The question at this point is not whether the Indians are the most talented team in the A.L. Central but rather whether they are the most talented team in the American League. Everyone has seen the numbers, undefeated at home in June, first in the division, eleven games over .500. This iteration of the list is best titled: “What does the future hold?”
1. Where we are. The Indians are obviously in prime position but how do the projection systems foresee this season going?
Playoff odds (89.3%)
World Series odds (16.1%)
Playoff Odds (84.6%)
World Series Odds(10.9%)
The odds are particularly high because projection systems buy into this team as one that is not outperforming its true talent level, it isn’t. Yet, contending raises questions about short term and long term decision making.
2. Where are we going? I am not foolish enough to believe I can answer this question as baseball’s unpredictable nature is its most charming attribute. But I will note that there are many roads to travel each bearing varying risk and varying reward.
3. Will the Indians try to thread the needle again? For the Indians short term aggression is generally limited to that which does not affect long term interests. That is, the organization is invested not only in this core being successful but also the next one. Indeed, the future is in many ways bright. Franciso Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, Bradley Zimmer, Clint Frazier, and many others appear to be the heart of a contending team in 2018.
Indeed, with a contending team, and a minor league system that is becoming more and more stocked with upsiders like Santander, Chang, Bradley, Mejia, Benson, Jones, Sheffield, and Aiken, it seems the Indians have finally opened a window to which will not slam shut on anyone’s fingers.
But baseball is cruel mistress. We can all remember a 2007 Indians team with a youthful core lead by 30-30 threat Grady Sizemore, a 25 HR-100 RBI guy in Hafner, Sabathia, Lee and Carmona. It seemed that the Indians would contend forever and then under-performance, injuries slammed the window shut before Eric Wedge could climb out unscathed.
4. Why am I bringing up the 2007 Indians? Because while I think the Indians organization is an enviable position in terms of short term and long term talent, opportunities should be taken advantage of. The Indians have an opening, the A.L Central is deep but it is not strong. There are no elite teams but the Indians are closest to crossing the elite threshold and certainly have the most talent. The Indians don’t need to go all in, protect the future but improving some holes is a priority.
5. What holes? CF, Bullpen, bench. First the bench, when Michael Martinez and Chris Gimenez are on your bench, mixing and matching becomes impossible. Adding a bench bat who can help rest Napoli and play a little outfield is ideal. Jay Bruce makes a lot of sense for this role, solely because his asset cost should be limited(Think throw-in prospect). He is overpaid, is an expiring contract and can’t play defense but pairs really well with Napoli/Outfield. Paging Marcell Ozuna. Well that isn’t an option now. Truthfully finding a deal for a centerfielder is incredibly challenging, the market is very thin.
The bullpen is the priority to me, especially in playoff baseball. The playoffs are guided by matchups and late inning decision making. Also rotational depth is less valuable in the playoffs because only 3-4 guys start. The Indians simply cannot get by with Allen, McAllister and a collection of bodies. There are a few in house solutions, fire throwing Ben Heller is one and Strikeout-Walk machine Armstrong offer upside. However, adding one more quality reliever significantly deepens this roster not only for the push but also for the playoffs.
The trading deadline is one of my favorite seasons and our coverage will be extensive. My thoughts in one sentence: The Indians are in a remarkable position in the short term and long term but Antonetti-Chernoff must thread the needle in 2016.
Thanks for reading the list.