CLEVELAND: Indians fans need not waste their time counting down to Major League Baseball’s July 31 trade deadline.
The players who are going to determine whether the Tribe makes the playoffs are the underachievers already wearing wahoo red, white and blue.
You know who you are — Carlos Santana, Johnny Damon, Casey Kotchman, Shelley Duncan, Tony Sipp, Rafael Perez and Jeremy Accardo. You hold the Indians’ postseason fate in your hands.
The Indians don’t have the assets in the minor leagues to replace all of you, even though General Manager Chris Antonetti is “aggressively exploring opportunities to improve the team.” He said his search is not limited to offense (i.e., a right-handed bat).
“We’re not going to go out and trade for six or seven players,” Antonetti said during an interview Tuesday in the Progressive Field dugout. “If our roster as it’s composed right now doesn’t play better than we’ve played to date, it doesn’t matter who we acquire.”
Going into Tuesday night’s game against the Los Angeles Angels at Progressive Field, the Indians were 40-39, two games behind the Chicago White Sox in the American League Central.
With the midpoint of the season approaching at the All-Star break, next Monday through Thursday, their place in the standings seems miraculous.
Not only did their .254 team batting average rank 16th out of 30 teams, but their minus-40 run differential was 24th.
Of the six teams that were worse — Miami (-59), Colorado (-62), Houston (-62), the Chicago Cubs (-68), San Diego (-74) and Minnesota (-83) — only the Marlins (38-41) were within sniffing distance of .500. The rest have to look to spring training to find optimism.
(For comparison purposes, or perhaps to invoke total Tribe disgust, Texas led the run-differential list at +100, +37 ahead of St. Louis.)
Manager Manny Acta said he’s not surprised with his team’s record despite its miserable offensive numbers.
“No. These guys get after it,” Acta said. “The run differential ... A lot of those formulas and stuff have their flaws. You can lose 10 games in a row 10-1 and you can win 10 games 3-1 and the run differential is not going to be there. But you’re still 10-10.
“The biggest difference here is we do win close games because we have a very good defense and a very good back end of the bullpen.”
No one will argue about the defense, even if third baseman Jack Hannahan and first baseman Kotchman haven’t performed up to their usually high standards. Acta called second baseman Jason Kipnis his best defensive infielder.
The Tribe’s knack for winning the nail-biters is as stunning as its place in the standings. Going into Tuesday, it was 12-4 in one-run games and 10-9 in two-run decisions. That shows the effectiveness of the bullpen’s big three — Joe Smith, setup man Vinnie Pestano and closer Chris Perez. But it seems a stretch to think they can carry the Indians to the finish line without help.
Acta did not hide the fact that he wants additions to the roster, but wouldn’t get specific about what he’s told Antonetti.
“I think he knows already,” Acta said. “It’s not that easy. We need to improve our offense, we need to improve our pitching.”
Asked which he would choose, Acta said, “Both of them.”
With four weeks before the trade deadline, Antonetti said there is much to be determined before the Indians decide to give up pieces of their future for a shot at the 2012 postseason. He will consider where the Tribe stands in the AL Central race, with one or two games back instead of six or seven perhaps making a difference. He said there should be “more buyers than sellers” because of the extra wild-card team making the playoffs this season.
But because he gave up Alex White and Drew Pomeranz, the farm system’s top pitching prospects, last July 31 for starter Ubaldo Jimenez, there is the perception that the Tribe’s trading cupboard is bare.
They do have a plethora of shortstops of the future such as Francisco Lindor and Ronny Rodriguez, but they are years away from the majors.
“I’m confident with what we have in our farm system, if we made the decision to go in that direction, we could acquire any player that’s out there,” Antonetti said. “If we wanted to trade Francisco Lindor and Ronny Rodriguez and a number of guys in our system, we could acquire any player we wanted. I’m not saying it’s the right thing to do.”
Offensive firepower will not come cheaply. Even die-hard Indians fans may doubt that Antonetti can make the right moves, especially if he’s one of several GMs bidding for a player’s services.
But when he said Tuesday, “The bulk of our improvement is going to have to come from the guys who are here and them playing to their potential,” he seemed to have a firm grasp on the Indians’ multiple needs and his trade assets.
Antonetti will still make dozens of exploratory phone calls to try to strengthen the roster. But strong second halves from the aforementioned underachievers might make more of a difference than any deal those dailings deliver.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.