“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.


Is there really a major risk in moving Jason Donald? Seems like with Chis, Kipnis, and Phelps hanging around a Ludwick-for-Donald deal would be a slam dunk for the Tribe.

I was working on an article on the Indians trade market, but I’m not sure I need to finish it. You basically summed everything up perfectly. I do think they have some assets that would benefit other teams and bring in a decent player that could help now- without hurting their future plans too much. I’d deal guys like Donald, Huff and Hagadone for a corner OF or SP help.

Valid point, Dan. Donald can certainly be deemed more expendable than others, especially given the infield depth.

I think the problem is that there are a lot of teams looking for outfield upgrades, so would a guy like Donald be enough? I’m thinking no, at this point, in which case you have to wonder if it would be worth dealing someone else.
I can’t imagine them dealing Hagadone, given he’s still probably a year away from hitting his highest value and he was a big piece in a splashy trade. Huff is interesting because I would imagine most Indians fans are unwilling to take a chance on him yet again, and he’s probably 9 or 10 on the starting rotation depth chart right now. Again, though, I don’t know what kind of value he has, given his past struggles.
Honestly, just not selling would be a big deal for this team. I think when they brought Alex White up regardless of his service time, they made a clear statement that they’re read to compete now.
And let’s just throw it out there: assuming he rebounds in some way, could Fausto get dealt? His contract surely adds to his trade value and it’s not like we don’t have pitching depth at the moment.

Perhaps now is the time for a bolder move than Ludwick or Melky. If we are a year ahead of schedule, and I agree we are, than let’s head off some of what might ail us next year. Sizemore and Choo are in pivotal contract years and various states of injury. How about shoring up our dynamic outfield with a move for a player like Hunter Pence? A right handed bat to boot.

Anthony, do you management would/should consider a package consisting of some combo of Gomez, Donald, McCallister, other for a move like this? Would Houston listen?

one move i would make would be to get matt underwood out of the the broadcast booth. the guy is friggin awful.
‘say hello to souvenir city!’ – seriously matt? that has to be the worst play by play call this side of hawk harrelson.

I appreciate the bold thinking, Joe. There have been reports that the Astros aren’t thinking about trading Pence, given that he’s the face of the franchise, but they could be compelled to think otherwise. As for your specific proposal, I think dealing two of your top depth starting options is a bit much on the Indians’ end. And I’m not sure that would be enough to compel the Astros, anyway.

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I have to agree with Joe above. There has to be some team that has an excess of AAA corner outfielders or first basemen and would be interested in looking at the Indians depth of AAA Starting or Relief Pitching. I would even entertain moving Joe Smith or Rafael Perez to sweeten the deal if the right person could be made available. Huff, McAllister, Gomez, Putnam, Judy, Donald, Valbuena can all be had for a person that may be blocked in another organization. For Example: I don’t know the Yankees farm system, but whoever is playing first base in AAA will not be unseating Teixeira in the next 3 years. The search for a corner outfielder cannot be limited to a short term rental like Beltran (hah!), Ludwick or Francouer.

I think that’s what makes Melky Cabrera an interesting option, as he’s signed through 2012, I believe, as opposed to a guy like Ludwick, who I think is a free agent after this season.
The problem I feel that we run into when we start talking about these things is that we overvalue our own players. I can’t imagine Huff has any trade value at all given his history, no matter how well he’s pitched for a month or two. Donald and Valbuena are utility infielders who aren’t exactly going to sweeten a deal a lot. Aside from perhaps a guy like Phelps (who i would rather deal over Kipnis), we don’t have any high end, position prospects to deal that would get us much in return, and trading away our infield depth at this point would be a bad idea.
As for our starting pitching depth, the problem is that we have no idea what we’re going to get out of Carmona or Talbot these days. If they both continue to struggle, we’d need two guys to replace them, say McAllister and Gomez, which leaves just Barnes in AAA as a viable option, and he’s just now starting to hit his stride.

What about Hunter Pence?

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