You have probably noticed by now that the Indians aren’t playing very well. The “offense” is bad enough that I feel I need to put it in quotes, and the starting pitching has been suspect as well. With the trade deadline a week away, the Indians are coming to a crossroads – do they attempt to improve the team with a significant move, host a fire sale, or just stand pat and finish out the year? They are currently in third place, 4.5 games back from a surging Tigers team, and 4 games out of the wild card. To put the past week in perspective, I was extremely busy with a Negro League baseball conference and didn’t really follow the standings. Before I became absolutely swamped, the Indians were 3 games out in the AL Central and a half game out of the wild card. They only slipped a game and a half further back in the weak Central, but lost three and a half to the wild card teams. Is this the beginning of the end, as we saw mid-way through last season, or is this just simply a bad week?
When I look at the 2012 Indians, I see a team that really doesn’t have the necessary talent to make the playoffs. They’re -47 in run differential, the third worst mark in the AL behind only Kansas City and Minnesota and have slipped below the .500 mark. When compared to the rest of the AL, they’re 8th in runs scored, 9th in hits, 9th in batting average, and 9th in OPS; in other words, a middle of the road, slightly-below average offense. With their pitching statistics, they are 13th in ERA, 13th in WHIP, 1st in wild pitches (woo-hoo, we’re #1!!!), and 13th in batting average by opposing hitters. While most people (myself included) tend to focus on the annoying offense, the fact remains that this is a pretty bad pitching staff compared to the rest of the AL. On the other hand, I still remain unimpressed with the other teams in the AL Central. I feel that both Detroit and Chicago are very beatable, but that the Indians don’t really have what it takes to push them over the top.
This morning, I started to think about what I wanted the Indians to do before the trade deadline. I realized that I have no idea what they should do, or what I want them to do. With every position that I took in my mind, I found holes in my logic. I know that there are a handful of prospects that in my mind are untouchable, with Francisco Lindor and Jesus Aguilar at the top of the list. If the Indians could find a way to improve by moving lesser prospects, then I think I’d be all for it. Unfortunately, I’m a fan and fans are biased; a team isn’t likely to surrender a top tier player without getting something of value in return. One of the reasons that part of me is willing to trade prospects is the fact that the Indians often seem to come up short with guys in their system. Within the last two weeks, they parted ways with Trevor Crowe, yet another first round pick with promise that never panned out. While I may not always be happy with Ubaldo Jimenez, I also am skeptical about the ability of Alex White or Drew Pomeranz to make a lasting impact at the major league level. Success in the minors doesn’t always translate to success in the majors; one just has to look at Matt LaPorta to see this play out. If someone is willing to give us something of value for prospects that may or may not come back to haunt us, I have to at least consider that deal.
The Indians could feasibly have a fire sale and start to turn their attention to 2013 and 2014, but there are many negatives with this scenario as well. Attendance has already been an issue this season, and if certain star players left town it could further anger an already frustrated fan base. The Indians have made some brilliant trades over the past 10 years – acquiring Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips, getting Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera for Ben Broussard and Eduardo Perez, and getting Carlos Santana for half of a year of Casey Blake are all pretty excellent deals. On the negative end, two of the four players acquired in the Cliff Lee deal have dealt with significant injuries (Carlos Carrasco and Jason Knapp), and one of the major players in the CC Sabathia deal, Matt LaPorta, just hasn’t been able to stick in the majors. What if they trade away someone like a Shin-Soo Choo or a Chris Perez for a deal that ends in a bust? They really can’t afford for that to happen at this point.
What I see as the final trade deadline scenario is that the Indians stand pat and finish out the season. Most of the roster, outside of Travis Hafner, Derek Lowe, Johnny Damon and Casey Kotchman, is under team control for next year. This offseason, Chris Antonetti could actually go out and acquire players to improve the team, rather than letting his major (and pretty much only) free agent signing be Casey Kotchman. I doubt the Indians’ financial situation will be any less precarious this offseason though, so I wouldn’t hold my breath on any significant signings. At the same time, there are a lot of guys that are underperforming right now. While Kotchman probably wasn’t going to hit .306/.378/.422 again this year, his career line of .264/.332/.394 is a far improvement over this year’s .231/.294/.360. There is room for improvement with Damon, Santana, and Hafner as well. These guys don’t even need career years, they just need to play a bit closer to their career averages.
You can see why I’m pretty torn when it comes to determining what the Indians should do at this point. At the same time, I’m so frustrated with their decision making skills over the past year or two that I’m very pessimistic with any of these options. I can’t shake the feeling that no matter what they decide, they’ll end up finding a way to screw it up.