As Halfway Point Nears, Indians Needs Remain the Same
With just one week to go until the All-Star break, The Cleveland Indians are still in the hunt for the AL Central crown. The team has had its ups and downs in the first half of the season, and has once again had to endure injuries to many of the same players that went down last season when the ball club fell out of contention with a month and a half left to go. When the Indians broke camp this spring it was clear that the ball club was still lacking a power-hitting right-handed hitter, and now as they sit at 40-38 and 1 ½ games back from the division leading Chicago White Sox, it is clear that they are still lacking a power-hitting right-handed hitter. The only move the Indians have made to correct this issue was the signing of Johnny Damon in April, but the aging veteran has yet to be able to produce on a consistent basis, and with the trade deadline now less than a month away, the time has come for the Indians to start seriously looking at making a move to add another bat to their completely inconsistent offense.
The Indians’ offense sits ninth in the American League overall with a combined average of .255, an OBP of .330, SLG of .393 and OPS of .723. Their 69 home runs are good enough for 11th overall, tied with the Seattle Mariners with only the Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals trailing them. Of those four teams, only the Indians have any potential to make the postseason based on the current divisional standings. Asdrubal Cabrera leads the ball club with an even .300 batting average right now and his 11 homers tie him with Jason Kipnis as club best as well. Other than right fielder Shin-Soo Choo who has 8 homers on the year thus far, no other Indian has more than 6. Kipnis currently leads the team with 47 RBIs, Cabrera is second with 40. The fact that the Indians’ second baseman and shortstop are leading their offense in nearly every category could be a reason why they have endured some lengthy offensive droughts so far this season.
The case can definitely be made that the Indians are in need of help offensively. One has to look no further than a week ago when they dropped six out of seven games and were outscored 33-11 in a five game losing streak against the Astros and Yankees. They had a golden opportunity a week ago when Boston wanted to unload Kevin Youkilis, but the club expressed little interest in the third baseman and he was traded to the division leading White Sox instead. Four days later, Lonnie Chisenhall suffered a broken arm in the fifth inning of Friday’s game against Baltimore, and the Indians lost their third baseman for what looks to be the rest of the season following surgery performed to reset the broken bone. Chisenhall had been on fire for the club, and now they have lost yet another productive bat from their line-up.
The Indians also could have brought back designated hitter Jim Thome who Philadelphia was looking to move with the impending return of Ryan Howard. The Indians have a designated hitter in Travis Hafner, but he has been on the disabled list for a month with a knee injury and has spent much of the last four seasons on the DL for various other issues. Once again though, the Indians didn’t express an interest and Thome has now landed with the Baltimore Orioles who sit in second place in the AL East.
So now the Indians will have to see who becomes available to them and what price they will have to pay to add another hitter to their club. While it is unlikely that they will be willing to part ways with anyone of major caliber to make such a move, they may have to sacrifice a relief pitcher or two who is either currently in their bullpen or is Major-League ready in order to land a player of any significance. The team will likely have to assume a fairly large salary if they are going to get someone who can come into the clubhouse and make an immediate impact on the team from the get-go. Carlos Lee could be an option as it appears that the deal between the Astros and Dodgers for his services is now dead in the water. Lee has a partial no-trade clause though, and comes with a hefty price tag as he is in the final year of his 6-year, $100 million contract. The Dodgers were reportedly offering a Class-A pitcher for Lee, so the Indians might be able to land him for a similar deal, but it is unlikely that they would have the funds available to assume such a large contract, and the Astros won’t be looking to assume much of that responsibility either.
Vernon Wells is another possibility for the Indians, however he currently has $55 million left on his deal with the Angels and they would have to pick up a big chunk of that for them to be able to consider him as well. Wells is also an outfielder, and the Indians have little need to bring in another with Damon, Michael Brantley and Choo comfortably holding down the fort right now and Grady Sizemore potentially being ready to return to the club in July. Sizemore is someone the Indians would certainly love to unload as the deadline approaches, but they won’t get much in return for him considering he hasn’t played a full-season in three years and is constantly sidelined with one injury or another.
The Indians could also use another starting pitcher after sending right hander Jeanmar Gomez back to Triple-A Columbus and recalling Zach McAllister this week. The Tribe’s rotation started the season miserably but they took ground in the month of May to put the team in first place despite a lack of hitting, but June has been a different story. Other than Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez, the rest of the rotation is shaky at best. Derek Lowe in particular on a serious decline as of late after starting the season so strong, and Josh Tomlin is still struggling to put together consecutive starts where everything is working for him. Roberto Hernandez (aka Fausto Carmona) appears to be on the horizon for the club, but it is uncertain what they will get from the right hander once he is allowed to return to the team. The Indians say that Hernandez has been working in their Dominican facilities to keep in shape so that he can contribute to the club as soon as possible upon the United States granting him a work visa to return to the country. The Indians drastically reworked Hernandez’s contract following the allegations that he was falsifying his identity and is actually at least three years older than he claimed to be, but they certainly will be open to any takers to get rid of the right hander who has given them so many headaches over the past four seasons for good.
The Milwaukee Brewers will likely be shopping Zack Greinke as the deadline approaches if the two sides cannot reach an agreement on a contract extension. The Indians are rumored to be interested in bringing Greinke on board, but he will come at a much higher price than any of the hitters mentioned in this column. They will likely face stiff competition from within the division as both Chicago and Detroit could use another arm as well, and the Orioles will be in the hunt to try to bolster their fledgling rotation too.
The bottom line is simple though, the Indians will not remain in contention after the All-Star break if they don’t do something to bolster their offense. They might be able to get by with their current pitching staff, and they still have David Huff in Columbus who could come up to support the staff if McAllister fails or if any of the other starters go down. They do not however have anyone in Columbus who can come up and make an impact on their offense, so if they’re going to get help it is going to have to come from outside of the organization. The White Sox have already made a move by acquiring Youkilis, and the Tigers are bound to make some moves as well to try to right their sinking ship, so if the Tribe decides to stand idly by and wait for something to happen, they will find themselves in a free fall to failure as the season progresses.
By Robert Gonzalez