“Darling, so it goes. Some things are meant to be.”
Our society, for some reason, often falls victim to the “meant to be” mindset. Think about it. How many times in your life have you heard someone say something was “meant to be?” It seems to happen every time one of your friends meets somebody special. The girl tends bar Saturday nights, the guy is a raging alcoholic and… by golly… it was meant to be. Then they break up in three months, and, looking to offer consolation, their friends tell them, “Well, you know, it just wasn’t meant to be.”
“Meant to be” is the ultimate cop-out. Literally anything can be explained as “meant to be” or “not meant to be,” after the fact. The fact that we fall for it so consistently is proof that the search for answers and meaning in our lives that began when Kierkegaard and Nietzsche first got philosophical in the 19th Century hasn’t yielded any actual results after all this time. A result is not/was not meant to be or not meant to be. It just… is. (I’d say “it is what it is” but that will just start me on another rant.)
How many sports teams have been labeled a “team of destiny”? None that have finished in second place, that’s for sure. Sure, the second-place teams had good seasons, but, ultimately, it just “wasn’t meant to be.” And they’ll be sure to point this out in the postgame press conference.
So here we have this 2011 Cleveland Indians team that so often makes you feel like it’s “meant to be” an AL Central winner. They Indians have had so many of those goosebumpy moments that I detailed in the first-half recap. They’ve had too many out-of-nowhere heroics to count. “A doubleheader in 100-degree heat? No problem. We’ll just call up David Huff for seven scoreless, and we’ll get about 900 feet worth of home runs out of Austin Kearns and Lou Marson. No worries.”
But there have also been so many ridiculous roster issues this season that make you feel it’s simply not meant to be. Too many injuries for a $49 million payroll to bear. What if Grady Sizemore is lost for the rest of the season with another knee issue? What if Shin-Soo Choo and/or Alex White have a setback in their recoveries? The depth of this organization is long past the point of being tested. It’s been all but eliminated. With the notable exception of a Jason Kipnis promotion or a Drew Pomeranz desperation jump from Double-A, you’re looking at every last strand of spaghetti the Indians have to throw at the wall. A starting outfield of Luis Valbuena, Ezequiel Carrera and Kearns ought not be allowed by the Commissioner’s Office. There ought to be a clause in the CBA that protects against it.
Yet the Indians carry on in this crazy division, and they have 10 days to decide how serious they want to take this final push. By and large, I’m not a big believer in Trade Deadline acquisitions truly deciding divisions… at least, not in trade markets like this one. There are no CC Sabathias or Cliff Lees to be had here. By and large, the deadline is a pretty overrated avenue for improvement. I wrote some version of it before and I’ll say it again that, with all apologies to the Ryan Ludwicks, Josh Willinghams, Melky Cabreras and Aaron Harangs of the world, getting Choo or White back in the near term will do more wonders for this club than any of the reportedly available options on the market would.
The Sizemore situation changes things. To what degree, we don’t yet know. I was told there was a “sense of urgency” in the front office before Sizemore went down (as there well should be… we all saw what heightened expectations for this club yielded in 2006 and ’08), and I would have to imagine it’s increased in direct proportion to the severity of Sizemore’s knee injury (and though this is not a hard and fast rule, the lack of a public timetable several days after examination doesn’t usually bode well for a quick recovery). Hopefully, for the good of the game, this isn’t another long-term setback for Sizemore. And hopefully, for the good of this town and this team, the Indians have the goods to continue to contend, whether or not they make a move.
But with Sizemore trending dangerously toward the “oft-injured” label, I’d be thinking long and hard about outfield possibilities for more than just the short-term. The Indians are going to exercise Sizemore’s 2012 option unless he suffers a catastrophic injury, and I’m not sure if this latest setback qualifies. But one look at the organizational outfield depth chart (or that Valbuena-Carrera-Kearns concoction) reveals that it wouldn’t kill the Indians to think about adding another option.
I don’t think the Mike Morse idea floated by one of my favorite Tribe scribes, Paul Cousineau (and summarily trumpeted by Terry Pluto), is without merit, but it’s probably not all that realistic, given that Morse is both cheap and under the Nats’ contractual control for two more seasons beyond this one. I get that they might have a glut of outfielders in the near future, but the versatility a guy like Morse provides on the cheap is exactly what GMs crave, and the Indians’ current outfield conundrum is proof of why that’s the case.
What about an aggressive offer for Hunter Pence? I wrote on MLB.com why a Pence trade might make sense from the Astros’ perspective, and my boss, an unabashed Tribe fan, quickly began e-mailing me with Indians lineup scenarios featuring Pence in the cleanup spot and the comment, “Me likey.” Do you likey? Do the Indians likey? Enough to move a prominent prospect like Pomeranz? Doubtful.
There’s the rub, of course. If we’re talking about parting with prospects, I think the only reasonable fix for the Indians at this juncture is a bat that’s not only going to shore them up in the near-term but remain under contractual control in 2012/13, too. But their hesitancy to deal any notable names from the farm is understandable, as the Tribe system, for all its strengths, still is not at a point where it’s overflowing with can’t-miss talent. If, however, we’re talking about Ludwick or Willingham, both of whom make more than $6 million this season, then I’d only do it if it’s largely a salary dump on the part of the Padres or A’s. The Indians claim to have a little bit of financial flexibility right now (thank you, Dollar Dog Night!), so perhaps that’s possible.
It’s also possible that the Tribe will seek an arm to round out the rotation, but that’s hard to imagine. That is, after all, an inefficient market within an inefficient market, and I think the Indians are better off waiting to see if Huff’s cut fastball is for real or if White’s finger heals on time than they are in giving anything up for a Harang or Jeff Francis. But that’s just my own opinion… and come to think of it, I don’t even think I swiped it from the blogosphere.
At this juncture, I couldn’t even rule out the possibility of addition by subtraction. Would it be crazy to explore what the market for Fausto Carmona (on whom the Indians hold club options of $7 million for 2012, $9 million for 2013 and $12 million for 2014) might reap? I know he’s damaged goods, but I also know that for every former 19-game winner in the big leagues, there’s a pitching coach who thinks he can fix him. And Carmona pitched well in his first start back from the DL. Maybe it’s the absolute wrong time to think about moving him, or maybe it’s a truly diabolical thing to do. That’s up for me to suggest and the Indians to ignore or act on (and my money’s on the former).
It amazes me that I could sit here and pound out a heartfelt argument for why the Indians must add a new body if they wish to continue to contend, and I could spend just as much time arguing the fact that they’ve made it this far with the talent in-house, so what’s a couple more months? This thing could go either way, because the division is just that
One thing that does strike me about the second half, though, is the schedule itself. I don’t think I’m talking out of turn when I point out that the Indians have been a pretty ho-hum team on the road. They’ve had a ton of late-inning magic at home this season, and that’s hoisted them to a 27-18 record at Progressive Field. But they’re 24-28 elsewhere. And maybe this wouldn’t be such a big deal if it weren’t for the small fact that 16 of their 26 September games (and 13 of their last 19) are on the road. Talk about a true test.
This team’s been tested all year, and its fans — Clevelanders that they are — are either reveling in its relevance or waiting for the wheels to fall off. I don’t see much in-between. The optimistic among you focus on the many improbable moments that pushed this club into contention and say, “It’s meant to be.” The burned-by-the-fire bunch adds up the injuries and says, “It’s not meant to be.”
In the end, of course, whatever will be will be, and it will be interesting to watch it unfold.
PS: Check out my latest column on the AL Central.