The Cleveland Indians rode into the All-Star break among the leaders in what was then a three-horse race in the AL Central. Reality hit home in Cleveland when the Tribe ran into an 11-game losing streak that followed a quiet trade deadline. Now solidly out of the race, Indians manager Manny Acta told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that his club needs some upgrades going into 2013.
“It’s no secret, we’re going to need to improve our offense,” said Acta. “We’re going to have to find a solution in left field, we’re going to have to find a solution at first base and we’re going to have to find a solution at DH. That’s pretty obvious. And the third base situation is not determined either.”
The Indians took a risk in re-signing the oft-injured Grady Sizemore last fall. Though they got him a steep discount from what they would have spent had they exercised his option, the Indians have gotten exactly nothing from their former all-star as he has yet to play in a single game following back surgery just before Spring Training. Another former star is DH Travis Hafner, who continues to miss time and show only fleeting glimpses of what he used to be when he is playing.
The Indians have the game’s fourth-lowest payroll and the city hasn’t exactly been flocking to the park to support their team. Still, what Acta says has some truth to it. If the Indians want to compete with the White Sox and Tigers going forward, they’ll need to start spending and spending wisely.
Jack Hannahan is a marvelous defender at third base, but his left handed bat doesn’t scream “everyday player.” Unfortunately, prized prospect Lonnie Chisenhall has been less that spectacular in a pair of auditions for the job. It doesn’t bode well for the future if your young stud can’t wrestle the starting job away from a journeyman who has been released by three different clubs already.
The same, really, can be said of Matt LaPorta. Once heralded as the prize of the CC Sabathia trade, LaPorta’s minor league power numbers have never translated to the big leagues. Cleveland finally gave up on him this year and turned the first base job over to Casey Kotchman, with Shelley Duncan seeing spot duty in left field. Neither Duncan nor Kotchman are top-tier regulars, yet LaPota’s been relegated to hitting in the International League for most of the season.
The Indians tried to fortify a young and talented core with veteran role players like Kotchman, Johnny Damon, and Jose Lopez, but even a resurgent season by Shin-Soo Choo couldn’t keep them afloat. There are too many mediocre hitters in a lineup that is decidedly too left handed.
The Indians might have to get creative as they attempt to fill all the holes their manager pointed out. Last season’s trade for abject failure Ubaldo Jimenez has drained an already sparse minor league system, so in order to acquire talent, GM Chris Antonetti is going to have to look outside the organization. They would be wise to move closer Chris Perez, as he is one of the few players they can both afford to part with and who would bring a decent haul on the trade market.
Apart from that, the Tribe does get a reprieve of sorts soon as the contracts of Sizemore, Hafner and the former Fausto Carmona (Roberto Hernandez) are due to come off the books at season’s end, the latter two by way of club options that almost assuredly will not be picked up. Hafner alone makes $13 million this season, so the club will have some amount of spending money, even after arbitration raises are handed out.
Given the nature of the ownership in Cleveland, however, and the low attendance figures, one has to wonder how much money the Dolans will be willing to spend. If they aren’t prepared to step up payroll significantly (Unofficially at just over $65 million this year), it will only be a matter of time before the latest round of young, impact players gets traded away from Cleveland. When that time comes, suitors will be lined up to get their hands on the likes of Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Carlos Santana.
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