Friday, July 27, 2012

No more half measures, Tribe

If only Mike from "Breaking Bad" was our GM.

Last year's trade deadline deal for Ubaldo Jimenez seemed to indicate a sense of urgency by the Indians. Even in their previous "buy" year of 2007, an oh-so-close season that still aches my back teeth on occasion, the Indians didn't do anything on the trade front but bring back Kenny Lofton for a reunion tour. 

So the Jimenez deal was a blockbuster, no question. Jettison your top two pitching prospects for a front-of-the-rotation starter and you're going to generate headlines. It was a risky move that marked an open window of contention that would snap closed within a couple of years.

 The Tribe, of course, did not make the playoffs last year, and went into the offseason with a number of glaring holes in the lineup. The time for Larry Dolan to live by the promise he made a dozen years ago to spend when the time was right (a pledge that has mercilessly dogged his tenure here in Cleveland) seemed to be at hand.

Cynical fans know what happened next. Or what didn't happen, to be more precise. The holes at the power positions of first and third did not get filled with anything significant. The howling emptiness that was left field continued to deform spacetime until an actual black hole was created. The biggest chunk of change was flushed down the bog on a Mr. Glass centerfielder - arguably the most short-sighted move a Cleveland GM has made in recent memory, no mean feat, that.

The offseason inactivity was confusing as it was frustrating. With Jimenez, the Tribe took one big step toward showing fans they're serious about contending. And yet they refused to go all the way with an extra year for Josh Willingham, a risky acquisition for certain, but a chance the Indians needed to take considering the presumed brief window of opportunity before them.

Too often, the Indians have been a franchise of half measures and crossed fingers. GM Chris Antonetti has stressed the need for underperformers like Jimenez, Justin Masterson, Carlos Santana and Travis Hafner to play to their capabilities. In an interview conducted on Thursday, Antonetti uttered the following shiver-inducing company line when asked about his plans for the trade deadline:

"We don't look at it as being a buyer or a seller," he said. "We feel we have a talented roster capable of competing in our division. But what's most important now is that the players we have play up to their capabilities. We'll look for ways to supplement the guys who are here."

Gulp. You don't need a secret Max Smart shoe-phone to decode that statement, kids. I have a real fear that "supplementing guys who are here" means trading in one 25th man on the roster for another, as the Indians did this week in their deal for utility player Brent Lillibridge.

While the guys on hand need to step it up for the Tribe to have any real shot at the post-season, that necessity should not preclude a move at the trade deadline with the Indians out of first place by only three games as of this morning. Standing pat, or heaven forbid selling off Shin Soo Choo or Chris Perez for prospects at the July 31 trade deadline, would not just be a PR disaster, but more critically a foolish move from a pure competitive standpoint.

The Indians have Roberto Hernandez (nee Fausto Carmona) returning in August to shore up the rotation.  One impact bat could have a ripple effect on the entire lineup. Two wildcard spots and perhaps even a division title are in sight with 60-plus games to go. Not saying it's likely, but why not take the shot? Get creative with our admittedly dry prospect pool and bring in a guy who can make a difference.

I'm not naive enough to think there aren't real obstacles to my dream scenario, one of them being that aforementioned skimpy prospect list. Still, I am weary of this wishy-washy, pussyfoot mentality that has been the can on this franchise's tail for too many years. Either you're in, or you're out. Hold 'em, fold 'em, or slap 'em down on the table hard enough to make the chips jump.

No more half measures.