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.

11 Comments

  • Susan Petrone says:

    I could see them doing nothing through the end of this season too. As much as I love Hafner, he is costing us $13 million a year and isn’t producing. I would be very surprised if the Indians didn’t take advantage of the $2.75 million buyout. If we buy out Hafner’s contract, there’s $10.25 million. And then there’s the $5 million we’re paying Sizemore to sit on the DL again. I don’t think we need to have a fire sale when the front office can free up $15 million in payroll by dumping just two unproductive players. As popular as Hafner and Sizemore have been in the past, I think the majority of fans realize that it is time to part ways. In the meantime, it looks like it’s going to be a long second half.

  • Jeff W says:

    I’m a long distance fan (I live in California) and it’s a challenge to follow the Tribe and be a fan when one is 2,000 miles away. It’s even more difficult when I’m following a sub .500 team that insists on playing over-the-hill vets like Duncan, Damon, and Lowe, along with never-weres like Cunningham and Kotchman. Really, if we must lose, can we at least lose with players who might actually improve while doing so? Take a look at the Oakland A’s – they suffered through growing pains by playing young guys and now are playing well – this weekend they swept the hated Evil Empire 4 games and are right in the thick of the race for the wild card. Why can’t Cleveland be “Oakland East”? Get rid of the deadweight, play the young talent, and let the chips fall where they may.

    • Ryan McCrystal says:

      We’ve got Duncan, Damon and Lowe. The A’s have Crisp, Inge, Colon and Gomes. There’s really no difference. Both teams are built on washed up vets with a mix of young, developing players.

      I’m all for playing the young guys, and that’s exactly what they’re doing. They suffered through Brantley’s struggles and now its paying off. They’re still suffering through Santana’s struggles, and hopefully it pays off soon. Chisenhall will be in the lineup again as soon as he’s healthy. If you want to see the Indians young talent, this is it. There’s no one left in Columbus.

  • Justin says:

    There is talent in Columbus that can be called up. 1B – Matt Laporta, LF – Tim Fedroff, 4th OF – Ezequial Carrera, SP – Jeanmar Gomez, Corey Kluber, & Chris Seddon. Laporta has been putting together a very good AAAA season and the rest have been tearing it up lately. Bye bye Damon, Kotchman, Cunningham, Duncan, and Lowe. Plus send Tomlin to the bullpen, and Hernandez and RPerez are returning soon.

    Rotation: Masterson, Jimenez, Hernandez, McAllister, Gomez/Kluber
    Bullpen: CPerez, Pestano, Smith, Rogers, Allen, RPerez, Sipp, Tomlin
    Batting Order: Brantley (CF), Kipnis (2B), Choo (RF), Laporta (1B), Cabrera (SS), Santana (C), Hafner (DH), Fedroff (LF), Hannahan (3B)
    Bench: Carrera (OF), Lopez (IF), Marson (C)

  • Kiran Reddy says:

    Finally someone who gets my frustration and writes an original article on the Indians!

    You capped this article off brilliantly by saying how frustrated you are with the decision making. I’m perplexed by all the praise Shapiro and Antonetti get around the league because the results do not merit the

    Let’s just penny pinch some more and end up paying Johnny Damon $1.5M, Sizemore $5M, Jose Lopez almost $1M and then not be aggressive enough on Josh Willingham, Jason Kubel and EVEN pass on Ryan Ludwick (signed for $2.5M). This is like shopping at Aldi and paying bargain prices for something we feel is the “real brand” and in most cases the food never stacks up against the best. Sometimes in life, you have to pay a little more to get results or be satisfied. We all know this feeling with the Mac vs. PC argument.

    There are no excuses to be conservative now and not spend “a little”. This is our “window” and Antonetti mortgaged a big chunk of our farm system to get Ubaldo. What is even more demoralizing is watching the Tigers make big acquisitions and the White Sox looking good despite a “rebuild year” while sporting one of the worst farm systems in MLB. I’m seriously considering a webpage lobbying support for Dan Gilbert to buy the Indians since he is the only rich person in Cleveland that shows passion and wants to revitalize the city (even if it takes spending his own money). Cut it out with whatever statistical analysis and player evaluation techniques you guys use because bottom line is we do not have a capable offense and you probably have to pay your pitching coaches overtime for the amount of time spent trying to fix Ubaldo and Masterson.

  • Stephanie Liscio says:

    When you think about it, they actually saved money this season with the Carmona/Hernandez debacle. He’s been on the disqualified list for much of the season, so they didn’t have to pay him. Then they renegotiated his 2012 salary to save themselves millions (and to punish Carmona/Hernandez in the hopes that MLB would go easier on him). I know attendance has been low, but it doesn’t look like they’ll put those savings back into the team.

    I’m not of the mindset that you need unchecked spending (i.e. the Yankees) to win, nor do you need to steadfastly adhere to the “Moneyball” model in Oakland. I think that if you’re going to spend money, you spend it wisely…the Indians haven’t always been great with that. They handed out a 3-year deal to David Dellucci a few years back, but wouldn’t go to three with Josh Willingham. Yes, Dellucci was for significantly less money; but with the way inflation in baseball works it probably would end up being roughly even. Dellucci signed for 3/$11.5 million prior to the 2007 season; Willingham signed for 3/$21 million this offseason. The way contracts soar in baseball, 5 years would probably make this somewhat similar. Hafner’s contract seemed insane to me even at the time. You don’t need to give a DH or a closer that kind of money, you can almost always find a cheaper alternative (especially at DH).

