CLEVELAND -- Aggressive roster maneuvering should no longer come as a surprise when it comes to the Indians' front office. Cleveland continues to have its sights set on a World Series crown, and the team's moves over the past year have shown a willingness to push the envelope.Last summer, the
CLEVELAND -- Aggressive roster maneuvering should no longer come as a surprise when it comes to the Indians' front office. Cleveland continues to have its sights set on a World Series crown, and the team's moves over the past year have shown a willingness to push the envelope.
Last summer, the Indians swung a blockbuster deal to land relief ace Andrew Miller, sending an impressive package of prospects to the Yankees. This past winter, Cleveland gave slugger Edwin Encarnacion the largest free-agent pact in the history of the franchise. Now, with two-plus weeks left until the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, the Indians' biggest need appears to be starting-pitching help.
The process of examining the options has already begun.
"We'll look at all of our pitching alternatives internally," said Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations. "And then [we'll] try to develop an understanding on what external alternatives might be available, which guys could improve upon the group we might have currently and what the acquisition cost might be."
The big internal question mark is right-hander Danny Salazar, who was overpowering en route to an All-Star nod a year ago, but has dealt with an assortment of injury woes dating back to last season. Salazar is again on the disabled list, trying to bounce back from a right shoulder issue while sorting through mechanical problems.
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Given how much the payroll increased over the winter, the Indians are probably not in a position to target players with large contracts via trade. The farm system is in great shape, though, giving the Indians an assortment of attractive chips to get a deal done. The Salazar situation could impact how the Indians approach the trade front.
"Danny is a big part of that, his health, his status and how we feel about his ability to impact us in the second half contributes to that," Antonetti said. "The one thing I would be confident in saying is a healthy Danny Salazar pitching to his capabilities is as good as any player we potentially could acquire externally."
When it comes to trades, the Indians tend to target players who are under contractual control beyond just the season at hand. Looking at the current need, the payroll situation and the Tribe's typical approach, one fit would seem to be A's righty Sonny Gray. He is signed for $3.6 million this year and under control for two more seasons. Cleveland and Oakland have swung three deals in the past three years combined.
What are they playing for?
The Indians pushed the World Series champion Cubs to extra innings in Game 7 of a memorable 2016 Fall Classic. It's World Series or bust again for the Tribe, which has not won it all since 1948.
The road ahead
The Tribe will have a great opportunity to begin separating itself from the American League Central pack from Aug. 15-20, when it has consecutive road series against the Twins and Royals. In September, Cleveland will play 21 of its 30 games against division foes. One particularly grueling trip will be from Aug. 28-Sept. 7 (11 road games in 10 days against the Yankees, Tigers and White Sox). The Indians have two series coming against the Red Sox (July 31-Aug. 2 in Boston and Aug. 21-24 in Cleveland).
On the mound, the Indians' player to watch in the second half is Salazar. His trials in the first few months hindered Cleveland's rotation in a major way. At the plate, second baseman Jason Kipnis will be key for the offense. He went ice cold before the All-Star break, but has shown the ability to get as hot as any hitter in baseball.
Prospects to watch
With Bradley Zimmer already in the Majors, Cleveland's list of potential impact prospect for the second half is unclear. Yandy Diaz could return for September, and pitchers such as Ryan Merritt, Shawn Morimando or Adam Plutko could be in the mix as reinforcements. It will be interesting to see if the Indians' No. 1 prospect, catcher Francisco Mejia, is on the radar for the final month.
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.