What’s Gone Wrong for the Indians at this Point?
Vince Guerrieri | On 31, May 2019
A couple weeks ago, I said that the Indians were one bad stretch away from a fire sale.
I no longer believe that. Oh, sure, they’re in the middle of a bad, possibly season-defining stretch, and need a pair of binoculars to see the Twins in first place. In fact, any hope the Indians have of winning the division involves multiple things happening: Them getting back all the injured talent, a hot streak, and the Twins coming back to earth. (The Twins ARE playing out of their minds. They’re on pace to win more games than ever in franchise history, and I just don’t see them doing it. Then again, I didn’t see the Magic keeping up their ridiculous shooting percentage throughout the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals.)
I don’t see the Indians having a fire sale simply because they don’t have a lot to offer, in terms of trade value.
Who could they possibly deal? I still feel like Francisco Lindor’s off-limits (for at least another year) and younger pitchers like Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber are the guys they want to hold on to.
In the offseason, the most appetizing bits of trade bait were Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer. But even though Kluber’s moved from a cast to a splint for his broken arm, he’s in no position to come back before August (and even before that, he didn’t look like a Cy Young Award winner). As for Bauer, he says he’s got whatever’s been plaguing him fixed, but there’s no sign (at least, to amateurs like me) that that is the case.
Beyond that, who’s left that the Indians would want to part with? The starting pitching is a shambles due to injury and the outfield is just as bad as we were afraid it would be. (However, the bullpen, a bugaboo last season, appears to have gotten its act together).
Most perplexing of all, Jose Ramirez continues to be unable to hit the ball with any consistency or power.
Ramirez was a pleasant surprise during the 2016 and 2017 seasons, and finished third in MVP voting in 2017 and 2018, but in the latter half of last season, his productivity trailed off – and has been no better this year, with just four home runs and a batting average less than .200. My worst-case scenario is that this is Fausto Carmona II: Electric Boogaloo, and we find out that he’s actually 35 years old. But the comparison I’ve heard most frequently (particularly in the last week or so) is another Indians fan favorite who played a memorable role in those Indians teams of the early 1990s: Carlos Baerga.
Baerga, you’ll recall, came to Cleveland with Sandy Alomar Jr. in the 1989 deal that sent Joe Carter to the Padres. He was instantly a starter for the Indians the following year, playing at second, third and shortstop. Within two years, he was the Indians’ everyday second baseman, and in 1992 and 1993 became the first at that position since Rogers Hornsby to bat .300 with 20 home runs and 100 RBI in back-to-back years. He was a major part of the 1995 pennant-winning team, but reported to spring training the following year overweight (he’d usually used his offseason to play winter ball to stay conditioned), and his productivity slipped considerably, leading the Indians to deal him and Alvaro Espinoza to the Mets for Jeff Kent and Jose Vizcaino. Baerga returned to the Indians briefly in 1999, but mostly knocked around for the remainder of his career, with stops in San Diego, Boston and Arizona in addition to two and a half years with the Mets. Baerga remains a fan favorite, though, and can regularly be seen at Indians events.
Unfortunately, with Ramirez, there is no discernible cause-and-effect for his performance – and nobody would be a sucker like the Mets were for Baerga.
Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images