CLEVELAND, Ohio – Tribe Fest is Saturday and Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer are scheduled to attend. The next big date on their schedule will be mid-February, when pitchers and catchers report to Goodyear, Ariz. for the start of spring training.
It would be nice if Kluber and Bauer knew sometime between Saturday and the opening of camp where they’ll be playing baseball in 2019. Terry Francona would probably like it as well. What manager wants to open camp with two of his best starting pitchers waiting for somebody to tap them on the shoulder and tell them they’ve just been traded?
Maybe, just maybe, it’s put up or shut up time for the teams who have been pursuing Kluber and Bauer this winter. The Indians certainly aren’t going to create an artificial deadline for themselves or the 29 other MLB teams. Not when they don’t open the regular season until March 28.
But they have been known to give a player a heads up now and then. Just so they could relax and get ready for the season.
One spring Francona went to the mound during an exhibition game to talk to reliever Blake Wood. He was on the bubble for the 25-man roster and was pitching erratically. Francona told him to relax because he was on the team.
If Kluber and Bauer aren’t traded, there’s no doubt they’ll be at the head of the rotation. There are some who believe if they haven’t been traded by now, they won’t be traded at all.
But baseball keeps its own schedule. Team executives Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff know what kind of roster they have. So do the Twins and White Sox, who are getting stronger by the day in an attempt to close the gap on the Tribe in the AL Central. The Indians have won the last three division titles by a combined 48 games, but now there’s blood in the water and the opposition is circling.
And if you haven’t picked up on this by now – the Indians aren’t going to be signing Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. Their lineup has been picked clean by trades, free agency and cost cutting. This could be their starting nine if the season started in five minutes: SS Francisco Lindor, 2B Jason Kipnis, 3B Jose Ramirez, DH Jake Bauers, 1B Carlos Santana, CF Leonys Martin, RF Tyler Naquin, C Roberto Perez and LF Greg Allen.
If you’re wondering where Michael Brantley, Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Donaldson, Yonder Alonso, Yan Gomes, Rajai Davis, Erik Gonzalez and Melky Cabrera went, you haven’t been paying attention.
There’s still a chance that the Indians could sign a mid-tier free agent outfielder. They don’t have one outfielder who Francona can trust to play 125 to 130 games and drive in 80 to 90 runs. This could be 2016 all over again when Marlon Byrd signed in late March and was the opening day left fielder.
The Indians’ best way to get better is through trades. If they aren’t going to deal Kluber or Bauer, the rest of their big-league assets become fair game, but they should be handled with care. Would they really consider dealing a Lindor or Ramirez? It seems unlikely. They just signed Carlos Carrasco to a multi-year extension after he expressed a desire to finish his career in Cleveland. Would they consider moving the future of the rotation – Mike Clevinger or Shane Bieber? Antonetti and Chernoff don’t operate that way.
What about prospects such as Bobby Bradley or right-hander Triston McKenzie? The trades for Bauers and Santana may slow Bradley’s path to the big leagues as the Tribe’s next first baseman or DH. McKenzie is their No.1 prospect and pitching is near and dear to the heart of this organization.
Maybe they throw a few Band-Aids on this roster, cross their fingers and try to make it to the trading deadlines in July and August to get some help that won’t come at such a severe cost. Then they could try to win their fourth straight AL Central title by participating in something they haven’t experienced since 2013 – a hair-on-fire stretch run.