When a team is active at the trade deadline, it often signifies that the club is in contention and doing whatever is necessary to ensure a run into late October. That is hardly the case for the Cleveland Indians, though.
In the cellar of the AL Central at 44-61, the Indians were sellers prior to Saturday’s trade deadline, shipping away four major league players — including two to the Yankees.
Now, the Indians are focused on rebuilding and look to continue grooming prospects in an effort to once again become competitive. To their credit, the Tribe have won two in a row over the Toronto Blue Jays and the hustling young bunch is looking to steal a few from the Sox as they travel to Fenway for a four-game set.
Ed Carroll of Deep Left Field dropped by NESN.com to answer a few questions about the state of the Indians, and what the busy trade deadline means for them going forward.
NESN.com: The Indians were one of the most active teams at the trade deadline, sending away four major league players (Austin Kearns, Jhonny Peralta, Jake Westbrook, Kerry Wood). What does this say about the future of the Indians? Which of those four players do you think will have the most impact with their new team, and which prospect that the Indians received are you most optimistic about?
Ed Carroll: Honestly, this doesn’t say much about the future of the Indians, because none of those players really factored into the Tribe’s long-term plans. All were free agents at the end of the year, and only Westbrook even had a chance at being re-signed. What it does say, is that the Indians’ present will be filled with growing pains. I think Westbrook will be a perfect fit for the Cardinals, and I wish him nothing but the best, as he’s been a class act the entire way. The player the Indians received for Westbrook from the Padres in the three-team deal, Corey Kubler, is an intriguing prospect, and he certainly can strike guys out (136 K in 122.2 IP), but the fact that he’s 24 and still in AA worries me.
NESN.com: The Indians took a major blow early this season when centerfielder Grady Sizemore went down with a knee injury, subsequently ending his season. Prior to 2009, Sizemore was heavily regarded as one of the game’s best all-around players, but he has struggled to stay on the field and produce the past two seasons. What is the growing sentiment regarding Sizemore in Cleveland? Do fans feel as though he may soon be sent out of town or are fans hopeful for a healthy and productive 2011?
E.C.: Sizemore has quickly (and surprisingly) become an afterthought in Cleveland after two injury-plagued seasons. While it may seem that the Indians have a current “trade anything that isn’t nailed down” philosophy for veterans, I really think the Tribe is still counting on Sizemore to be the impact player he had been prior to 2009. It might not be in centerfield, and it probably won’t be in the leadoff spot, but judging from the comments the Indians brass made after the trade deadline, the Indians are in no rush to get Sizemore out the door. While I think there’s still a chance he’s traded in the next two years (he has an option for 2012), the Indians are counting on him now to be the face of the franchise. It’s a catch-22 though, because if Sizemore plays the way he is capable of playing, he just might play himself out of town.
NESN.com: Andy Marte and Justin Masterson are two players that the Red Sox highly regarded at one point. They have both struggled to produce at the major league level, though. What can you say about those two players and do you think they will ever become impact major leaguers?
E.C.: I think Masterson has been miscast as a starter, plain and simple. He has glimpses of excellence, but a whole lot of mediocrity in between. The Indians will at least give him until the end of the season to prove me wrong, as they should. But if they try to force it past this year, they could end up ruining this kid. Speaking of ruined kids, Marte is inexplicably still a member of this organization, but no one seems to understand why. I doubt Marte will ever become the stud the Indians thought he would, but I still think he can become a useful player if given the right opportunity. Some guys just aren’t cut out to be role players, and Marte is obviously one of them. But he’s never received a legitimate shot at starting (the most at-bats he’s ever had in a season was 235 in 2008, and the Indians didn’t even give him a chance to start after they dealt Casey Blake). There’s always been someone ready to take his spot, and nobody in the organization seems to have any confidence in him anymore. Yet he’s still here. It’s time to cut bait or give the guy a shot before it’s too late for him.
NESN.com: When the Indians called up top catching prospect Carlos Santana, it seemed to send a message that the time is now for the 24-year-old. What have you seen from Santana so far and where do you expect him to rank among the game’s top catchers?
E.C.: Carlos ‘Supernatural’ Santana has been a breath of fresh air for this Indians team. He’s obviously a rookie and still makes mistakes, and he’s been struggling lately, but his ceiling is sky-high. I’m biased, but I think if he continues to develop as he has so far, he could challenge Joe Mauer as the game’s best offensive catcher. He’s not terrible at defense either, so I expect big things out of Santana in the coming years.
NESN.com: Clearly the Indians look to be building for the future with their 2010 struggles and recent transactions. What do you see this team doing in the offseason and moving forward? What are the team’s strengths and weaknesses and when do you anticipate them becoming contenders in the AL Central again?
E.C.: As far as this offseason goes, I think the Indians need to look into a short-term solution at second base (maybe a one or two year deal with a veteran), and potentially a backup catcher solid enough to let Santana sit or DH once in awhile. The problem with the Indians is that while they definitely have needs they need to address, they have a glut of young players that they should be trying out (especially in the starting pitching area). If they can find a cheap innings-eater (like maybe Jake Westbrook on a discount), they should go for it, but other than that (and second base), they have players ready or near-ready to step in and take their shots at the big leagues.
This organization has re-vitalized itself with pitching in the past two years via trade, and there’s definitely talent on this ballclub. But it’s young, raw, and untested, so that means it might not translate into wins. Barring anything crazy with the Indians, I don’t expect this team to sniff contention until 2012 (when the front office is preaching they will be ready). But I think 2013 might be a bit more realistic, given the backward steps that certain guys like Matt LaPorta or Michael Brantley have taken — guys the Tribe was counting on to step up. I’m not saying those players are busts, they’re just examples of why the Indians can’t count on everything going right during this rebuild.
A big thanks to Ed Carroll for sharing his Indians insight. Be sure to check out his blog, Deep Left Field.