If you’re a Cleveland sports fan, you may feel the need to catch up with the rest of the local teams now that a whirlwind football season has finally come to an end. When it comes to the Indians, don’t worry, it won’t take long to get up to speed.
Essentially, the Tribe has followed up its month of shedding salary with a whole lot of awkward silence. While rumors hinted a trade of either Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer was imminent, those talks have since quieted. Now, Cleveland is reportedly no longer interested in dealing either starting pitcher, instead wanting to keep its rotation intact.
There’s a chance this is being done as one last attempt to scare a pitching-needy team into ponying up a great trade package. If true, it would be quite savvy on Cleveland’s part.
On the other hand, the Indians may really intend to take their starters off the market. The moves they made to free up around $21 million in salary this winter may have been done not to create more opportunities for adding talent to a questionable roster, but to instead make them feel comfortable enough to avoid breaking up their rotation.
If that’s the plan, the team is being incredibly stupid. It would be a clear sign Cleveland is focused on the worst priorities at the worst possible time.
As much as I want to ease my fears and believe the team really is just trying to spook interested teams into overpaying for one of its starting pitchers, the latest updates are only hinting the opposite.
Per Jeff Passan of ESPN, the moves the Indians made to clear salary off the books have “made their enthusiasm for keeping Bauer and Kluber far greater.” Additionally, when discussing free agent outfielder A.J. Pollock, Passan notes Cleveland likely isn’t expected to be a big player in free agency, as the team has “cried poor this winter.”
To me, this update is equal parts confusing and frustrating.
For one, how can a team “cry poor” when it comes to spending to add talent, but also not be willing to explore the only other route which could net significant roster upgrades – trading a starting pitcher? How can a team seemingly eliminate free agency as an option, but also be “enthusiastic” about keeping their most valuable trade assets and still expect to contend?
It’s difficult to read Passan’s comments and not think the Indians are content to head into 2019 with their current roster, plus a minor tweak or two. The deals made in December had less to do with setting up a blockbuster move, but were instead to simply get out from under some unfavorable contracts.
Therein lies the frustrating aspect of this update.
The Indians, in one of their few remaining years of contention, have downgraded the roster. The club already paled in comparison to the top-tier teams of the AL last year, and now it’s worse. The team is also willingly taking the two best ways to make any improvements significant enough to catch up with the competition off the table.
Frankly, the idea of Cleveland not spending while keeping its starting rotation intact is a massive mistake. Said rotation couldn’t make up for the talent gap the Indians faced against the Houston Astros last postseason, a gap which has since widened thanks to the moves Cleveland has made this offseason. Essentially, this strategy is just adding more weight to the backs of their starters and expecting better results.
Bottom line – the Indians may be following up a let-down season with a winter focused on cost-cutting. They’d be seeing an opportunity to contend for the World Series and choosing not to strike while the iron’s hot, but to instead assume the best solution is easing the pain of the checkbook.
Again, there remains a chance Cleveland is truly trying to scare a team into going for broke in a trade for Kluber or Bauer. I certainly hope that’s what we’re seeing here.
Even if it is, the Indians better be prepped with backup plans if their bluff is called, if teams they want to work with say “fine, we’ll figure something else out.” If this occurs, suddenly Cleveland finds itself sitting at the table with the same bad hand it tried to tease someone into thinking was a royal flush, and with nothing to show for it.
Either way, right now odds seem to favor the Indians heading into 2019 banking on the same rotation to carry a weakened roster.