I say this with a heavy heart, but it is more than likely time for the Cleveland Indians to become sellers at the MLB trade deadline at the end of July. For some people, that stance will sound absurd. The Indians are "only" 4.5 games behind the Detroit Tigers for first place in the AL Central and "only" four games behind both the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics for the second AL Wild Card spot.
The problem for the Indians is that they are simply not good enough as currently constructed to make up the ground they need to in the standings to make the playoffs. They have not rattled off more than four wins in a row all season. That simply will not cut it. With the presence of the second Wild Card spot there are far too many teams already ahead of the Indians in the standings. They are currently at the bottom of the heap for teams that are still "in the race".
The glaring weakness on the Indians is the lack of a formidable right-handed outfield bat. The second Wild Card spot available to teams this year has turned so many teams into playoff contenders that there are simply not enough sellers on the market to satisfy the demand of the buyers out there.
After the San Diego Padres signed Carlos Quentin to an extension the other day, the number of quality available right-handed outfield bats within the Indians price range is down to one player—Chicago Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano.
If I were Indians GM Chris Antonetti I would be begging penurious owner Larry Dolan to take on enough money remaining on Alfonso Soriano's contract so that the Cubs would deal him for very little in return in terms of prospects. After this trade barrage from last year, coupled with a number of other prospects graduating to the big leagues, the cupboard is almost bare.
Other than shortstop Francisco Lindor there is not another prospect that other franchises will be drooling over to get their hands on. That severely restricts the very limited amount of targets on the barren market.
With that said the Indians should jettison several veterans in the last year of their contract to get some prospects that will either help them directly in the next year or two on the field or indirectly as trade chips in a slightly restocked cupboard.
I have two veterans and their replacements in mind.
Derek Lowe should be traded to a team looking for an upgrade to the back end of its rotation. Lowe is currently 8-8 with an ERA of 5.04. Personally, I feel like his ERA is deceptive. As a whole, Lowe has been pretty solid for the majority of the season. Just over two months ago he was 6-1 with an ERA of 2.05. Since that time his ERA has ballooned from two bad starts and two horrific starts.
The Indians will not get a top prospect for Lowe, but they should certainly be able to land a mid-level prospect if they were willing to eat a good chunk of the money left on his deal.
Over the next few weeks Jeanmar Gomez can take his spot in the rotation. Since being sent down to AAA Columbus, Gomez has gone 2-2 with a 1.86 ERA for the Clippers. If he does well in his return to the Tribe he should keep his spot in the rotation. If not, the looming return of Fausto Carmona (I knew him as Fausto Carmona for years and will always be Fausto Carmona to me despite it not being his "real" name) could bump either Gomez or Josh Tomlin from the rotation.
Travis "Pronk" Hafner should be traded to a team looking for either an upgrade at DH (assuming they are weak there), or, for National League teams, a high quality left-handed pinch hitter with power. In limited time, Hafner was hit eight home runs and has an on-base percentage of .363. That shows he can still get on base at a good clip and has enough pop in his bat to scare teams.
The market for Hafner will invariably be smaller than it is for Lowe. However, the Indians could probably still squeeze out a mid-level prospect for Hafner if they play their cards right.
Trading Hafner will open the door for Matt LaPorta to receive his last chance with the Indians. LaPorta has been marginal in his previous stints with the club over the last few years. However, he is once again having a good season down in AAA Columbus.
Trading Hafner allows LaPorta to finally sink or swim as he is out of minor league options at this point. He should be able to replicate Hafner's production and, more importantly, will help to balance the lineup by providing a desperately needed right-handed bat on a consistent basis.
Both of these trades will not cripple the Indians' chances of making the playoffs this year. They are not trading away any of the young core players from the roster either. Instead, it increases the odds they can compete for a playoff spot next year. Realistically, there are just too many teams to leapfrog this year.
Hopefully, Larry Dolan opens his wallet wide enough to trade for Alfonso Soriano so that I can have some hope for this year without mortgaging anything for the future as well. I will not be holding my breath though.