“Everybody’s doing something; we’ll do nothing!”
They did nothing.
Well, sure, they acquired Brent Lillibridge last week and they got Lars Anderson from the Red Sox just before the deadline, but, you know, like I said:
They did nothing.
For the better part of the past two months, those of us who like to discuss such things talked about the Indians’ needs: Should they pursue a right-handed bat or starting arm? Starting arm or right-handed bat? Bat, arm. Arm, bat. Both? Tribe fans studied Jason Vargas’ game logs. They tried to talk themselves into Alfonso Soriano. And just when there seemed to be some consensus that, yes, an arm was what the Indians needed most, well, that’s when a new opinion intervened…
The Indians should sell! Yes, that’s right. They went 6-11 after the All-Star break and fell five games back of first place. Time to blow it up and start all over! Time to send your best player, Shin-Soo Choo, to Pittsburgh or Los Angeles or maybe even back to South Korea, as long as the return is Major League-ready. Send Justin Masterson — two years and two months away from free agency, mind you — back to Boston. Send Chris Perez to San Francisco and let him complain about their fans. Ship off anything that’s not nailed down… and yes I’m looking at you, Jose Lopez.
These were, to put it bluntly, especially schizophrenic circumstances, and perhaps they were unavoidable when you’re talking about a mediocre (minus-66 run differential, second-worst ERA in the league) contender (“Verlander Schmerlander”).
Rather than sway toward any side of the line, Chris Antonetti stayed Switzerland, content to let 2012 play out as-is.
It was not a surprising stance.
As discussed last week, this club’s needs were too many to address at the Deadline (and for this, the front office definitely deserves some blame, as Josh Willingham and/or Yoenis Cespedes would have been excellent and affordable additions last winter), and the trading chips on hand were too scarce. The 2012 Indians simply did not give Antonetti enough reason to pull the trigger on any trade that would have weakened an already frail farm system in exchange for a short-term rental. And that frail farm system (which, mind you, is also the fault of the front office) caught up to the Indians once again, as they don’t seem to have the adequate pieces to bring in an impact acquisition under control beyond 2012.
That addresses the “buy” situation, but what about the “sell”?
Well, when Antonetti made the Ubaldo Jimenez trade on July 30, 2011, he embraced a so-called “window of contention” based on the contractual control the Indians held on Jimenez, Choo, Masterson, Perez and Asdrubal Cabrera, each of whom would have been eligible for free agency either after 2013 (Choo, Jimenez, Cabrera*) or 2014 (Masterson, Perez).
*Cabrera, of course, has since been extended through 2014, and the contractual status remains the same for the rest.
Now, it’s my opinion that the Indians whiffed on Ubaldo. I don’t know how to put it any other way. We have no way of knowing what Drew Pomeranz (especially) and Alex White would have become in Cleveland instead of the pitcher’s nightmare that is Colorado, but the Indians at least would have had six years to find out. Instead, they got two years and two months of Jimenez, and the first calendar year has been an unqualified disappointment. Jimenez is 12-14 with a 5.08 ERA and 1.55 WHIP in 32 outings with the Indians. As my friend and colleague Jordan Bastian notes in this piece, Ubaldo currently leads the league in walks and stolen bases allowed and wild pitches thrown. He’s a mess.
But if you’re Antonetti, in the immediate, you have to make the most of that mess. You have to hope, perhaps against hope, that Jimenez, even if he’ll never become the ace-type arm he once was, at least rights himself enough to become a dependable middle-of-the-rotation guy. You have to hope the backward steps taken by Masterson and Carlos Santana this season are not indicative of future results and that the coaching staff you helped put in place is capable of righting them.
That’s the immediate, because the Trade Deadline, by nature, doesn’t seem to be the best time to make bold decisions about the future of the franchise (the Ubaldo and Cliff Lee deals, neither of which have gone particularly well, best illustrate the basis of that belief).
But the Indians are going to have an awfully interesting offseason ahead, because now that they have a feel for the outside interest levels in the likes of Choo and Masterson and Perez, maybe they’ll delve further down those roads.
I’ve expressed my opinion that the Indians ought to seriously consider parting with Perez for a variety of factors, not the least of which is money. The arbitration costs you’d save by dealing from a position of strength could be applied elsewhere, and Lord knows the Indians have plenty of places to apply them.
This 2012 season ought to serve as a lesson that, no, the almost completely left-handed lineup and the right-handed rotation do not lend themselves to the kind of sustained winning stretches it takes to be a true contender. Both of those issues absolutely need to be addressed, one way or another, if the Indians are going to contend in 2013, and perhaps Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore coming off the books will help Antonetti do so. You can look at the Indians’ lineup, factoring in a healthy Lonnie Chisenhall and matured Jason Kipnis, and see the seeds of a competitive club. But as I wrote earlier, if the Indians do ultimately decide to deal Choo, they’d almost assuredly be taking a big step back with regard to their 2013 outlook, and that’s a tough sell to a fractured fan base.
Still, given the way the Jimenez trade has transpired and some notable core elements have disappointed this season, perhaps a step back in 2013 in order to augment the 2014, ’15, ’16 outlook is the way to proceed. I suppose that all depends on just how aggressive Antonetti plans to be (or, rather, has the budget capability to be) this winter in the construction of the 2013 club.
For now, Antonetti wasn’t aggressive at all at the 2012 Trade Deadline. I’m sure he racked up the cell phone minutes, but, ultimately, he did nothing.
And given the schizophrenic nature of a club that is not quite good enough to contend but not quite bad enough to detonate, maybe “nothing” makes sense.