The recent sweep at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles notwithstanding, the Indians, barring a major collapse, seem [knocks on wood, throws salt over shoulder, does all the superstitious things possible] destined for the playoffs. The team is 56-41, with a 6-game lead in a division with exactly zero other teams with a positive run differential. The Indians boast a tremendous rotation that ranks among the league’s best, a top-ten all-around player in Francisco Lindor, and have weathered the extended absence of Michael Brantley nicely, getting unlikely contributions from players like Jose Ramirez, Tyler Naquin, et al.
However, this is far from a perfect team. There are holes in the bullpen, third base and first base are currently manned by replacement-level players, and the outfield ha held up but is still underwhelming. If the team is going to compete with the likes of the Rangers, Orioles, and Blue Jays, not to mention the Cubs and the Nationals, some moves need to be made. Patch up a few holes here and there, and Cleveland might have itself yet another championship contender. (When’s the last time you could say that?)
But will they?
This is not a front office or ownership group with a history of taking big risks. Take this winter for instance: facing at least a month with an outfield starring Ramirez, the then-unknown Naquin, and Lonnie Chisenhall, the Indians took to the free-agent market and came away with… Marlon Byrd? Players like Austin Jackson and Dexter Fowler were just sitting there, waiting to be signed to below-market deals, and the Indians couldn’t even top their offers.
Yes, this is one of the realities of running a small-market team: the dream players aren’t always attainable. But an in-season trade in 2016 is something that should, and needs to, happen. Even small-market teams have been known to go for broke at the deadline; take the 2014 A’s, who, with the league’s best record at the halfway point, moved heaven and earth to acquire Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, and Jason Hammel, preparing to storm into the playoffs with a beastly rotation. It didn’t work out–the players moved in the deals were definitely too much to give up, and the A’s limped into the playoffs and lost the wild card game. But Billy Beane recognized that that year’s team was Oakland’s best chance for a winner, and went all-out.
The same could be said for this year’s Indians. Rare is an American League season without a dominant team or two –it is the league of the Yankees and Red Sox, after all. That isn’t the case this year. The league’s best record belongs to the Orioles and their horrendous rotation; the other division leader, Texas, has clearly gotten very lucky to be where they are, what with their +4 run differential. This could be the moment for the Indians to take that next step and put a gap between themselves and the rest of the league. Whether it’s Jonathan Lucroy who represents that missing piece, or a high-end reliever, or even someone like Melvin Upton–it’s time to get it done.