Note – no weekend recap today. We all saw the carnage. Hard truths need to be examined. I am just the guy to take on the task.
Reality has finally set in, Tribe fans. The team that has been up, down, up, and down again, has fallen under .500 for the first time since the middle of April after losing three straight to Baltimore over the weekend. Here is the thing – this is who they are, an average team capable of losing eight of nine or winning eight of nine. They have so many flaws. The starting pitching is completely inconsistent from start to start. The bullpen has exactly three guys you can count on. The order is too left-handed heavy and gets little to nothing offensively from both corner infield spots, left field, and DH. You have an underachieving catcher who was supposed to become one of the best in the league this season.
Read all of that, and its incredible to think they have been over .500 this long.
Here is the problem. The Indians decided last season that they were going to go all in at the trade deadline and move their top two pitching prospects for Ubaldo Jimenez. As we have seen over the past full year, GM Chris Antonetti bet on the wrong horse. I’ve said this many times and I will repeat myself; I applauded Antonetti at the time for having the stones to “go for it,” something Indians fans have been begging the organization to do since the Shapiro/Antonetti/Dolan Ownership era really kicked into full swing. They signaled to the rest of the league that the Indians were going to be contenders for the next two to three years.
They saw a window of opportunity, and they went all in. Shin-Soo Choo, a Scott Boras client, will be a free agent after next season. At the time of the Ubaldo deal, Asdrubal Cabrera looked as though he’d be heading towards free agency after 2013 as well. You had budding stars in Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana about to pop. Travis Hafner would finally be healthy and in his last year of his albatross contract. Top prospect Lonnie Chisenhall would be on his way. The rotation would be anchored by a coming into his own ace Justin Masterson, pairing with Jimenez (who the Tribe was betting on to find his former All-Star form) at the top. Innings eaters Josh Tomlin and Fausto Carmona would be in the fold as well. The bullpen back end was loaded with All-Star closer Chris Perez, uber-stud setup man Vinnie Pestano, and the return of the Bullpen Mafia.
During the winter, the organization again made a gigantic mistake, giving broken down Grady Sizemore $5 million guaranteed. The money to me isn’t the issue, its that, like Ubaldo, Antonetti put his faith in a guy who clearly was a major injury risk. The move completely and utterly blew up in his face and by the time the Indians could react, all of the free agents they could have gone after (and did), signed elsewhere.
Antonetti knew he had almost no outfield depth to begin with, even before he decided he would give Sizemore one more shot. They tried to sign Carlos Beltran and failed. Josh Willingham was a real possibility to be the left field, power bat that they needed so badly, but instead of committing to a third year which Willingham wanted, they let him go elsewhere. It is been inferred in many baseball circles that had the Indians given him the third year, Willingham would be in Cleveland right now. At a $21 million for three years price tag, it now looks like the Twins got an absolute steal.
Meanwhile, the Indians have a left field platoon of 38-year old and finished Johnny Damon and Shelley Duncan. The 2013 left field situation and beyond will also be a gaping hole, considering there is nothing above A-Ball even close to being a solution. So the Indians will again spend another winter looking for someone to fill that roll. Someone exactly like Willingham.
So if they were “all in” after making the Ubaldo trade, then why didn’t they add a significant bat in the offseason? Why didn’t they push harder (and perhaps give up fifth starter Josh Tomlin) to add Kevin Youkilis a month ago? Youk has a club option for $13 million for 2013. If he performed well enough to pick it up, the former Boston legend would have been your first baseman next year with Lonnie Chisenhall taking over third full time. Like the left field fiasco, first base will have to be addressed in the offseason as well.
It is all hindsight now (and I was one who didn’t want Youk at the time he was available), but the guy who has been raking for the White Sox (.284/.372/.854/4HR/18 RBI since coming over June 24th) could have provided the shot in the arm this team sorely needed.
I ask again, if the Indians are truly in the “all in” mode, then they had to have done something better in the offseason or by now in-season, right? You don’t trade your top two pitching prospects – two guys who would most likely be on this roster today if that trade wasn’t made – unless you plan on contending right away. Yet now, here we are, with a completely flawed team that has gotten this far with smoke, mirrors, essentially a four-man offense, a great back end of the bullpen, and high-quality managing from Manny Acta.
People say the Indians need to add a bat to stay in this race. They don’t. They need at least two bats. One of them would have been Lonnie Chisenhall, but he broke his forearm. Even so, Lonnie is still a rookie and could you really count on him to add that kind of an impact?
They need another starting pitcher or two as well, whether it be an ace or a middle of the rotation guy. They made the move for Ubaldo last year and they shoved their biggest chips into the middle of the table. Somewhere in Denver, Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd is smirking smugly. The Tribe could be 44-45 with Drew Pomeranz in the rotation and Alex White in the bullpen (I know he started here, but I am of the belief he will end up in the pen) and have the ammo to go after a Zach Grienke or a Matt Garza today if they chose to do so.
Instead, the Tribe not only has nothing to call upon from the minors in terms of starting pitching (Zach McAllister has taken the place of Jeanmar Gomez already), but they don’t have quality high-minors depth to deal from to get any sort of blockbuster addition in here. Other than the newly called-up Cody Allen, the Indians best prospects are either hurt (Chisenhall), or in A-Ball (Francisco Lindor, who the Indians will not trade).
So here we are, eight days from the July 31st trade deadline, and the Indians find themselves at a crossroads. They have to know they have fools gold on their hands, but they are still not that far out of it (four and a half games out of first, four games out of the Wild Card). They will get a starting pitcher added to the roster on August 11th when Roberto Hernandez returns from his three-week MLB suspension for his false identification situation. The scuttlebutt around the league is that the Indians are looking at bats and starting pitching, but is it really worth trading prospects? I just can’t see it.
This week will tell us a lot about which direction the Tribe will go. They welcome the red-hot Detroit Tigers to town Tuesday for a three-game series. The Tigers have their top three pitchers, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, and Justin Verlander lined up. If the Tribe gets swept, they could find themselves in a deep hole and turn themselves into sellers.
Would they dare put Choo on the market and see how high the bidding could get? Its a great time to be a seller right now and we all know that with Boras being Choo’s agent, he is walking after next season. It would be a P.R. disaster, but it also would be a smart, long term play by Antonetti. But how could he do that knowing he chose the complete opposite path a year ago?
Quite the conundrum.
(photo via Chuck Crow/PD)