We’ve talked extensively here at the site about the trade deadline and how it pertains to the Indians. Jon had a great piece about the different paths the Tribe could go down. TD examined the club’s greatest need, a left-handed matchup guy out of the bullpen and the options available. Now, we’re four days away from the trade deadline, and the Indians are three games out in both the AL Central and Wild Card races. With Tribe general manager Chris Antonetti making the recent media rounds, it’s pretty obvious that a few key elements keep popping up in several of these discussions with a clear plan formulated.
Only trade for a starter if it’s a long-term, front-line option
Antonetti: “It would have to be the right guy. On balance, we really like the group of players we have.”
Antonetti: “One of the things you have to consider when you make a trade is who you will displace. Whose position on the team does the player you acquire, whose spot does he take? When you look at the rotation, those guys have done a good job over the past four or five weeks. The question of which of those guys would come out if we acquired a starter is not an easy question to answer.”
I agree with this line of reasoning, actually. Matt Garza would’ve been a TERRIBLE move given the asking price for just a rental (a big-time prospect and a major league starter like Texas gave up with Olt and Grimm). Taking Antonetti’s ‘four or five weeks’ comment to heart, let’s take a look at the starters’ performance in the last five weeks (since June 21).
Masterson – 5 starts, 33 2/3 IP, 11 ER, 11 BB, 35 K, 4.01 ERA
Kluber – 7 starts, 40 2/3 IP, 18 ER, 13 BB, 39 K, 3.98 ERA
Kazmir – 7 starts, 45 IP, 8 ER, 12 BB, 35 K, 1.60 ERA
Jimenez – 6 starts, 31 IP, 14 ER, 19 BB, 29 K, 4.06 ERA
McAllister – 1 start, 5 IP, 3 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, 6.00 ERA
Note: Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Danny Salazar also made starts in this stretch.
No clear signs of trouble here. Sure, you’d like Masterson to be a little more sharp certainly, given his pair of six earned runs allowed outings. And, it would be nice to see Ubaldo give you more than an average of five innings per start. Still, Kluber has held up for the most part with his early season success, and Kazmir has been lights out of late. I expect McAllister to pick up right where he left off. That means if you acquire a starter, he’s almost certainly going to have to displace Ubaldo. That’s fine, but recognize that instead of this being a glaring weakness like so many of thought it would be, there are bigger issues to address with this team right now.
More than anything, adding a rental just isn’t good business for the Indians unless they’re on the doorstep of a World Series, and I don’t think many of us believe that right now. You have guys in McAllister, Kluber, Bauer, Salazar, and maybe Carrasco that could be rotation options here for a long time. We’ll see what happens with Masterson, who has one more year of team control as of now after this season. Point being, unless it’s a drastic upgrade, a guy that you can put near the top of the rotation near Masterson to go toe-to-toe with the other front end rotations in the AL, then I just don’t see the point of adding a middling starter. Too often in deadline deals for starters, you end up either getting a rental or damaged goods (see: Jimenez, Ublado).
The team as currently constructed just has to play better:
Antonetti: “I feel good about the group of guys we have. I’ve been encouraged by the way our starters have pitched, about our position players we have, about our ability to score runs and prevent runs. That’s despite what happened on this past road trip (defensively); we think that will be more of a blip. I think in the bullpen we can be more consistent, especially in our ability to get left-handed batters out. That’s an area we’ll try to improve, whether it’s internal or external.”
This team has a lot of talent, and in some aspects of the game, they’re really underperforming right now, bullpen pitching and defense included. I think there are some things you can fix internally, however, to maybe pinch some more runs and wins out of this team.
-Use the bench more when guys are slumping. Between Yan Gomes, Ryan Raburn, Mike Aviles, and Jason Giambi, you’ve got a pretty darn good bench with flexibility and options. With Reynolds in his monster slump, continue to give Yan more time behind the dish and stick Santana at first or DH (it helps that defense thing too as Carlos has been simply atrocious at times this season). If Lonnie or Stubbs start to struggle, their at-bats can be given to Raburn and/or Aviles. If you haven’t noticed, Raburn has a .273/.371/.553 line good for a .924 OPS to go with his 11 homers and 31 RBI in just 58 games (161 at-bats) this season. He should be in there against every single lefty and getting spot starts elsewhere.
-Make the bullpen more flexible with the struggles of Pestano and Smith. Chris Perez has been dominant recently, but the rest of the bullpen has fallen on hard times. Maybe it’s time to give Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, and Matt Albers some of those 7th (and in some cases 8th) inning looks if they’re pitching more effectively.
In the last month, in 13 appearances (7.59 ERA), Smith has allowed a run in six of those outings and more than one run in three of those six, raising his ERA from 1.65 to 3.38. Pestano has lost velocity on his fastball and slider, causing a lot more traffic on the bases for him and higher pitch counts. He’s been removed from his eighth inning role, and he really hasn’t shown the type of stuff yet to reclaim it full time.
Meanwhile, Shaw hasn’t allowed a run in his last seven appearances. Albers, with the exception of two outings in that Detroit series earlier this month, has continued to pitch well. Allen, before last night, had not allowed a run in his last eight appearances.
-Reynolds has to hit better and Cabrera has to play like an All-Star caliber shortstop. You just know that Mark Reynolds will break out of this horrible funk eventually, but until he does, he should be a part-time player. He’s too important to the cause to just forget about entirely because of his immense power, but you just can’t pencil him in and run him out there everyday like this. I also think Asdrubal Cabrera has a lot to prove in the second half. If he’s still an All-Star caliber player, then he needs to play like it in this second half and take some of the load off of Kipnis in the heart of the order.
Surprise contributor out of the pitching staff (Salazar, Bauer, Carrasco, Lee, Guilmet)
Antonetti: “I think we’ll try. Part of my responsibility is to look for any opportunity to improve the team, whether those are internal alternatives or external alternatives. Obviously this time of year, there’s a lot of focus on external.”
Antonetti: “We expect, if there’s a need, that Danny will impact our team in the second half. Our expectation is that he will impact our pitching staff, if that’s in the rotation or in the bullpen.”
These comments made me think that the Indians organization knows that they’re going to have to lean on one or two guys that are currently in Columbus for the stretch run, potentially in a key role. Should any starter go down, you would think Salazar is the first call. The only concern there is pitch count and innings limit that Salazar is likely on as the season comes to a close following the team bringing him along slow from his Tommy John surgery in late 2010. In the bullpen, if the chaos continues, one would think C.C. Lee and Preston Guillmet did nothing in their short time here to discourage the Indians giving them another crack at a bullpen role. Bullpens are volatile things by nature, and if they’re pitching well, they could work their way up the pecking order fast.
This team’s ability to compete beyond 2013
Antonetti: “Yes, I think we can (add to the payroll). I think the more challenging thing for us is the player value.”
The Tigers are older than the Indians are, and they’ve got an owner who is in his later years trying to go for broke. The Indians if they keep building in this trajectory can have the weapons to contend in the Central for the next several years. It’s reassuring, though, to hear about potentially being able to add payroll. I think a lot of us felt (and still do maybe) that Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher’s contracts may not end up being played out in Cleveland. Asdrubal Cabrera, Justin Masterson, and Chris Perez are all nearing the end of their time under team control. The Tribe has a lot of good players under control for a lot of years, but they’re going to have to spend to either keep what they have or supplement what they have long term (like the Reynolds signing).
(Photo: Scott Shaw/The Plain Dealer)