CLEVELAND — The main question on the minds of many Indians fans all season has been: Will the Indians be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline?

But there's a third option that sheds either of those labels.

Option No. 3 doesn't have the Indians pushing all their chips into either direction, but rather, it's a continuation of their multifaceted system of goals geared toward reallocating their resources to better fit the roster in 2019 while also setting themselves up in a better position in 2020, 2021 and beyond.

The Indians have been trying to walk the line between adding players that can help the roster now while trying to make every piece fit into their payroll structure with a multiseason view. It's the middle ground between winning now and winning later. It isn't an easy balance to find, but it's been their directive since November, and there's no reason for it to be halted before the July 31 trade deadline.

In the past six weeks, the Indians have carved chunks out of the Minnesota Twins' lead in the American League Central Division, lowering their deficit from 11½ games to 3 entering the weekend. And, if the season ended today, Progressive Field would be hosting the American League wild-card game. The idea of selling has likely sailed, but a "buyers" deadline for the Indians might not resemble selling out for 2019. The Indians are determined to keep the horizon and the future of the franchise in plain view.

The decision to make a certain kind of deal is the easy part. Finding it is another story, and adjusting to the market often leaves complications in potential trades.

The ideal targets for the Indians haven't changed since winter. Controllable and, ideally, affordable players to be able to fit into this window while also being able to join a roster core that has become more and more expensive.

Which leads everything to Trevor Bauer, and perhaps Brad Hand, as the Indians' biggest trade chips aside from any prospects that might be dealt.

The Indians have a roster that is mostly controllable for multiple seasons beyond 2019. Bauer is only under club control for the next 18 months and in 2020 will be entering his final arbitration-eligible season, before which he'll demand a hefty price tag. He's among the top trade chips known to be available on the market, and the Indians will have plenty of potential suitors. The danger with sending Bauer away is that any team that acquires him will be a contender, and it's entirely possible the Indians deal away a significant player for the postseason. That means, of course, sending him to the National League would be ideal.

President of baseball operations Chris Antonetti spoke with a few players that could have their names thrown around in rumors, including Bauer.

"Chris said [Bauer] was terrific," manager Terry Francona said. "We respect — we’ve gone through about seven years now with him. We’ve got to know him pretty good and the one thing you know is on the day he pitches, you’re gonna get a guy that goes out there and is not gonna back down, is gonna compete and there’s a pretty good chance the last pitch he throws that night is gonna be the best pitch of his night. There’s a lot to like about the way he pitches.”

Hand, on the other hand, would be exactly the type of player the Indians would love to acquire and have in any postseason series. He's under club control through the 2021 season and with a contract that's well below market value. But the Indians have a plethora of younger arms coming up through the minors, bullpens are often finicky and Hand's value probably couldn't be higher. If Antonetti and General Manager Mike Chernoff can get an Andrew Miller-like package that they sent to the New York Yankees, they might have to pull the trigger on such a deal. And in addition to those two major trade chips at the major-league level, the Indians may have done enough to warrant dipping into their farm system in order to strictly add if a larger deal can't be reached.

The Indians' needs, in general, haven't shifted much the past several months. The lineup could use a middle-of-the-order presence in the outfield and the bullpen, while it has been rock solid, could always use a setup man ahead of Hand. Oscar Mercado and Tyler Naquin have been red-hot in July, but there's been inconsistency in the outfield as a group.

Bobby Bradley's demotion to Triple-A after an unsuccessful debut in the majors has left a spot open in the lineup. This Indians lineup has made significant strides since Opening Day and and the bullpen has surprised many, but room to build still exists.

Having the DH spot open also opens the door for a wide range of potential deals, namely an infielder that could take over the DH spot or push, say, Jason Kipnis or Carlos Santana into that role.

With Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco on the road back to the rotation and Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber and now Zach Plesac in the fold, among some other options, dealing Bauer to help the outfield and/or the bullpen would be an ideal scenario based solely on roster construction and payroll structure. Finding it, though, is another story.

Antonetti and Chernoff might find a smaller deal to add a rental player to the roster for the next three to four months, but any larger deal in which they give up potentially multiple, valuable assets with be one with an eye trained on the future as well as 2019.

This trade deadline figures to be a wild one. It's the first July 31 deadline in which teams won't have the ability to make waiver deals in August, so it's the final chance to add to the organization from the outside. It's a now-or-never scenario. The Indians have made a series of moves in the past seven to eight months to realign their resources to be able to be flexible in July in order to position themselves in the best spot for October.

And now, the clock is ticking.

Ryan Lewis can be reached at rlewis@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.