After consecutive series wins against two top American League opponents, the Cleveland Indians head into an off day with a winning record and a competitive spirit. The optimism that comes after every successful series has usually faded within days, however, as the Tribe has been unable to sustain a long winning stretch this season. The volatility of the Indians has led to a rift within the fanbase that centers around whether it is the time to trade away the team’s best assets in order to build a brighter future. While both sides of the argument share valid points and perhaps some personal biases, neither side can accept that the other option will be beneficial for the team and fans. Here are some ways of looking at either viewpoint that may explain why your neighbor or co-worker thinks you should revoke your fandom.
For those who are against selling away players:
1. The Indians have some catching up to do in the standings.
The Indians are close behind last year’s pace when they won the AL Central title, reaching a 33-32 record at the 65 game mark to last year’s 35-30 record. However, the 2018 Indians still led the division at the time, as the second place team was the 30-35 Detroit Tigers. This year the Minnesota Twins have had the hottest bats in baseball and have soared to a 43-21 record, putting themselves 10.5 games ahead of the Tribe. If the Twins and Indians respective offenses continue, the Indians will not be anywhere near the Twins come September. The question remains if going out and adding pieces to improve the team will be enough to bring the Indians to the top of the division and if the answer is no then why sit through the rest of the year and watch the Twins widen the gap?
2. The recent call-ups have been very impressive so far this season, and have perhaps been better than who they replaced.
Injuries to all-stars and slumping bats have provided younger players a chance to prove themselves, and they have responded. Two rookies have already been great additions to the roster – Oscar Mercado and Zach Plesac. Mercado is batting .293 in 21 games played this season and has been very valuable on the base paths, scoring 18 runs. Plesac has started three games and has not allowed more than two runs in any start while also going seven full innings in two of his starts. Another newcomer this season, Jordan Luplow, has spent much of the year batting fourth or fifth in the order and has already belted eight homers. These players have been crucial to staying competitive in recent weeks, particularly Plesac, who wouldn’t even be in the majors if it weren’t for the absences of Mike Clevinger, Corey Kluber, and Carlos Carrasco. When star pitchers are injured and veteran hitters such as Jose Ramirez, Jason Kipnis, and Leonys Martin haven’t made an impact offensively, winning becomes much more difficult. On top of that, some of them are going to walk away when their contracts expire and the Indians will get nothing in return. It is reasonable to suggest that trading these players to improve the farm will extend the longevity of this team’s success without hurting it much in the short term?
3. Several factors would suggest that the Indians are lucky to be above .500.
The offense has been a trainwreck and everyone will tell you that, but should we actually expect it to be much better? Carlos Santana is on pace for the best season of his career offensively, as well as Roberto Perez, who is third on the team in OBP (min. 100 plate appearances). The struggles of Ramirez, Kipnis, and Jake Bauers have continued on from the end of last season, so it’s hard to say they should be much better than they are right now. The bullpen has drastically improved despite not adding any notable relievers. Brad Hand has arguably been the best closer in the MLB this season with zero blown saves and a 0.98 ERA, while Nick Wittgren has quietly posted a 2.25 ERA of his own as the setup man. Zach Plesac and Shane Bieber have been two of the best starters on the team despite neither being considered a top four starter at the beginning of the season. Finally, the Indians have managed to get shut out five times this season, four of which were to division rivals. Yet, this team is 33-32 and only 1.5 games back of the wild card. Can the Indians sustain having two players with career years and a surprisingly elite bullpen while also bringing out a new starting rotation almost every week and a lineup with mostly sub .240 hitters extending to the end of last season?
For those who are for selling players:
1. We have not yet seen a fully healthy starting rotation and a clicking offense.
Sure, there are two “ifs” in this argument, but it’s not too often we see month-long injuries to three all-star caliber pitchers in less than half a season. If Kluber and Clevinger can return soon and look like their normal selves, the pitching staff should continue to carry the team. The offense does need work, but it has improved since Lindor’s return in mid-April. By those two measures, the team will steadily improve their record as the season progresses and may slowly chip away at the Twins lead. All it takes is one hot stretch, which the Indians haven’t had yet, to put themselves over 10 games above .500. This would be much less likely to occur if these pitchers are gone before they have a chance to return.
2. Do not take top talent for granted.
There are generational talents on this team who still have many games to play before their contracts expire. One of the main reasons fans want to sell now is to get a return haul in a trade rather than nothing in free agency, but the Indians have been contenders for more than three years for a reason: the players one of a kind. Francisco Lindor, who has been an all-star in all three of his full seasons, can stay under team control through 2021. Two time Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber has a team option for both 2020 and 2021. Trevor Bauer has another year of arbitration before becoming a free agent. Other key players such as Jose Ramirez, Carlos Carrasco, and Carlos Santana are also under team control for at least two more years (contract information via baseball-reference.com). There are no certainties in sports when it comes to prospects and sometimes you have to trust the talent you already have. The Indians have players who have been to the postseason and played in a World Series, so why get rid of them now and expect that the players the Indians get in return can replicate the success of players the Indians rarely ever have, not to mention at the same time?
3. There is rarely ever a “starter-for-starter” trade available on the market.
There are some for the pro-sell argument who may not realize what kinds of trades usually occur around the MLB. When big-name players are sent to another team, the return often includes top prospects and perhaps utility players or pitching depth. In smaller scale trades, you will often see cash sent in exchange for a player, or even a player to be named later (PTBNL). With that being said, the Indians are not going to be able to rebuild and improve at the same time while trading. The Indians will not acquire a quality starting pitcher in exchange for a quality batter, nor will they receive a great power hitter for Corey Kluber. These types of trades just don’t happen. Rather, if the Indians were to trade Kluber to the Rangers, we would see several prospects come back to Cleveland and maybe someone like 2B Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who is a young player that can provide depth at a position of need. This means that any trade the Indians make involving one of their starting pitchers will probably not have an immediate improvement on the team. By selling players left and right, it will be far more likely to see the Indians finish 70-92 with three years of rebuilding to follow rather than 88-74 and a roster that could match that record in 2020.
Neither side will be proven to be right until season’s end, but let’s stop dividing the fanbase over the direction someone feels the team should take. After all, isn’t the decision you feel to be best meant to be in the best interest of the team, no matter which side you are on? In the end, everyone wants the team they watch to be enjoyable, and who’s to tell you how to enjoy the Indians?