Sheldon Ocker

MINNEAPOLIS: If perception is reality, the Indians demonstrated once again their inability to play with the big boys (that is, practically every other team in the majors) when they traded for Brent Lillibridge.

It wasnt necessarily fair to make comparisons between obtaining Lillibridge and the acquisition of Kevin Youkilis by the Chicago White Sox and the deals the Detroit Tigers made for Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez one day before the Lillibridge transaction.

But if timing is everything, the Tribes timing couldnt have been worse, bringing in a utility player with a .165 batting average on the heels of the significant transactions made by the Tigers and a few weeks after the deal for Youkilis, who seemingly delivers crucial hits for the Sox almost every day.

The reaction around here was swift and predictable: Is this how the Indians answer the moves of their chief division rivals, by upgrading the 25th man on the roster?

Thats probably not what General Manager Chris Antonetti was thinking when he made the trade. More than likely, he saw a chance to procure a player he viewed as a little better than what he had for almost no cost, so he pulled the trigger.

It didnt mean that Antonetti was abandoning his efforts to secure a more noteworthy player. A couple of days remain for trades to be made without having players clear waivers, so maybe there will be another deal.

On the other hand, Antonetti is not in a favorable position to consummate a trade, because he has almost no expendable players who are coveted by other teams, either on the big-league roster or in the upper levels of the farm system.

Yes, there is Francisco Lindor, the highly regarded shortstop at Lake County. But he is 19, and most clubs shy away from trading important players for a prospect that probably wont see the majors for three or four years. It is a risky practice, given the difficulty of projecting a players future value and the chance for injury over such an extended period.

Just ask the Indians, who tried it with Jason Knapp, supposedly the key piece in the trade that sent Cliff Lee to the Philadelphia Phillies. At the time, Knapp was 18 and had a bad shoulder (which the Tribe knew about). Since then, he has undergone surgery at least twice and hasnt pitched since 2010 after making only 13 appearances in Clevelands farm system in a two-year period.

So Antonetti is under a severe handicap. The most valuable thing he has to offer is the willingness to take on salary, which owners Paul and Larry Dolan probably would sanction for a rental player who would not burden the franchise past this season.

Some fans believe that trading Shin-Soo Choo and/or Chris Perez makes sense, because the public has been conditioned to believe that neither player will be wearing a Cleveland uniform for long. Choo can become a free agent after next season, and Perez can walk in the fall of 2014. Because both are arbitration eligible, it is assumed that they will price themselves out of the Tribes reach any minute.

That might be true, though not necessarily. For now, the Indians are in the race. They might have major flaws and huge holes to fill, but Antonetti cant throw in the towel with 60-some games to play. Moreover, the Tribes deep thinkers believe this club will contend for a division title next year, which makes it unlikely that the general manager would dump two of his best players now.

How much will it cost the Dolans to keep Choo and Perez for at least one more season? Each of these players could be in line to make about $7 million in 2013 maybe more in Choos case but the team is likely to drop as much as $28 million in payroll, though several players are in line to receive raises.

The saddest part of the Perez-and-Choo-must-go concept is that the fans have become accepting of the idea the Indians will jettison their best players, even years before they reach free agency. Why do they believe this? Because theyve seen it happen as a matter of policy.

There is virtually no hope on the part of the sporting public that the Dolans will do anything but spend as little as possible to operate the team and cross their fingers in case they get lucky.

Fans no longer buy into the getting lucky part of the strategy. On the other hand, they have lost their sense of outrage. Whats the point? This is the way things work around here.

Their attitude: We dont like it, so wake us up when theres a meaningful change in the way the franchise operates. Until then, we expect Perez and Choo to be shipped elsewhere, sooner rather than later. In Northeast Ohio, thats become the meaning of Indian summer.

Guessing game

Its never too early to speculate whose place Roberto Hernandez (the former Fausto Carmona) will take in the rotation, even though he wont be available until Aug. 11.

If Hernandez was ready to join the starting staff now, Derek Lowe probably would be the odd man out for two reasons: He is not pitching well, and he has worked as a reliever.

But who knows what might transpire in the next two weeks. Lowe might turn it around and become a ground-ball machine again. Josh Tomlin might struggle and become the most vulnerable of the starters.

He and Lowe are the only likely candidates to be lopped from the rotation, Tomlin because he can be optioned to the minors without clearing waivers.

The Indians must be able to maintain flexibility with Hernandez, because nobody knows how he will perform, beginning his season when the schedule is more than two-thirds complete.

And what if Hernandez struggles to throw strikes during his three-week rehabilitation assignment in the minors? Does the Tribe have to add him to the 25-man roster? Presumably he would have to clear waivers if the club decided to leave him in the minors.

Sheldon Ocker can be reached at socker@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Indians blog at https://ohio.com/indians.