Indians can’t afford to wait until deadline to make a deal

matt-garza-cubs-trade-deadline

With the MLB trade deadline looming, the Cleveland Indians find themselves in what is becoming a perennially precarious position: To invest, or not to invest. After an eyebrow-raising offseason of free agency acquisitions and trades, the Indians took to the 2013 season with a mantra of competition and contention. Whether due to windows of opportunity or a reaction to a complete abomination of a season in 2012, times were allegedly changing.

Conviction, however, is a fickle beast. It could easily be stated that the Indians’ front office believed in the current core; all they needed was an injection of educational and energetic and bro-slinging veterans to help guide them on their way. But as we sit here, three weeks away from the deadline that could make or break any desire of a post-season, we are in a similar limbo as we were a year ago. Sure, the Indians are involved in swirling rumors and season-long speculation—they’ll be active, they’ll be “buyers.” A year ago, national outlests across the dial pegged the Indians to be wheeling and dealing, only to add something called a Brent Lillibridge. This team, however, can ill afford to sit on their hands in hopes of bettter, less-expensive opportunities. As the schedule rolls along, the 2013 Cleveland Indians cannot afford to wait.

A deadline is merely a cut-off period after which any submitted materials—homework, TPS reports, trade agreements—are no longer accepted. What a deadline is not, is something that one must wait until before making any sort of decision. Term papers can be turned in a day early; TPS reports can be thrown at Lumbergh a few hours prior to review; formal trade offers can be made (and accepted) before the All-Star break.

Last season, we called for leaders. We wanted players who would hold accountability over his teammates. We wanted players who would serve as a form of quality control. This year, with leaders already in tow1, this team needs to address the talent. Leaders may take a while to instill some form of rapport with a clubhouse; talent can step in from day one and help this team win contests. Contests that are, at a thousand-level view, just one of 162 games, but season-tilting contests like Monday evening where the game is within reach and multiple opportunities are squandered, where rudimentary actions like sacrifice bunts and well-executed hit-and-runs have a scoreboard-shifting impact.

The sooner the Indians begin to add talent through trades2, the earlier the chemistry—if there is any inherent disruption from a trade—can build. The earlier the chemistry takes shape, the sooner the games that should be won, or are within arms reach, become property of the Cleveland Indians’ win column.

Sure, the Chicago Cubs currently want a haul for Matt Garza; the Milwaukee Brewers are allegedly valuing Yovani Gallardo based on his 200-strikeout seasons as opposed to the present one where he’s carrying a disappointing 7-8 record with his Faustian 4.85 ERA. But the opportunity cost of waiting, hoping for an 11th price reduction (a la Cliff Lee in 2009) is potentially that of a few games that could be added to the win column. Zach McAllister is still trying to come back from an injured finger. Carlos Carrasco can’t seem to get his Triple-A success to translate to the MLB level. Trevor Bauer recently gave up 10 hits in 6 1/3 innings for the Columbus Clippers. Rumors have Danny Salazar, who started the season out in Double-A Akron, making a start later this week. The more often the Indians are forced to play rotation roulette with the back-end of their rotation, the more likely the current 3.5-game gap between the Indians and Tigers can widen. After all, the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers each come to town before the clock ticks August.

In 2012, Indians fans were fed lines about the Indians being “active” leading up to the trade deadline, but the team was ultimately unable to consummate any deals. Whether this was due to a dried up market or a chasm between the asking price and that of the offering will never be known. What has been confirmed, however, is that the Tribe went 24-53 after the All-Star break, finishing fourth in a mediocre-at-best division. Hunter Pence, a long-time target of Tribe fans merely due to his ability to hit from the right side of the plate with above-average success, went on to the San Francisco Giants where he would wind up swimming in champagne following his team’s World Series triumph, wild broken-bat hit and all.

The Indians may find themselves in a bidding war against some large-market teams when it comes to the top-end rotation arms whom they covet. Missing out on a player due to a trade with free-spending teams like the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers makes for a convenient excuse, but will not help this team’s win-loss record improve from its current state. Sometimes, the trades not made end up being the best ones—would Kevin Youkilis made that much of a difference last season or today? But if the front office has the conviction it had this offseason when it provided a slew of household names to its roster, it would only be a disservice to wait until the July 31 deadline to make a deal while the rest of the league trolls for deals. Should the team overspend of ship off top-end prospects for a marginal upgrade? Of course not. But if the front office plans to have fan interest through the onset of Cleveland Browns training camp, which kicks off five days before the deadline, they would be wise to add at least one more.

