Late last week, while delivering his State of the Fan-Friendly Union, Cleveland Indians team president Mark Shapiro could not help but field questions about the upcoming MLB trade deadline. Sure, lowering the price of concessions and making Progressive Field more accessible are all well and good, but what about the product said (hopeful) increase in paying fans would ultimately view upon arrival? Shapiro was quick to shoot down any notion that a lack of activity in terms of consummated deals by no means signals that the team has unplugged their telephones and will head into the autumn months with their eyes closed and fingers crossed.
The desire to improve, and the knowledge that said improvement is necessary in order to achieve the ultimate goal, is there. The means to do so, however, remains the largest hurdle of them all.
Four weeks earlier, leading the AL Central at the time, the Chicago White Sox took a gamble on a much-maligned, aging veteran who was known of more recently for his role in a fried chicken and beer scandal. Since rolling the dice — paying the price of two prospects and $2 million of a $7.8 million contract — on a player who had been hampered by a plethora of injuries the past two-plus seasons, the rich have merely gotten richer as the 33-year-old Kevin Youkilis has seemingly put his back injuries behind him, turning his .233 average into one more Youk-like; the All-Star has hit .319 with an OPS of .965, adding four home runs, 18 runs batted in1, and a slew of web gems at the hot corner since swapping Red for White.
If you, as a fan, felt that Carlos Lee was the answer to the Indians’ woes, he has also increased his batting average and OPS (and still walking more often than striking out) since being moved to the Marlins of Miami since being dealt, albeit in a considerably smaller sample size. If we factor in flair points, Lee joined Youkilis in the home run parade, each helping their respective teams win a game earlier this week while the Indians fell to the Tampa Bay Rays.
This is not to play the revisionist game. While I was warmer than most on the Indians making the move to acquire Youkilis, a true professional by any sense of the word2 who happens to be everything the Indians desire — he is, after all, the Greek God of Walks — while playing a position of need, I did understand the reservations by most of the Tribe faithful. Youk’s best days are indeed behind him and the farm system is already running dry. Is he the guy that would put them over the top?
This is, however, to play the “sooner-than-later” card, showing that the time-value of making a deal, especially from the perspective of the buyer, far outweighs the benefits of an 11th-hour deal wherein both parties know exactly what they have to deal with. Certainly, things could have been different for the Indians had Lonnie Chisenhall sustained his injury four days before the Red Sox and White Sox consummated a deal, or not at all. But waiting, in this instance, ultimately provided a higher cost. Factor in that it was a division rival, the one whom is being chased, and the sting is well beyond anything that can be subsided by some back-office Benedryl.
The Indians have since went from nipping at the White Sox’ heels to sliding into third place; the White Sox inherently transforming into a pinstriped carrot on a stick.
If the Indians feel that a right-handed corner infielder (or outfielder) is a commodity, then their incessant desire to get bargain basement pricing makes sense. Why fill up at $3.75 a gallon when you can drive a mile down the road and fill your Dodge Stratus full of $3.65-per-gallon goodness? But if their feelings on said players are indeed true, than not having one by this point is inexcusable, leading me to believe that there is more to their endeavor than merely finding an individual who can not only utilize their right hand to a level meeting or exceeding that of their left, but also will not cost them games when laying claim to certain positions on the field of play.
Then again, this same “Help Wanted” sign which has been smack in the middle of the front window on Carnegie and Ontario for the last 12 months has led to Kosuke Fukodome in 20113, and Johnny Damon and Casey Kotchman being added to the 25-man roster this past year, all of whom decidedly do not have an advantageous right hand nor hit for any modicum of additional isolated power. And while he may have thrown out Albert Pujols at second base, Damon isn’t exactly saving games with his glove work.
Each additional game where the Indians opt to trot out a lineup with Damon, Kotchman and the grab-bag of gross known as Aaron Cunningham or Shelley Duncan will ultimately cost the team come September and October. In baseball, you have the added benefit of the “its just one game” approach, but as the season wears on, each marginal game means more and more. There will be the oft chance where one of the aforementioned — whom all have their roles on an MLB roster, just none of which should be of the “everyday starting” variety — succeed at the plate and help the Indians pull out a close game, but hoping for aberration is no way to convince a fan base that this team is in fact on par with the two that are presently ahead of them in the AL Central standings.
It was just a month or so ago when the Cleveland Indians, again buyers rather than their typical role of sellers, were named as one of the teams that would be the most active come the 2012 MLB trade deadline. While the White Sox and Miami Marlins got ahead of the curve, the July 31 deadline has not passed and the Indians still could, conceivably, make some noise as the clock winds down. Josh Willingham, Alfonso Soriano, and Carlos Quentin are all names that have been bantered about. The Padres now appear to be ready to sign Quentin to an extension, Soriano would require the Chicago Cubs to essentially pay him in full to not play in Wrigley Field and the Indians didn’t want to pay Willingham this past off-season, opting to let him sign with the Minnesota Twins, another intradivision team. Adding him now would certainly help for the final two-plus months, but just think of what it would have done had the move been made, you know, this past winter. And it wouldn’t have cost an additional player.
ESPN’s Jim Bowden recently reported that Indians general manager Chris Antonetti is hot after Arizona’s Justin Upton4 and Philadelphia’s Shane Victorino, but — likely due to poor attendance — lacks the ability to take back big contracts in return and is struggling to find a partner due to an unwillingness to part with top prospects. And then there’s this gem of a quote as well.
Landing a player of Upton’s ilk, especially considering the circumstances, would certainly make headlines and instantly increase interest as well as win probability on a night-to-night basis. One can understandably make an argument for any of the other players, all of whom could help and would demand varying prices from their current employers. In this event, the wait will have indeed been worth it. But if the Indians, instead, opt for an 11th-hour deal that will only marginally improve their offense similarly to what they pulled off (or didn’t pull off) last season, the last month of action in MLB circles — with “YOUK” chants echoing from Boston to Chicago, with Cleveland smack in the middle — will only serve as constant reminder of what could have, or should have been. It will be this sort of inactivity that will render any fan-focused initiatives, both present and future, useless, driving an even larger wedge into the chasm-sized gap between the Dolans and the fans of Cleveland.
(Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
- Several of the game-tying or game-winning variety [↩]
- Regardless of what Bobby Valentine is chirping about these days [↩]
- Don’t get me started on the Tigers, instead, landing Delmon Young… [↩]
- Despite the Indians being one of four teams, the only of which is not in a major market, on his no-trade list [↩]