The 2009 Trade Deadline Damage Debate – The Cleveland Indians Won’t Compete For A Long Time

August 3, 2009

Read Bleacher Fan and Loyal Homer’s arguments on which team did themselves the most harm at the trade deadline.

You have to love baseball. For starters, the silly season lasts forEVER. First there is the off-season where players change organizations, highlighted by the winter meetings. Then there is the entertaining search for “that last player” a team needs to dominate a season during Spring Training. Then, the non-waiver trading deadline of July 31 comes, the best time to trade a player before passing them through waivers. Then the waiver-trading deadline a month later at the end of August.

For most teams it is a chance to make the team better for the remainder of the season. For others, they are preparing to be a contender for the following season.

For the 2009 Cleveland Indians, apparently they are preparing for contention in the 2012 season – maybe.

The season started with the Indians trading for versatile and consistent slugger Mark DeRosa and signing fireballing free agent closer Kerry Wood.

High hopes, right?

A couple of injuries later the season is derailed. Designated hitter Travis Hafner’s mysterious shoulder fatigue injury, an elbow injury to center fielder Grady Sizemore, some really awful pitching out of the bullpen, and a lack of consistent and timely hitting turned this season into a wash. Despite general manager Mark Shapiro’s best efforts, the Indians were no longer competitive in 2009. Time to sell off the players necessary to restock for 2010, right?

Wrong. Shapiro has done a great deal of damage to the team’s chances at competing for the next several years. Despite his weak reassurances and high-brow “I don’t need applause right now” comments, the Indians traded away enough talent to make it obvious that not only were the Indians in no position to compete in 2010, the talent received in return puts the team even farther behind.

Let’s take a quick look at some the trading season deals from the Indians that set them back so much.

Just last week the trade between the Indians and St. Louis Cardinals was finalized where the Tribe sent Mark DeRosa over for relief pitchers Jess Todd and Chris Perez. Something about Cleveland has not agreed with Perez as his performance in Cleveland has been spotty and subpar. Todd, who has decent numbers in Triple A this season, probably will not make his major league debut until September.

Formerly solid middle reliever Rafael Betancourt was traded to Colorado for minor league pitcher Connor Graham, who is not likely to reach the majors until 2010 at the earliest (if ever).

Next is first baseman Ryan Garko, a player who is arbitration eligible at the end of the season. The Indians traded Garko to the San Francisco Giants – straight up – for a Single A pitcher, left-hander Scott Barnes. While Barnes is excellent – in Single A ball – the move does not show the aggressiveness needed to compete in 2010. It’s also a suspicious trade considering Garko knocked in 61 and 90 runs respectively in the last two seasons – all without consistent playing time. Apparently those numbers are only good enough to get a Single A prospect in return. For fans, I am sure it is hard to understand how an established major leaguer is worth the same as a Single A player… who could fall victim to any number of problems in his still developing career that prevent him from ever making his major league debut.

Then, of course, there are the big trades. For the second consecutive season the Indians traded the reigning American League Cy Young award winner, this time left-hander Cliff Lee (along with outfielder Ben Francisco) to the Philadelphia Phillies. The return on Lee (or, ROL) was no cache of major-league ready players primed to make the Indians contenders in 2010. They received pitchers Jason Knapp and Carlos Carrasco, infielder Jason Donald, and catcher Lou Marson. Of course no one knows the names. But, that’s not why there’s an issue with this trade. Lee did not have to be traded. He was under contract for next season (at an affordable $8M… good for a Cy Young winner – in Cleveland or anywhere). His value was not at its peak. More, the prospects Cleveland received in return did not include any of the big name pitchers in the Phillies minor league system. A Cy Young winner for a group of “might bes…” not even “probably wills.”

Last, the trade of catcher/first baseman Victor Martinez yielded just Justin Masterson – a reliever the Indians are going to convert to starter – pitcher Bryan Price, and pitcher Nick Hagadone. Price and Hagadone have had good seasons, but they are also single A players. It is unlikely that those players make an impact in 2009 or 2010. Plus, Martinez is under contract next season, and he was willing to stay with the Indians. He was a clubhouse leader the Indians badly needed, and a willing one at that. Instead, the future was traded for… the farther out future?

The entirety of the trade season, and the pieces Shapiro went after, do not indicate that the Indians are close to a World Series. Rather than trading for consistent bats (the Indians primary need along with the bullpen), Shapiro targeted a lot of relievers. It’s a misdiagnosis of the issues with the team. The Indians are not in need of a couple of relief pitching pieces to get over the hump, especially without rotation anchor Lee and star of the future Martinez.

Sure, Shapiro saved the Indians $16M in payroll for next season. But, at what cost… the cost of being a respectable, competitive major league baseball team next season? The cost of the present proved too high for the Indians, and they’ll again begin grooming the stars of tomorrow – who will likely blossom with another team. Look no further than Franklin Gutierrez’s success in Seattle this year for evidence of poor decision-making on talent in Cleveland.

Claiming competitiveness many years down the road is not acceptable to fans – whether they are season ticket holders or not. It’s offensive. The organization is taking the fan’s money for granted, showing they do not have to field a competitive team every year to get the fan’s money. Safe to say, even the penny-pinching Dolan family (who own the Indians) will not be able to accept another failure in 2010. The best way for them to get to that realization is by fans refusing to shell out their cash for an inferior product. It’s time for some accountability in Cleveland!

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