Get that homework turned in early. You never know—there may be some extra credit tacked on when it’s all said and done.

(Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

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Footnotes:

  1. Nick Swisher’s base-running issues notwithstanding. []
  2. Starting pitcher, left-handed bullpen arm, take your pick. []
  • Harv 21

    You know, I was kind of remembering criticism that rather than hold Cliff Lee to the end they didn’t wait long enough for potentially better bids before trading him in 2009. Found Hoynes’s post-trade article ( http://www.cleveland.com/tribe/index.ssf/2009/07/cliff_lee_ben_francisco_headed.html) which reminded me of two really really painful facts:

    – Tribe would not have done the deal without Jason Knapp. That Jason Knapp. The single-A kid already out with a bum shoulder.

    – They moved Lee then so as not to have to exercise his option for 2010, which was about to vest. That horribly crushing amount to pay a 20-game winner entering the heart of his prime. $9 million, about 1/3 of what he’s making this year. Or not much more than they’re paying Brett Meyers right now.

    I really need to let this one go. One day.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    That note about the $9mm option is straight depressing.

    Once it became known that the Indians had to deal Lee, there was no way the price was increasing.

  • Natedawg86

    I can see them trading one of their minor league shortstops (Ranked #1, #3, #7 in Indians top prospects on mlb.com) Maybe throw in Marson as well?

  • EyesAbove

    I admit I dont play close attention to the Indians farm system, what valuable prospects do we have and who can we afford to part with?

  • mgbode

    http://seamheads.com/2010/07/23/comparing-the-cliff-lee-hauls/

    Lee & Francisco for Marson, Carrasco, Donald and Knapp
    Lee for Gillies, JC Ramirez and Aumont (all still in AAA)
    Lee & Mark Lowe for Smoak, Lawson, Beavan and Lueke

    Somehow, noone ever seemed to get much value for Cliff Lee. Smoak was the highest rated of those prospects and he’s finally hitting okay this year but he’s largely disappointed. Phillies prospects are still somewhat young 24/25, but after rapid ascensions to AAA, they have been stuck there.

  • mgbode
  • DCTribeFan

    The better question is, who’s available at a realistic price to engage in discussions about? I’d guess conversations with the Cubs have already started re: Garza, and It sounds like the Brewers plan on selling “high”.
    Frankly, I think I’d be happy with a solid lefty reliever to solidify the pen.

    Oh, and….go Salazar! ;)

  • matt underwood

    Im not sold on this team being able to make a run this year – we’ve all seen the bullpen. Too many holes on this team, they need a lot of luck to make something happen

  • saggy

    Wow. Knowledge.

  • mgbode

    the same will likely be true next year as well.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    The Rock smells what ur cookin’ Scott!

  • Harv 21

    But the ’09 tribe ’09 had more trade leverage to pry good players for Lee than the next ones who traded him. Great salary x 1.5 seasons for an ace in his prime. The problem was all leverage was canceled by Dolan’s need to get as many obligations off the books as possible: Lee, Martinez, and Pavano before his contract escalators kicked in. And to turn those mainly into minor league players who hadn’t yet triggered their service time clocks, so as to hold down the liabilities. Gasping financial survival mode, not baseball decision mode.

    But who’s bitter, not me.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Shows you just how low this team really was a year ago. Even after a veritable shopping spree of free agent signings there are still plenty of needs for the Indians. Year after year of horrible drafting has a tendency to do this to a team though.

  • mgbode

    that is the crazy thing. the best prospect traded (Smoak) was obtained in the last trade when Lee only had 2.5 more months on his contract. it’s really crazy.

    I do agree that the move seemed more financially motivated than baseball motivated. As was Victor who followed so shortly after him.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    The Indians always seem to sell low I mean it’s not often a team trades two Cy Young winners and barely shows anything from it. Brantley has saved the Sabathia trade. Carrasco and Marson are still around from the Lee deal but that’s not saying much at all.

    Of course me thinking about the story last week of the Indians almost landing Randy Johnson in 1997 isn’t helping. ALMOST!

  • Harv 21

    agree. We’re talking just a half season of Garza, and our farm system isn’t exactly churning out all-stars every year like it’s the 90’s.

