With last night’s win over the Detroit Tigers, the sixth in seven meeting against the Motor City Kitties this year, the Cleveland Indians are now just three games out of first place in the AL Central.
This means even if they were to drop the last two games of the three game set, they will be only five games out of first place as we hit the last weekend of July. Where we come from, that’s being in the race.
And don’t pay attention to folks who point out all the teams ahead of the Tribe in the wild card race. That might be a factor if this were the beginning of September, but the schedule still has over 60 games remaining, so there is plenty of time to pass all of those teams.
So, why isn’t GM Chris Antonetti making any moves to help a team this close to first place?
It may just be the sins of the past catching up with the organization.
Last year, Antonetti was aggressive going out and getting Ubaldo Jimenez from the Rockies for a slew of top ten prospects in the organization. Although Jimenez pitched well in the series opener last night, that trade hasn’t worked out as well as the GM probably anticipated.
To be sure, the Indians thought Jimenez was a top of the rotation starting pitcher with swing and miss stuff. He would be classified as the #2 starter for Cleveland right now, but he would be lower on most American League teams.
He currently leads the league in walks allowed and is tied for 10th in giving up home runs, never a good combination.
His lack of success may have the front office a little gun-shy go out and obtain another big name guy.
And of course, because of that deal, the Cleveland farm system is not as deep as it was in 2011. Several publications have the Indians ranked in the bottom 10 in all of the major leagues.
Still, there are some positions in the organization where there is some depth, most notably middle infielders (particularly at the lower levels), catchers, and relief pitchers.
Another factor that makes the organization hesitant to trade young players is the success of Brandon Phillips. We are all familiar with then manager Eric Wedge’s non-favorable opinion of the second baseman, which led to his trade, and ultimately a few all-star appearances in Cincinnati.
Cord Phelps is a good example of what happens now. The third round pick in ’08 reached the AAA level in 2010 hitting a combined (with Akron) .308 and an 825 OPS.
Last season, he didn’t hit in a cup of coffee in the majors (he was used sporadically), but put up a .294 batting average and 868 OPS in his time at Columbus. It would seem someone looking for a 2B might be interested, especially since the emergence of Jason Kipnis has made him an expendable commodity.
This year, his numbers have dropped at AAA to a .263 average and a 781 OPS, thus lessening whatever trade value he may have. His career has grown stale.
Maybe the Indians tried to deal Phelps over the winter, but there was no market for him because of his struggles (.155 in 71 at bats in Cleveland last season), but that seems unlikely. There was usually teams looking for middle infielders with a little pop.
Phelps might be able to play, but you never hear his name in the trade rumors which swirl at this time of year.
The Indians can’t afford to be this conservative. They need to trust their talent evaluators and go out and get some players who can help a team very much in the post-season race.
Come to think, maybe that’s the problem. They don’t trust themselves to get the right players. And if that’s true, that’s a bigger problem for the Indians’ front office.