Stuck in the middle of it all sounds great, but from the Indians point of view, there isn’t much great about it at all.
The Indians have an off day on the field, but it’s very likely General Manager Chris Antonetti, Assistant GM Mike Chernoff and manager Terry Francona could be meeting at Progressive Field to discuss the team’s strategy for this week as the trade deadline approaches. At 52-53 and losers of six of their last eight, the Cleveland Indians are certainly not playing their best baseball, yet they find themselves just three games out of the last Wild Card spot.
Cleveland is in baseball purgatory. The Indians are too good to give up on their season, but after 105 consistently inconsistent games, not good enough to be a playoff team. Deciding to make a move to strengthen the team, or trading a veteran and planning for next year with 57 games remaining is a tough decision for the Tribe’s brass.
As the Indians sit just three games out of the final Wild Card spot, they’re within reach of a second straight playoff spot for the first time since 1999, and haven’t had Justin Masterson at his best since Opening Day. The Indians ace entering the season has been pitching through a sore knee since his second start. He’s slated to come off the disabled list on Friday and resume his place in the rotation. Danny Salazar has rebounded from a poor first six weeks, minor league demotion and small injury to give the Indians two solid starts. Michael Bourn has been injured for most of the season and could return in the next 10 days and Carlos Santana has got red-hot in the last week. It could be so close to coming together. Last season a 10-game win streak helped take the Tribe to the playoffs, that streak could be right around the corner. A right-handed bat or a starting pitcher might be the final piece to help bring it all together.
On the flip side, the only thing the Indians have done consistently this season is play inconsistent baseball. Cleveland has $38 million in salary this season wrapped up in Bourn, Nick Swisher and Asdrubal Cabrera. Each have struggled and none have played up to their potential. The Indians have scored three runs or less in 46 of their 105 games. Defensively, by nearly any metric or measurement, the Indians are last in the American League. At this point, only Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer can be trusted in the starting rotation and Cody Allen, Marc Rzepczynski, Bryan Shaw and Scott Atchison are the only ones that don’t create nerves when they warm in bullpen. The other half of the bullpen and rotation have been a revolving door for most of the season and it’s a good indication of why the Indians are the ninth best team in the American League.
Worse yet, as the Tribe looks ahead to 2015, they have some financial problems in the forecast. Swisher and Bourn’s struggles will force the purse strings tight when it comes to making improvements to the roster through free agency this winter. Next season they will combine for $30 million of what will be a $80-85 million payroll. The team already has over $62 million committed to 2015 salaries and if you plan to retain Rzepczynski, Atchison, Shaw, Carlos Carrasco and Lonnie Chisenhall it will be through salary arbitration, adding to the total salary. Conservatively, the Tribe has $72 million in salary dedicated to this core next season, but glaring holes to fill. Does that mean the Indians should try to make a push in 2014 and go for it, or is it a sign that they should use the deadline to take a step back and begin to retool?
Finally, deciding to buy or sell could even be tough based upon what is in the Indians’ cupboard. If Cleveland wants to trade for a player to improve the club, they don’t have the assets necessary to acquire someone like David Price, Jon Lester or Cole Hamels. If Francisco Lindor is untouchable, the Indians next level of prospects won’t be enough to lure any of those players, not to mention Lester would be a two month rental and Hamels is still owed $94 million for the next four seasons after this year. The Indians don’t have the prospects or the money to shop from the top shelf. A short term, low-risk improvement probably doesn’t cure all the Indians’ ills. If the Indians decide to sell, they don’t have much contenders really want. It’s rumored Cabrera has some demand from teams, but he won’t bring help to the major league roster. Trading him is a subtle sell on the season. Cleveland could try to trade someone like David Murphy, but if a team would take his $6 million in salary for 2015, they wouldn’t give any kind of quality player back, too.
It’s likely the Indians will be among many rumors, but instead will not make a move. Giving up on their season is tough when it started with Unfinished Business t-shirts being printed and a fanbase that’s always reluctant to trust the front office and already looking toward Johnny Manziel and Lebron James this fall. Risking the future to make another Wild Card appearance and be a heavy underdog to the Oakland Athletics or Los Angeles Angels seems like an unwise gamble.
Stuck in the middle. After 105 games, it’s definitely no fun.
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