I’ve been less than subtle when it came to my fear of the Cleveland Indians being passive at the trade deadline as a result of their sizable lead in one of the worst divisions in MLB history. Today, they proved my worries were unwarranted.
Knowing how much of a liability the bullpen has become, Cleveland made a massive upgrade in trading for San Diego Padres relievers Brad Hand and Adam Cimber, sending top prospect Francisco Mejia back in return. With the struggling relief corps now addressed, the team is once again a threat to make a deep postseason run.
This move effectively hammers home the Indians intentions for the season ahead. Contrary to my (ill-advised) concerns, they aren’t just satisfied with punching their ticket to the postseason thanks to leading a garbage division. They’re going for it. Now.
There seemed to be reason to wonder just how aggressive Cleveland was going to be as the trade deadline neared. Despite a 52-43 record, the team is currently 7.5 games up in the AL Central. Some – myself included – were nervous about the team being passive in the trade market, especially knowing a playoff berth was practically a certainty.
Instead, Cleveland went out and added two significant pieces to a bullpen in dire need of improvements.
Hand is heading to the Indians after his second All-Star appearance in the past two years. He’s logged 65 strikeouts in just 44.1 innings this year, and has averaged 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings in two and a half years with the Padres. It’s safe to say slotting Hand in with Cody Allen and a healthy Andrew Miller will create one of the most formidable back-end bullpen combos in the majors.
While not boasting the same credentials as Hand, Cimber is an intriguing addition to the pen. The submarine pitcher has impressed in his rookie season, generating a 3.17 ERA and often producing weak contact from opposing hitters. He’ll be a far more appealing option than some of the relievers the Indians have been forced to work with over the past couple months.
All in all, the Indians saw a glaring weakness which could hinder their chances come October, only instead of papering over it with some low-key deals, they went out and acquired an All-Star and an up-and-coming rookie.
Just as the decision to target Hand and Cimber highlights how focused Cleveland is on winning now, so too was the call to part with its top prospect.
It was getting clearer by the day that the hope of getting Mejia consistent playing time in the big leagues was fading quickly. He was resisting the team’s desire to try different positions, instead remaining fixated on playing catcher. The writing appeared to be on the wall in the final series before the All-Star break, when Mejia was called up, but only to DH for one game.
Knowing he wasn’t going to be a factor come postseason, the Indians needed to determine how best to approach his future. They essentially had to decide what to prioritize – focusing on the currently-open window of contention, or preserving one of their top prospects who likely wouldn’t have been a key player for them anytime soon. As difficult as it must’ve been to part with someone like Mejia, it was a decision which needed to be made.
Cleveland’s window of contention won’t be open forever. If the team got too miserly when it came to Mejia, it might not have been able to make such an impact trade. It also would’ve severely hindered the Tribe’s chances come October, essentially punting away an opportunity to win now for the sake of keeping the farm in good shape.
Bottom line – refusing to part with Mejia and instead making underwhelming deals could’ve negated a season in which the Indians boast six All-Stars, two infielders in the middle of torrid seasons and one of the best rotations in the majors. Clearly Cleveland realized this, and sent a message today that it’s ready to try another run at the World Series.