    [Btw, there were stories yesterday that Garza was negotiating an extension with the Cubs, so if they reach an agreement it would certainly have a no-trade clause and he'd be off the market anyway]

  • Kildawg

    Marson moved to 60 Day DL. Don’t think he can be moved yet. Maybe in the offseason or he’s next year’s backup C to Gomes with Santana a primary DH but playing some C/1B.

  • LaundroMat

    The Indians almost had Johnson at the 1998 trade deadline — big difference, if you’re thinking Johnson would’ve been the difference in the World Series in ’97.

  • dieselman

    What you’re depressingly describing is the most incompetent management in baseball, and an ownership that shows itself to be year-after-year unwilling to fire those who don’t know how to pick quality players and retain them (Yes, Mr. Shapiro, I’m talking about you.)

    Rather than being buyers of quality players this year, I’ll predict Shapiro will initiate another fire sale of the team’s best. Maximize profits for the Dolans seems to be the sole guiding principle. Sell players in their prime. Remember Shapiro last year lecturing that winning wasn’t really that important?

  • Steve

    And Kipnis, of course.

  • Steve

    More incompetent than teams that have missed the playoffs for 20 years? And we don’t need to go over all the hits that Shapiro has on his resume, all that matters is two trades we don’t like.

    I’ll make a bet with you, if the Indians don’t sell off their best players (Masterson, McAllister, Santana – unequivocally their best), you come back and apologize for your hyperbolic ranting.

  • Harv 21

    As much as I’ve disliked the Dolans’ ownership it’s unfair to claim they focus on maximizing profits for themselves.Seems whenever they’ve had the money they spent it on the team. They had a high payroll in their first years when attendance was still high. This year when they plowed the cable deal windfall right back into high salaries for Swisher, Bourn and Meyers.

    It’s a fallacy that they are cheap. They are poor and they’ve been incompetent with their oversight of the limited funds they have. They have no funds to throw at their mistakes, and their amateur player drafting, the umbilical cord necessary produce a consistently entertaining product, has been as barren as any in the majors. Poverty and incompetence, not avarice, is the soul of the problem.

  • dieselman

    When you trade away Cy Young winners 2 years in a row you’re either incompetent or looking at $$$ as your singular goal. Can you name another team in history that’s made a similar massively incompetent move?

    I actually look at Shapiro as the main problem. He has no grasp of talent, while overseeing a decimated farm system and a mid-level talent team. Bottom line? They can’t beat the Tigers, who have a similar sized market, but spend more money MUCH more wisely.

    Swisher, Bourne and Meyers? I’ll predict that next year, only Bourne will remain. Swisher can’t hit consistently, and Meyers has turned into another Shapiro costly disaster.

  • dieselman

    Check out the Nationals, Pirates, and Orioles — loser teams of a few years ago that have stocked up well and are now very competitive.

    Will be happy — VERY happy — to see I’m wrong and apologize, but history is sadly on my side in Cleveland.

  • Steve

    None of those teams has seen as much success as even the 2005-2008 Indians yet.

  • Steve

    Go home and leave the big boys alone.

    Shapiro led an organization that developed two Cy Youngs, but has no grasp of talent because their contracts ended near each other and both were determined to get their max value on the FA market? Huh?

    The Detroit market is twice as big as the Cleveland market.

    I’ll take that bet on Swisher too. And anyone who thinks a one year, $7 mill deal is a costly disaster does not have a proper understanding of MLB economics.

  • dieselman

    Go home and leave the big boys alone? Wow! Maybe you could explain to the rest of us while your brilliant opinions are more valuable than anyone else? Is that how you “win” all your intellectual debates?

    I hope you’re right about Swisher as he seems to be a great clubhouse presence. But Steinbrenner hasn’t traded away much quality talent over the years.

    Yes, I do consider $7 Million a costly disaster when the player is not projected back on the staff this year.

  • Steve

    You wanted to come here and rant. Now that you’ve gotten it out are you willing to have a discussion? Judging by your lack of response to my first two points, no, it seems like you just want to rant. There’s no debate. There’s you mindlessly ranting, and me pointing out that it’s just mindless ranting.

    Steinbrenner didn’t trade away Swisher, he let him go because the Yankees are trying to get under $189 million to reset their luxury tax rate. And I think you’ll certainly notice some questionable decisions by the young Masters Steinbrenner.

    And I know $7 million is a lot of money, but it doesn’t buy you much pitching in today’s MLB.