As the baseball season approaches the middle of June, it looks more and more that the American League Central Division is very much up for grabs, meaning the Cleveland Indians have as good a shot as any team.
Right now, the pitching has been the biggest problem, ranking 12th in the league in ERA, but if recent outings by Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson are any indication of the future, that area may take care of itself.
Jimenez has begun to throw strikes, throwing 13-2/3 innings in his last two starts, walking just one batter. Keep in mind, prior to those two outings, he led all AL pitchers in allowing bases on balls. Clearly, whatever Scott Radinsky worked on in delaying the big righty before these starts worked.
Masterson hasn’t received any run support, but has pitched well in his last two efforts, allowing just 4 earned runs in 13 innings.
If these two have turned the corner, it means the biggest need for the Tribe is a right-handed stick.
It doesn’t figure that the Indians are going to get Albert Pujols, or someone of that ilk. In order to figure out who may be available, the first thing to look at is who has fallen out of contention.
A quick look at the standings show three teams currently more than 10 games out of first place, and all three are in the National League: Chicago, Colorado, and San Diego.
The next thing to look at is the players contract situation. It’s unlikely a team will deal someone with a reasonable deal for a short-term. That’s why the Josh Willingham trade rumors don’t make sense, unless the Twins can get a boatload of high level prospects.
Looking at the Cubs’ roster, the name that stands out is Alfonso Soriano, now 36-years-old, but with two more full seasons on a bloated contract. The more a team assumes dollar wise, the less they will have to give up in terms of prospects.
Soriano isn’t a high batting average or on base percentage guy (lifetime .274, but hasn’t hit that high since 2008), but he does hit for power, with ten straight 20 home run campaigns. And he looks like he’s on his way to an 11th with 12 HR’s this season.
It’s unlikely the Indians would want to add those kind of dollars for 2013 and 2014, but remember Travis Hafner’s deal comes off the books at the end of this season. Oh, and Soriano happens to play LF, a gaping, sucking hole for Cleveland.
A lower cost option from Chicago could be OF Reed Johnson, who can play all three OF spots. He’s a lifetime .283 hitter, whose average against lefties is .310 for his career with an 823 OPS. He would fit in nicely as a platoon player.
The Rockies don’t look like a good fit for the Indians, because the guys they might be looking to deal are left-handed hitters (Todd Helton, Jason Giambi) or in Michael Cuddyer’s case, just recently signed.
The Padres have two intriguing possibilities in OF Carlos Quentin (formerly of the White Sox) and utility OF Chris Denorfia.
Quentin, 29, is signed to a one year deal, and has had the Tribe’s interest before. Then GM Mark Shapiro tried to get him from Arizona after the 2007 season when he was eventually dealt to the White Sox.
In 2008, Quentin was a legitimate MVP candidate until he broke his hand late in the year against the Indians.
He has belted 2o home runs every year since that 2008 campaign, and although he doesn’t hit for a great average (.255 lifetime), he gets on base good enough via walks and getting hit by pitches (he’s been hit at least 15 times in each of the last four years).
Denorfia can play all three OF spots and is a lifetime .274 hitter (743 OPS). However, against left-handers, he’s a .306 hitter with a 798 OPS. He’s another guy who could fit in a platoon situation.
What can the Tribe give up? They do have good organizational depth in the bullpen and the middle infield. They won’t consider dealing last year’s first round pick and top prospect SS Francisco Lindor, but they do have two players at Class A Carolina in Tony Wolters and Ronny Rodriguez who have good futures.
And don’t forget 2B Cord Phelps, who continues to put up solid AAA numbers, but is blocked by Jason Kipnis.
More teams will drop out of contention by the end of July as the trading deadline nears. But if GM Chris Antonetti wants help right away, he can find some nice possibilities on the three teams mentioned here.