Indians Stuck in the Middle as Trade Deadline Nears

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.

Photo: Getty Images

Related Posts

Swisher Gets His Happy Ending – But Not with Tribe

When the Indians signed Nick Swisher after a disastrous 2012 season, optimism was running high. His bubbly personality couldn’t help but rub off on his teammates. The…

How Long Can the Tribe Hold on to Sandy?

He came to Cleveland in a blockbuster trade, played the bulk of his career here as part of those great teams in the 1990s, and the entirety…

Johnny Baseball

With Johnny Manziel-mania having already swept through Cleveland, Berea and Browns Backer’s bars across the nation, the rookie quarterback who had never taken an NFL snap brought…

Kluber Wins Cy Young, Hopefully Won’t Follow Path of Sabathia and Lee

Indians’ fans slept well last night as they were given something to celebrate this season: Corey Kluber became the fourth Tribe pitcher to win the AL Cy…

Traded to the Playoffs: The Eventual Seasons for the Indians’ Three Biggest Trades of 2014

This season did not turn out the way the Indians had anticipated when they started 2014. Playoff dreams remained just that, dreams, and despite their overall winning…

Why is Cleveland Not a Tribe Town?

Today continues DTTWLN’s three week examination of the Indians’ 2014 season and where it fell short of the playoff expectations established last winter. The staff will examine…

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Why not shop all three of Cabrera, Swisher, and Bourn? It’d be a salary dump, and the fans would be angry, but even if they somehow win the series, the fans are going to spend their disposable income on the Browns and LeBron for the foreseeable future and it’s not like those guys are performing any better than their replacements anyway.

    1. In theory, it sounds good Paul, but there is not a team in Major League Baseball that would assume either Nick Swisher or Michael Bourn’s salary. They are each set to make $15 million for the next two seasons. No team will take a struggling player at that price. The Indians have to let Swisher and Bourn play and hope they turn it around. The Indians are not a team that has been known to eat large chunks of salary in the past and I would be very surprised to see them do it now. The “salary dump” you proposed won’t work because no team would accept the poor play and large salary, even if the receiving team didn’t have to trade anything.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.