The Cleveland Indians dominated the AL Central division when the Jacob’s Field era began. The Chicago White Sox feigned competition, while only finishing above .500 once during the 1995-1999 division title five-year run for the Tribe. There were some who wondered if the near guarantee of a spot in the MLB postseason led to passivity from general manager Jon Hart when it came to acquiring a Randy Johnson or Pedro Martinez type starter to add the vanilla scoop to their root beer and capture the team’s first title since 1948. Instead, the New York Yankees became the team of the era with three World Series titles in those five years (and a fourth the subsequent season).
Is history repeating itself?
The 2018 Indians could theoretically miss the postseason, but it would take a gargantuan effort by a team like the Minnesota Twins out-performing expectations while coinciding with the Tribe underwhelming on their own (perhaps some ill-placed injuries aiding to a downfall). More likely, the Tribe will have some issues during the regular season but find themselves atop the heap of the division come the start of October.
The Tribe isn’t competing against the AL Central division despite an unbalanced schedule that rewards the team with more games against teams expected to finish with more losses than wins than any other team in MLB. Fans in 1995 might have had the MLB postseason a satisfactory end after 40 years without an entry, but 10 tastes of October baseball without the final champagne popping for the Indians have left the Northcoast wanting more. Having three of those trips end in the World Series with two of those in extra innings of a Game 7 finale have added to the desire.
Measuring up to the most stacked teams in baseball is something the organization must do. In doing so, it forces a wandering eye to the New York Yankees, Houston Astros, and Boston Red Sox in the American League. The Chicago Cubs, Arizona Diamondbacks, and St. Louis Cardinals in the National League along with whichever other teams are capable of sustaining their success and separating from the pack.1 Self-evaluation of the Tribe themselves is also warranted. How good are these other teams? What are the holes on the Indians? Is the team good enough to beat everyone else in a five or seven game series without needing a ton of good fortune?
Variability in the small sample size environment of October paired with an excellent rotation, defense,2 and good offense tempts one to note the possibility of an Indians World Series title by sitting back and allowing the presently formidable team to compete. The odds, however, might not favor the ballclub in any round as those same projection models and baseball lifers using the eye test to state how good the 2018 Indians are also agree “the other” teams who appear destined to make the postseason are even more stacked than the Tribe. Thus, to have the best opportunity to win a championship rather than merely compete for one, the Indians must be bold. The organization must look at every potential fringe advantage available and look to maximize them.
One such avenue of opportunity is to make a more immediate approach to tanking teams or teams whose seasons are falling apart than the traditional trade deadline model. There is no reason to believe the single-digit win Baltimore Orioles or Cincinnati Reds have any chance at making the postseason whether one looks at their record or talent. The Reds have already made an initial move this week trading backup catcher Devin Morasco for once-great, now-meager starting pitcher Matt Harvey. The Orioles, well…
#Orioles The O's 'rebuild' decision will be made FOR them soon. With less than 11k paid crowd, they can't afford this roster, all season. Manny is $3m per month. I'm sure the financial model didn't have 11k per weeknight in it. Will have to lop $10-15m off by June 15
— martyconway (@martyconway) May 9, 2018
The most immediate and a long-term concern for the Tribe is the bullpen as manager Terry Francona doesn’t even trust the relief options to get three outs with a five-run lead.3 The good news is that both of these bottom-feeding teams have some interesting options in that area of their teams, while they also need more position valuable spots filled (both now and for the future).
Could the Reds be interested in four and a half years of club-controlled Roberto Perez for two and a half years of relief pitcher Jared Hughes (a decent but not great option)? Or rather, the Indians could be bold by giving up some significant prospects to make a push for the five and a half year contract of 6-foot-5 left-handed Amir Garrett.
Pilfering a plus arm from the Orioles bullpen could work the same. Mychal Givens (three and a half years of control) would be the first name to bring up in talks, but the Tribe should be open if Brad Bach (unrestricted free agent after 2018) or Richard Bleier (four and half years of control) were made available. Or, the Indians could be truly bold and make a play for 6-foot-7 Miguel Castro (four and a half years of control) and his 97 miles per hour heat hoping to harness it better than Baltimore has thus far.
Finding a way to add Miguel Castro and Amir Garrett, even giving up some legit prospects to do so, changes the outlook on both the 2018 seasons as well as the next few.
— Ben Palmer (@benjpalmer) February 4, 2018
The other area to begin immediately mining for advantages would be making more aggressive moves with their prospects. The New York Yankees have been the latest team to demonstrate integrating a team’s top prospects into the MLB club does not hinder competitiveness. The Philadelphia Phillies are also expected to find value on the margins by promoting some of their top prospects to make a postseason push.
The Tribe has even less risk of developing talent at the MLB level– once again due to the non-competitive nature of the AL Central. There is little to be gained from giving plate appearances to Rajai Davis, Brandon Guyer, and Jason Kipnis against left-handed pitching. The veterans are giving negative present value, while also having a quite limited ceiling of future value to be gained. There is no reason Greg Allen and Yandy Diaz should not be– and remain– on the roster. There is plenty of playing time available once the most useless portions of veteran play is eliminated, and these youngsters provide better defense than those they would replace.4
Prospects might struggle as they learn the nuances of MLB pitching as WFNY’s Joe Gerberry detailed even Jose Ramirez did at the onset of his MLB career, but they are only replacing players with poor outputs anyway. Allen and Diaz might figure out how to translate their skills to the major league level, could struggle but use it to learn for future seasons,5 or might improve their trade value a bit ahead of the trade deadline.6 The Indians could then find room to give Yu Chang and Francisco Mejia a chance later in the summer. Eric Haase could get a call if Roberto Perez is needed in a trade. Perhaps Bobby Bradley’s bat warms up over the summer and makes a push for late-season inclusion.
The season is still young. The Indians are still the likely champs of the AL Central. However, making it to the postseason shouldn’t be the goal. Winning a World Series should be the brass ring to reach for as the Tribe has the potential to get there. If they are willing to be bold enough.
- Unlike the AL, the NL is much more balanced with 12 of the 15 teams believing they have an opportunity to make the postseason. [↩]
- Some days more than others. [↩]
- Carlos Carrasco was made to hit in the bottom of the eighth inning despite being at 96 pitches against the Milwaukee Brewers on Wednesday. He finished the game with 117 pitches. [↩]
- Also, Michael Brantley should get some days off and Yonder Alonso is similarly deficient against left-handed pitching. [↩]
- Most of the corps is signed through 2020. [↩]
- In the case of Diaz, his trade value is cratered due to how the Indians have treated him as a prospect. [↩]