The Indians were on fire early this season, but things started to go south for the Tribe. They were once leading the AL Central, but that lead now belongs to the Detroit Tigers. Throw in the fact that outfielders Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo are injured, and that pitcher Fausto Carmona is as well.
So the Indians needed help, which justifies the extravagant moves the team made before the trade deadline, acquiring Ubaldo Jimenez and Kosuke Fukudome. It may be far-fetched to say the additions can help the Indians win the World Series, but they certainly give them a good chance of reclaiming the AL Central and getting back to their early-season form.
Even though Jimenez was an expensive and sought-after prize of the trade deadline, Fukudome can also help the Indians get back on top in the AL Central. Fukudome gives them depth in the outfield. The Indians have a pretty talented outfield in Michael Brantley, Sizemore and Choo. The problem? As mentioned previously, Sizemore and Choo are injured. Also, the Indians moved left fielder Jason Kipnis to play second base, after the position became vacant when the Tribe traded Orlando Cabrera to the Giants. That left Austin Kearns and Ezequiel Carrera to patrol the outfield. With just three outfielders, the Indians would have taken a serious hit if one of those players got hurt. There's more breathing room now that Fukudome is with the team.
Fukudome also adds talent to the Indians' outfield. Brantley has just a .328 on-base percentage, although his .273 batting average is acceptable, and Carrera has done a good job patrolling the outfield for Choo and Sizemore, but Kearns isn't as good as either Brantley or Carrera, and Fukudome is certainly an improvement over Kearns. This means a lot for the Indians, because now they have enough talent and depth in the outfield to hold them over until Choo comes back and if Sizemore can get back on the field in 2011. Even if Fukudome can't will the Indians over the Tigers right now, he can at least help keep the gap between the two teams close.
Jimenez is a great acquisition, but no one knows how he's going to play in Cleveland. The Indians need him to be phenomenal for them, and for the price they paid, anything short of phenomenal is going to be a bust. Right now Jimenez's ERA is 4.46, which is a little higher than Josh Tomlin's ERA of 4.16 but right around Carlos Carrasco's ERA of 4.67. Tomlin is the Indian's second-best pitcher behind Justin Masterson, who has an ERA of 2.56.
If Jimenez manages to find some consistency, it will help the Indians greatly, especially because the other half of Cleveland's rotation — David Huff and Carmona — are equally big question marks. Huff has a low ERA, but he's also only started four games this season and went 2-11 with a 6.21 ERA in 2010.
And Carmona, well, Carmona's just always been inconsistent. Right now his ERA is above 5.00, and he wasn't pitching well before his DL stint. Jimenez probably isn't going to be Cleveland's No. 1 pitcher — that falls to Masterson — but he can take a leading role in the rotation. More importantly, he gives the Indians a insurance policy in case one of the younger, less-experienced pitchers (or possibly Carmona) ends up imploding down the stretch.
Fukudome and Jimenez might not end up being stars or No. 1 players for the Indians, but as long as they can play good, error-free baseball, it's going to help the Indians tremendously. Also, while it would be nice, the Indians don't need, or expect, Fukudome start tearing up the field every game. That's what Asdrubal Cabrera and the younger players, Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall, are for.
The Tigers are a good team, but Cleveland's success early on in the season shows that it can keep up with Detroit. Injuries helped throw the Indians off a little after that hot start, but if the Tribe can stabilize itself until Choo and Sizemore get back, they’ll be in good shape to wrench the AL Central from Detroit.
Long-term, however, these moves might not have been the smartest. The Indians, who tend to let go of good pitching when they have it — C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee — let go of two more top pitching prospects in Drew Pomeranz and Alex White. The Indians could have used those two as a solid core to build a new team around. Players like Travis Hafner, Sizemore and Choo are either aging or injury-prone, but Brantley, Kipnis, Chisenhall and Cabrera — to name a few — are very young. The Indians could have molded an amazing team in the future if they had hung on to those pitching prospects.
Jimenez is only 27, and isn't eligible for salary arbitration until 2013, but it would have been better to hang on to two young pitching prospects than get one older pitcher.