    • Kiran Reddy says:

      The Indians have long been obsessed with finding that OBP “hidden gem” and showing a lot of patience with them. They did it with Matt Lawton, Jason Michaels, and David Dellucci. Keep in mind that there were over ten teams interested in Dellucci because many believed he would blossom playing full time.

      Also, Mark Shapiro admitted to lacking the correct formula to construct a quality bullpen (hurt us greatly). The team changed their approach literally over night after the 2007 playoffs when they realized soft tossing lefties just will not cut it. What followed was a young power arm in literally every trade made and a draft philosophy overhaul.

      The Hafner and Westbrook deals at the time were market value contracts and no one knew Hafner would never be the same (even though 2007 may have shown some signs). Hafner rivaled Ortiz in production and Westbrook’s numbers compared to Javier Vazquez somewhat so both were rewarded fairly. However, the Indians got somewhat unlucky but did recover some insurance money on Westbrook. I will give them a pass on this one because both showed few signs of breaking down.

      I completely agree with your point about spending, but the strategy and decision making the last few years has left me puzzled. I was on board with the “quick rebuild” strategy and the research that backed the prospect haul we got in the C.C. and Lee deals. However, we only have Brantley to show for both deals. The Ubaldo trade left us bare in the minor leagues to a point where making a deal for a legit player is not feasible unless you trade a valuable asset. I think it’s time to take some accountability and call into question the front office player evaluation techniques.

      You cannot be aggressive out of the blue with Ubaldo and then spend the whole winter idle with a weak offense. You have a fan base that is upset and going a third year for Willingham is a risk worth taking because so much money is coming off the books. Even Oakland gave a huge deal to Cespedes this off-season! The Nationals had to make a statement with Jayson Werth and got burned by it, but it proved to baseball that the team is serious. The broke Padres even made a deal for Carlos Quentin! Explain to my why they could not sign Ryan Ludwick for the same 1 year $2.5M deal the Reds gave him? Add up all the money we have spent on finding cheap alternatives or “diamond in the rough” players and apply it to a third year for Willingham or little more money to a Jason Kubel. I’m not taking huge concessions here, but enough for someone to want to come to Cleveland.

      Oh and what happened to the promise of STO? This was supposed to infuse more money into the team. Let’s also attack the credibility of Forbes Magazine and deny everything to the fan base, but openly tell the public the team was going to lose $15 million if Cliff Lee and Victor were not traded.

      I have been following this team closely for 15+ years now literally every day, but I’m shaking my head over a lot of things right now.

      P.S. You provide in depth insight on the team that many do not. This is my first day on this site and I love the writing.

  • Stephanie Liscio says:

    I don’t regret the Westbrook deal for the same reason I don’t regret this year’s Sizemore deal – they both looked good at the time. I guess that Hafner’s technically did too, but I’ve always been kind of biased against DH-only guys.

    I’m glad you mentioned STO, because I’ve been wondering that myself. You keep hearing about teams signing players to these big deals (like Pujols and Votto) because of recently signed TV deals, or TV deals that are on the horizon. Why isn’t that money helping the Indians? Would Fox Sports Ohio have given them one of those super deals? It’s possible those TV deals are entirely over-valued in the first place, but the money is still flowing into team coffers because of them.

    And I’m glad you enjoy the site! Please stop back! :)

  • Kiran Reddy says:

    I’m seriously starting to wonder if Dan Gilbert has any interest in buying the Indians. He is already re-making Cleveland right now and is an owner everyone would love. Imagine payrolls again close to $100M and fans showing up. What do you think of an online campaign trying to lobby support for him? Sounds disrespectful, but something has to change with this team! I get the feeling that Dolan is looking to just break even if he sells (since he bought the team at peak value).

  • Stephanie Liscio says:

    I have to give the Dolan family some credit – they’re really good at angering the fans of the teams they own, whether it be the Indians, or the Knicks! ;)

    I could see Gilbert having interest, but I just don’t see the Dolans relinquishing (at least not any time soon). I thought when they didn’t have anyone under guaranteed contracts after 2012 for a while (under team control, just not guaranteed) that it may be a signal they would consider selling. This is just my opinion, but I feel like because he paid at peak value (or even overpaid) that he’s being stubborn about hanging onto it.

    Wishful thinking time – maybe he’s hoping that the package of the team plus STO may entice someone. Plus that Dodgers sale was just astronomical. I know that it’s LA, but it may show that even a team in Cleveland may be worth more than the price the Dolans paid 10+ years ago.

    • Kiran Reddy says:

      Last night served another reminder about the blunder of not signing Josh Willingham. If an organization that has no minor league prospects rated in the top 150 except Lindnor and has significant salary coming off the books next year cannot take a risk on an additional 1 year, then the team has serious issues. Especially when you lack a right handed hitter with power, you offer an injury prone Carlos Beltran significant money, and have no depth anywhere besides the bullpen (not anymore).

      We are talking 3 years $21 million, not Jayson Werth money. This is also the range the owner said we would sign free agents for.

      We should be holding the front office more accountable. As much as Antonetti is praised around the league, he put this team in a vulnerable position with his decisions. Let’s cool talk of “the process”, and “the window” because it looks like another rebuild may take place. I wish the organization would of traded Chris Perez to the Angels this off-season to get someone like a Trumbo (before his great season took place). Easier said than done, but trading Choo impacts this ball club far greater than Perez. I do however like Antonetti’s story of how he became a GM.

      FYI I have been to many big time sporting events and still contend to everyone I know that the 2007 playoffs and Cavs playoff games were the best experiences I’ve had because of the passion you feel. The fans here will come and spend if you take some risks and don’t feed them stuff that never happens. We need passion and risk taking that fits the mold of Dan Gilbert.

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