is we control those unilaterally, which guys we bring up, provided they’re healthy. Externally, so many things have to come together.”
The Indians might, indeed, make a move before the July 31 deadline. But I don’t expect that move to be of much impact to either their long-term prospect pool or their short-term run-production. What you see is what you get with this injury riddled club, and what you see might very well be enough to keep hanging around in the Central standings.
PS: Be sure to check out my feature on 10-game winner Josh Tomlin on MLB.com and Indians.com today.