Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tough decisions loom for Tribe brass

From a PR position at least, Indians' management is in a somewhat unenviable position as the All-Star break looms. You have a team that got off to a blazingly hot start, sparking excitement in a fanbase for the first time in four years, only to come crashing down in a June swoon that's yet to let up.

All the good of that 30-15 start has evaporated in a red mist of an 11-21 freefall. With injuries wracking an already punchless offense, Tribe fans want to see a proactive front office cooking the phones to bring in a bat, or perhaps another arm if Fausto Carmona continues to so generously give up the big inning.

And here's where you have that uncomfortable spot between a rock and a hard place if you're a member of the Tribe brass. For a team probably one year ahead of schedule in the rebuilding process, an ownership group that like as not pinches pennies until they scream may not be so willing to make any major changes to the roster.

If the Tribe makes a move, it won't be for a big-time guy like Prince.
So, let's get this out of the way first: Hitler will be handing out ice skates in hell before this Tribe front office trades a top prospect like Drew Pomeranz for some rent-a-bat who's going to walk in 2012. A team labeling itself as small market will only contend by surrounding up-from-the-farm top talent with low-to-mid-priced veterans that fit into the roster's delicate chemistry. In other words, Prince Fielder's supersized tuchas ain't coming to Cleveland.

Bringing up Cord Phelps and Lonnie Chisenhall may be the Tribe's big moves for 2011. I can't believe that, though,
what with Shin-Soo Choo out until September, post-injury Grady Sizemore looking lost at the plate, Matt LaPorta returning from the DL but not hitting when he was here, and Carlos Santana still batting around .225 (.402 SLG). Meanwhile, below average hitters who started off smoking - Jack Hannahan, Orlando Cabrera, etc. - have not surprisingly returned to their below average ways.

It's evident the front office needs to do something beyond bringing up an injury-prone retread like Nick Johnson, who's currently toiling away in the Tribe's minor league system. Getting Travis Hafner back from his interleague benching will help, but along with a frontline starter, this team is in desperate need of a right-handed bat.

It's hard to tell if the Tribe's going to make a real attempt at enhancing this lineup. My concern is that the front office will wait until the trade deadline to determine whether it's worth packaging some mid-tier prospects for a semi-substantial bat. But if the Indians continue to flounder in the interim, then leadership will have a built-in excuse come July 31 as to why they stood pat. And doing nothing will give an already skeptical fanbase its own  reason to stay away from the ballpark, depriving the Tribe of those sweet, sweet gate dollars they need to re-sign Kearns for another season.

Given the mediocrity of the division and a solid pitching staff, it's likely Cleveland is going to be hanging around come late summer. If Paul Dolan is right and the Indians in MLB's current financial structure will only have short windows of contention, then the Tribe needs to make a concerted (if fiscally sound) push to better this squad.