Not with a bang, but with a whimper.
That was the story of the 2013 Trade Deadline for the Cleveland Indians yesterday.
In the previous two seasons, we’ve seen the Indians take two very different approaches at the deadline, and let’s just say that neither approach left the fan base all too enthused.
In 2011, Tribe General Manager Chris Antonetti made arguably the gutsiest move of his career when he decided to deal top pitching prospects Drew Pomeranz and Alex White as well as Joe Gardner and Matt McBride to the Colorado Rockies for right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez. Some applauded the move as it signaled that the front office was indeed trying to win now, yet others lambasted Antonetti as he essentially sold the farm for a player who seemed to carry some clear question marks.
Fast forward to 2012 and Antonetti’s approach could not have been more different. With their record at 50-53, many fans felt it was imperative that the Indians make a move if they were going to compete for the American League Central.
Well, the team made a move… But let’s just say it was not exactly the move that folks were hoping for.
Just as the deadline came to pass, it was announced that the Indians had traded promising knuckleballer Steven Wright for first baseman Lars Anderson. Lars who? Yep, that was general consensus from most Indians fans as well.
If anything, the move for Anderson was a slap in the face to Indians fans. Tribe fans were desperately hoping that Antonetti would pull the trigger on another big move like the year before, yet he instead landed a former top prospect that seemed to be nothing more than the next coming of Matt LaPorta.
Clearly, Tribe fans were less than enthused.
Of course, this season’s deadline was also different from years past. Make no mistake about it, this year’s Indians team is much better than the 2011 and 2012 versions.
With their record at 60-48, the Indians currently trail the Detroit Tigers by just two games in the American League Central. The Indians also currently own one of the two wild card spots in the American League.
Unlike the last two years, it does indeed appear as if this is a team that can compete for a playoff spot, and the numbers also seem to suggest that. Take a look at some of the team’s more impressive team statistics:
Runs Scored — 519 (Currently ranked third in the MLB)
OPS — .750 (Currently ranked fourth in the MLB)
RBI — 499 (Currently ranked third in the MLB)
As you can see, this is a team with some offensive prowess. Yet, despite all its ability, the Indians are clearly behind the Tigers in the Central, and they’re also stuck in a dogfight with the Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles for the second wildcard spot.
Many had hoped that the Indians would approach this year’s trade deadline with an open mind. After all, it’s not as if this team is without its holes.
Designated hitter Mark Reynolds, for example, has hit just .173/.269/.234 with four home runs, zero doubles and 14 RBI since May 17. He has essentially handicapped the team, yet he has continued to get consistent playing time.
Similarly, the Indians have been unable to find a consistent left-handed reliever since the start of the season. Rich Hill, David Huff, Nick Hagadone and Scott Barnes have all been used at one point or another, and none of them have shown that they could be a consistent option.
Like the Indians, divisional foe Detroit and wildcard competitors Texas and Baltimore also have their fair share of flaws.
Given each team’s woes, it appeared as if every team would be making a strong push to rectify the situation before the trade deadline.
Of course, that’s only partially true.
The Tigers’ bullpen, for example, has been up-and-down all year, and the team also is dealing with the possibility that shortstop Jhonny Peralta could be suspended due to the biogenesis scandal. Detroit made a concentrated effort to address both issues as they acquired reliever Jose Veras from Houston, and they also acquired shortstop Jose Iglesias from the Boston Red Sox.
The questions that lingered just days earlier for Detroit seem to have now dissipated after the Tigers aggressively filled needs at the deadline.
Wildcard opponents Baltimore and Texas also had their fair share of issues to iron out before the deadline.
For instance, Baltimore’s starting rotation has been just abysmal this season. The team’s rotation currently sports a 4.65 ERA, which ranks 26th in all of baseball.
This team needed pitching help, and they managed to get it in the form of Scott Feldman and Bud Norris. Neither player is exactly an ace, but they do help shore up that rotation, so credit must be given where credit is due.
Similarly, the Rangers’ rotation has been somewhat up-and-down compared to previous years, so Texas made it a priority to acquire perhaps the crown jewel of the trade market, right-hander Matt Garza. Indeed, the price was steep, but the Rangers now have a legitimate guy with No. 1 stuff who can form a perfect one-two tandem with Yu Darvish. In the playoffs, teams need a strong starting staff, and the Rangers now have exactly that.
In comparison to the opposition, the Indians’ moves err… move was somewhat underwhelming. On Tuesday, the Tribe acquired left-hander Marc Rzepczynski, who is probably most known for his 2011 postseason where he played an integral role in the Cardinals winning the World Series.
The move was far from sexy, but it’s also hard to argue with the result. The Indians needed a left-handed reliever with the ability to shut down left-handed hitters. Well, Rzepczynski’s .224 average against left-handers is proof that he can be just that guy.
In all honesty, Antonetti’s approach to this year’s deadline is somewhat of a happy medium between the past two seasons.
No, he did not roll the dice and acquire a big name talent as he did two years ago with Jimenez, but he also did not insult fans’ intelligence by acquiring a no-namer like he did last year with Anderson.
Instead, Antonetti did the safe thing as he acquired a proven LOOGY, and he also dipped into the strength of the farm system by dealing young infielder Juan Herrera to make the trade happen.
There were also rumors that Antonetti was attempting to make other moves. For example, it was reported that the Indians were discussing a deal that would see them move Jimenez in a trade to acquire Norris.
Norris may have ultimately been a slight upgrade over Jimenez, but when all is said and done, it’s probably better that Antonetti avoided such a move. While Norris currently sports a 3.93 ERA and has a FIP of 3.87, his xFIP of 4.48 suggests that he may be somewhat lucky.
Furthermore, left-handed hitters own a .306/.365/.494 line against Norris this year. Those type of numbers are just not going to cut it against lefty-heavy lineups. Even with his ups-and-downs, it seems as if Jimenez remains the pitcher with the higher ceiling, especially when he’s able to command his stuff.
Regardless, the reality is that the Indians were relatively quiet this trade deadline while every team that the Tribe is directly competing with (Detroit, Texas, Baltimore) made big moves to try to improve their ball clubs.
In comparison, Antonetti decided to stand pat and give his team the biggest vote of confidence in the process.
So was standing pat the right move? Only time will tell, but sometimes it’s better not to mess with a good thing and let’s face it, right now the Indians have a very good thing.
Need some evidence? Take a look for yourself at the team’s numbers since the All-Star Break:
ERA — 2.17 (This currently ranks first in the MLB since the break)
Batting Average Against — .200 (This currently ranks first in the MLB since the break)
Runs Scored — 65 (This currently ranks fourth in the MLB since the break)
As the numbers above show, the Indians have more than just a good thing going right now — it’s a beautiful thing.
The Tribe is also in the middle of an eight-game win streak, and the team is now 12 games over .500 for the first time this season. Everything seems to be clicking for the Indians, and it’s clear that this is a team that is going to be in the hunt all the way through the end of September.
Confidence can do a lot for a team, and just watch the Indians play right now; there’s no doubt that’s one helluva confident ball club.
While the Tribe may not have acquired any of the premiere guys at the deadline like their opposition did, Antonetti may have instead acquired something else for his team — confidence.
The Indians already had a certain swagger in their recent play, and the team’s general manager just gave them an extra dose of confidence by essentially confirming that he believes this is a team that can be in it for the long haul.
Could Antonetti and the front office’s decision to not make a major move backfire? Sure, and we have seen that happen with many other teams in the past.
However, the one thing that cannot be denied is that talent and confidence makes for a dangerous combination.
The Indians have a lot of both right now.