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Tribe comfy for now, but eyes boost for October

First-place club eyeing bullpen, outfield reinforcements in quest for elusive World Series title
MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- The Indians are precisely where they hoped to be at baseball's annual intermission: sitting atop the American League Central and poised once again to make a push for a World Series title that has eluded the franchise since 1948.

But the Tribe is not content with its current position. Cleveland's roster, while talented, is top heavy -- Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor have powered the lineup as arguably the best duo in baseball, while Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber have led the rotation -- and there have been issues holding the Indians back. Cleveland hoped to have a better mark than 52-43 at this point.

CLEVELAND -- The Indians are precisely where they hoped to be at baseball's annual intermission: sitting atop the American League Central and poised once again to make a push for a World Series title that has eluded the franchise since 1948.

But the Tribe is not content with its current position. Cleveland's roster, while talented, is top heavy -- Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor have powered the lineup as arguably the best duo in baseball, while Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber have led the rotation -- and there have been issues holding the Indians back. Cleveland hoped to have a better mark than 52-43 at this point.

"I don't think you're ever happy with what your record is. You always want to be better," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "We seem to play better in the second half -- there's no guarantees there -- but I feel we will. We've had some bumps on the road, but we've endured.

"We're set up right now where every game we play, they mean so much. And that's OK. ... I think the guys, they need a rest, we all do. But we're OK. We've got a lot ahead of us. Nobody knows what's going to happen. I think our better baseball is ahead of us."

Current status: Buyer
The Indians are on pace to capture their third straight division title and do so by a comfortable margin. That puts Cleveland in a position where it can gauge its needs based on an October run, not just for the stretch run of the regular season.

What they are seeking
The Indians are expecting to have relief ace Andrew Miller back from the disabled list in the near future, but the club is still in search of another impact arm to help bridge the gap to closer Cody Allen. Heading into the break, Cleveland's bullpen ranked 29th in the Majors in both ERA (5.28) and Fielding Independent Pitching (4.85).

Cleveland could also a reinforcement (or two) for center or right field. Indians right fielders combined have hit .246 (.662 OPS) with a 79 wRC+. That includes Lonnie Chisenhall (.846 OPS and 132 wRC+ in 95 plate appearances), who is now out with a severe right calf injury. The Tribe's center fielders (.226 average, .574 OPS, 55 wRC+) have been worse.

What they have to offer
The Indians will likely need to be blown away in order to trade away any of their top three prospects (per MLB Pipeline): catcher Francisco Mejia, righty Triston McKenzie and righty Shane Bieber. Mejia might help the Tribe in the second half and Bieber is in Cleveland's rotation, which is thin on depth behind the MLB-proven cast. Any prospects ranked below those three are likely fair game in trade talks.

Video: NYY@CLE: Bieber K's 6 over 7 frames to notch the win

In terms of the MLB roster, the Indians tried to find a taker for second baseman Jason Kipnis (owed $14.7 million in 2019 with a $16.5 club option for '20) over the offseason and might again gauge interest. If there was a team willing to take Kipnis' contract, it could help the Tribe pursue a player (especially a rental) with a higher price tag. Utility man Erik Gonzalez (a shortstop by trade) could also be used as trade bait.

Possible scenario
There's not always a fire underneath trade-rumor smoke, but there has been a lot of smoke surrounding the Indians and Orioles lately. Targeting a rental like Manny Machado doesn't really fit Cleveland's modus operandi, unless Baltimore is not asking for a blockbuster return. There are other O's players who better fit the mold of what the Tribe typically seeks.

From Baltimore's bullpen, rental relievers Zach Britton and Brad Brach could help Cleveland. The Indians might be more inclined to pursue someone like righty Mychal Givens, who is entering his arbitration years this offseason. Outfielder Adam Jones could also work as a right-handed complement for the Indians. If they could acquire Jones plus a reliever without surrendering Mejia, McKenzie or Bieber, it would make a lot of sense.

Video: Brad Brach put up strong numbers filling in at closer

Outfielder Adam Duvall of the Reds is also intriguing as a right-handed option for Cleveland's outfield, and he is under control beyond 2018. Cincinnati also boasts some controllable relievers who could help the Tribe. That might be another avenue for the Indians to pursue.

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.

Cleveland Indians