“Somehow all you ever need’s never quite enough”

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com
On Twitter: @Castrovince

The Trade Deadline cometh, and what do the Indians — presumed buyers — need to take the AL Central this season?

They need at least one starting pitcher (not counting Roberto Hernandez), first and foremost.

They need at least one impact right-handed bat.

They need another proven reliever to ease the stress on the back end.

They need better depth and definitely better balance.

These needs are so many, the organizational trade options so few and the available talent in the trade market so hallow that, well, I don’t need to tell you this is complicated.

ImageBecause if you’re Chris Antonetti, and your job is to make realistic evaluations of your talent at both the Major League and Minor League levels, you’ve got to be asking yourself what, exactly, is to be gained from a Deadline deal at this juncture?

Even in the midst of understanding the “window of contention” template upon which the Tribe operates, why sell off any more of your already gaunt future stock to prop up a club that needs more than just a few finishing touches? A club that, by virtue of its left-leaning lineup and right-tossing starting staff, was not built to go on sustained stretches of success? A club whose schizophrenic personality (hit but don’t pitch, pitch but don’t hit) appears incurable?

I wrote recently about how exceedingly average this Tribe team (then .500 and now a game under as I type this) is, and how the demands of the division (or lack thereof) made that tolerable for the time being.

But those demands are increasing every day, as the Tigers (winners of 13 of 17 and expected aggressors in Deadline dealing) start to make the most of the fifth-highest payroll in the game, with the White Sox a game and a half back and benefiting from the boost of Kevin Youkilis (they also added Brett Myers over the weekend, for whatever that’s worth).

This is still one of the weakest divisions in the game, but it’s going to take more than a .500 effort to win it.

And the second Wild Card? Sure, that presumably props up the postseason odds for anybody meandering in the realm of .500. But had that second Wild Card existed from the beginning of the Wild Card era, it would have taken 89 wins, on average, to claim it in the full, 162-game seasons (1995 was, of course, shortened by the strike). Maybe it won’t take that many this year, but that’s the neighborhood you’ve got to shoot for.

It’s difficult to see this Indians team going on the kind of second-half run it would take to finish eight games over .500, and it’s difficult to see any of the realistic options (emphasis there on “realistic”) in the trade department drastically altering that bottom line.

Because remember, this Tribe team has not won more than four in a row at any point this year. This team has allowed 47 more run than it has scored. In fact, only three teams in all of MLB — the Rockies, Twins and Astros — have allowed more runs.

This team is still trying to figure out what it has in Ubaldo Jimenez (5.18 ERA in his last 30 starts), still trying to figure out if Carlos Santana will catch fire this year (1.727 OPS the last five games, so that’s certainly a start), still losing to lefties, still watching Derek Lowe wilt, still waiting (with an absence of optimism) for Grady Sizemore to come back, still hoping to stave off another second-half slide from Asdrubal Cabrera.

When asked about the Deadline, Antonetti has generally said something along the lines of, “We need the guys here to play to their potential.” In the starting pitching department, that hasn’t happened. In the run-production department, that hasn’t happened. The Indians have an offense that ranks around league average and a starting staff that sits alongside the sellers. And the absence of sustained winning streaks, to date, has to lead us to wonder if the Tribe is capable of the kind of run it would take to become a postseason team, even in an expanded postseason format.

The Trade Deadline, from the buyer’s perspective, is an opportunity to augment and enhance, not completely reshape and repair. If Antonetti and Co. see opportunities within the Deadline realm to add longer-term options who are going to help the 2013 effort, then have at it. Again, though, the Indians don’t have many valuable chips in the upper levels of their farm system to pull off significant swaps, like the Ubaldo deal last year.

This leads to a potential shift in strategy that’s already being pointed out in the national media — the possibility of the Indians becoming sellers at the Deadline.

In Chris Perez, they have a valuable commodity in a mercurial role who is due another big raise in arbitration. And in Vinnie Pestano, they have a capable replacement. So I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a trade — provided, of course, that it brings in a Major League return that can help in 2013 and not a prospect haul.

Shin-Soo Choo, as the above FOX Sports link notes, would be the other obvious trade candidate in a sell situation, given that 2013 is the last year in which the Indians have contractual control of him and the possibility of an extension with the Indians was all but removed long ago. But unlike the Perez/Pestano situation, the Indians would be extremely hard-pressed to replace the production provided by Choo, especially given their organizational outfield abyss. I’d imagine it would take a huge haul to prompt them to move him.

Anything viewed within the prism of selling, at this juncture, would be a PR nightmare, so there’s that. Still, the dearth of sellers this season leads me to believe you can make a move with Perez, in particular, that helps the current club while also increasing the earnestness of the 2013 effort.

But as far as buying is concerned? Well, given the propensity toward overpays in a seller’s market, and given the unmistakable mediocrity we’ve witnessed from these Indians in a season now well into its second half, any attempt to augment this 2012 club with a short-term rental would seem to be a deal made for the sake of dealing.

The Indians have many needs, but they definitely don’t need that.

~AC

4 Comments

It seems to me we need an upgrade in the front office and scouting departments. There is no reason our farm system should be so bare.

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With the farm so barren it isn’t likely we will see many graduates make an impact on the big league club over the next two or three years. So, fans have a “now or never” mentality like I’ve not seen in years.

Also, beginning with spring training and many times this season, Indians leadership raised expectations by repeatedly telling Tribe fans “we were bitterly diasappointed in last years results and 2012 is going to be a year of contention!” . This despite the obvious problems with the roster before spring training even started (inadequate starting pitching and no right handed power). So those same fans think they’ll see some action at the deadline, and know it could be several years before we sniff a post-season spot again.

Long-time fans I know are becoming disinterested in the team; they are exhausted by the mediocrity and need to see some success. It’s a conundrum, but I would advise the front office to think very carefully before selling.

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