Could the Indians Really Improve From Within?

As the trade deadline approaches, the Cleveland Indians brass was on the airwaves and in front of the media this weekend to discuss the state of the team and potential talks.

The message: Don’t spend a lot of time hitting refresh on your computer on Wednesday in hopes of a trade.

General Manager Chris Antonetti and Team President Mark Shapiro each discussed the high price of available trade commodities, the abundance of buyers and the lack of sellers in the trade market. You can’t trade for a starting pitcher if there aren’t many out there. Worse yet, why trade for one that isn’t good. With Matt Garza going for a pretty penny from the Chicago Cubs to the Texas Rangers and four teams pursuing Jake Peavy, settling for the likes of Bud Norris leaves something to be desired for a rotation that seems to be overachieving this season. The same is true for a power hitter for the middle of the order. If Alex Rios was such a potent bat, the Chicago White Sox probably wouldn’t be having a yard sale with their roster.

Normally when teams can’t find what they want on the trade market at the price they are willing to pay, front office execs start talking about how the roster can improve from within and external options aren’t as necessary as they seem. Often they discuss that the July 31 trade deadline isn’t final and teams can still acquire waivers through the end of August. Most times, it’s an excuse. Each line was bandied about Cleveland this weekend.

But what if the Indians actually can get better from within?

Offensively, it appears the dedication to Mark Reynolds as an every day player is coming to a close. Reynolds, who as’s Paul Hoynes pointed out yesterday, is actually having a better season than last year, is no longer one of the Indians’ best nine players. With Yan Gomes, Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn providing a spark each time they get to play, a little more of them and a little less of Reynolds seems to be the move out of the All-Star break.

The starting rotation continues to improve and grow. Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez look as if they could challenge one another for the Comeback Player of the Year Award. Kazmir, who is battling back from two years of mechanical errors and injuries, seems to have worked through early season issues and settled in to a groove over his last seven games. Since June 21, Kazmir is 3-0, with a 1.60 ERA in seven starts. If Cleveland played better defense for him, his record would be better.

Jimenez has been a stable, but not fancy, five to six inning pitcher this season who tossed his best game of the year yesterday—an eight inning, two-hit, shutout. Counting on Jimenez to look like the ace the Tribe traded for at the deadline in 2011 probably isn’t realistic, but you no longer have to hide the women and children every fifth day. The pitcher who was 9-17 a year ago hasn’t been seen since late April.

With Justin Masterson leading the staff, Corey Kluber being a surprise, consistent starter and Zach McAllister returning from injury, the rotation could be as stable as it has all season. For a team that used six starters in eight games to start the year, they can’t find a roster spot for young Danny Salazar who dazzled in his one start before the break.

The Indians are still in pursuit of a left-handed reliever, but even the tumultuous crew beyond center field at Progressive Field has been stronger since Chris Perez has returned from injury. Perez has allowed just one run in 14 innings since returning from the disabled list in late June. With the ninth inning back to normal, even with the struggles of Vinnie Pestano, the rest of the pen has performed better with more defined roles.

This team is not perfect and still has holes, but if you had to make a trade in the next two days, what would be your priority? Answer likely will vary. Antonetti and Shapiro are right, however, August brings trade possibilities if a weakness becomes glaring. The Indians won’t be able to make a major deal after Wednesday, but do they need to?

After a first half that had Kazmir, McAllister, Pestano, Perez and Michael Bourn all see time on the disabled list and Nick Swisher and Asdrubal Cabrera underachieve, could the Indians finally be hitting their stride? Just three games in back of the Detroit Tigers and a game in back of the wild card, could their best additions really come from within?

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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