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Now Cleveland's a contender, so decisions loom

@MandyBell02
July 10, 2019

CLEVELAND -- If there were a way to look into a crystal ball back on June 1, a day the Indians entered play with a 28-29 record, it’d be hard to imagine the run they were about to have. It was a time when coming back from a two-run deficit

CLEVELAND -- If there were a way to look into a crystal ball back on June 1, a day the Indians entered play with a 28-29 record, it’d be hard to imagine the run they were about to have.

It was a time when coming back from a two-run deficit seemed daunting. The Tribe’s bats were as cold as the spring weather in Cleveland, and as they lost more and more ground to the Twins in the American League Central, it looked as if they had reached a point of no return.

But suddenly, they came alive. Since the start of June, the Indians went 22-9 to close out the first half of the season, entering the All-Star break with a 50-38 record that made them visible in the Twins’ rear-view mirror at 5.5 games out.

“We’re enjoying the game,” shortstop Francisco Lindor said, when asked what’s been clicking for the team. “When you have fun and you play with a smile, good things happen. As a team, that’s what we’re doing. It seems like every day it’s someone different putting up runs to help us get the lead. It’s baseball. You are going to have ups and downs. You just try to limit how big your ups and how low your lows are.”

Just a few short weeks ago, it seemed like the Indians would only have the option to be sellers at the Trade Deadline, but now they are faced with some decisions. Let’s take a look at their possibilities:

Current Status: Buyer and Seller

The Indians proved they shouldn’t be counted out of the division just yet, and they certainly could be in the Wild Card discussion. With the team in contention, they will not be going into a full “sellers” mode. Instead, they could attempt to do a mix of both, since their tight budget prevents them from being full-blown buyers. The club is still missing some pieces, and the best way to fill the gaps could be moving someone like Trevor Bauer or Brad Hand to get a decent package in return.

What they are seeking

The Indians need a bat. Yes, the offense has heated up over the past six weeks, but when some of the bats start to go cold, the team could use another to turn to. The biggest area of inconsistency for the Tribe has been its outfield. While they have someone like Daniel Johnson prepping for his first callup to the big leagues in Triple-A Columbus, it wouldn’t hurt to find a solid outfielder who could rotate as a designated hitter on days he’s not in the field.

What they have to offer

The Indians have both Bauer and Hand, who could both get them a significant return. Hand got off to an extremely impressive start to the year, going a perfect 22-for-22 in save opportunities. He blew his first lead on June 25 against the Royals, but he picked up his 23rd save against the Orioles a few days later, tying him for third-most in the Majors. But it seems more likely that the Tribe will hang on to Hand, who’s one of the biggest reasons the club owns the best bullpen ERA in baseball (3.48). Instead, the probability that Bauer -- who is signed through 2020 -- is the one who gets traded seems higher.

Possible scenario

Rumors have already started to fly. Bauer’s been tied to teams like the Astros and Yankees. What could those deals look like? Indians fans are at least familiar with one name that New York could offer: outfielder Clint Frazier. Would the two clubs be able to settle on a deal of replacing Yankees starter Domingo German in the rotation and shipping him to Cleveland, along with Frazier and a pitching prospect? Would Bauer be enough to get the Astros to part ways with Kyle Tucker, their No. 2 prospect as ranked by MLB Pipeline, who’s an outfielder hitting .275 with a .938 OPS, 24 homers and 64 RBIs in 82 games at Triple-A this season? We’re exactly three weeks from finding out.

Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.