The 2013 post-All Star break Cleveland Indians are looking a lot like the post-All Star break Cleveland Indians from the previous two seasons. They have lost four out of five games since returning to action this past Friday. Given that it’s only been five games and the team has been streaky up to this point this season anyway, I am going to take their recent dismal play with a grain of salt and remain under the belief that this team is still a legitimate threat to dethrone the Detroit Tigers from their roost atop the AL Central.
Rich Hill has been less than stellar for the Indians in 2013. (Photo credit: Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Much like Detroit, the Indians have had trouble finding consistency within the bullpen. What was widely regarded as the team’s biggest strength heading into the season has now become its biggest weakness. Struggles from the normally reliable Vinnie Pestano have forced his move from the setup role. Currently, the club’s only left-handed relief pitcher is Rich Hill, who has been routinely awful (1-2, 6.51 ERA in 40 appearances). The off-season acquisitions of relievers Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw have played out relatively well thus far, although Shaw has seen his fair share off ups-and-downs this season.
Albers, Joe Smith, Cody Allen, and (gasp!) Chris Perez all seem to be holding their own, but it’s all downhill from there as Pestano, Hill, Shaw, and a host of others (Nick Hagadone, Scott Barnes, etc.) have left quite a bit to be desired. The Indians have a flurry of right-handed pitching options in Triple-A Columbus that could be of use in the ‘pen for the upcoming months, such as Preston Guilmet and C.C. Lee. Guilmet has been stellar for the Clippers, even earning a trip to the Triple-A All-Star Game where he picked up the save for the International League. Lee has performed well this year, also, and both have been impressive in short-lived stints with the Tribe this season.
If only switch-pitching was as prominent as switch-hitting, then the team might be alright. Unfortunately, ambidexterity is not a skill of any of the club’s pitchers, so Tribe fans are stuck with Rich Hill, Nick Hagadone, and Scott Barnes as being the Indians’ best left-handed options. The Indians recently signed journeymen left-handed relievers J.C. Romero and Clay Rapada to minor-league deals, but they are seen as little more than last resort options at this point.
Although the team has been heavily rumored to be pursuing top-of-the-rotation starters as the trade deadline approaches, it is much more likely that Antonetti and Co. will end up acquiring a left-handed relief pitcher to help solidify a bullpen that is in dire need of replacing Rich Hill as the team’s go-to lefty reliever.
Here is a list of some of the lefties on the trade market that could fill the need:
James Russell, Chicago Cubs
This 27 year-old lefty has been pitching admirably for a team that is in full-fledged seller mode, and rumors are circulating that Chicago has been dangling every tradeable piece they have, outside of a few young building blocks (Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, etc.). The Cubs recently traded starting pitcher Matt Garza, who was also on the Indians’ wish list, to the Texas Rangers. They are also currently working on a deal that would send outfielder Alfonso Soriano back to New York as a member of the Yankees. Russell, a Cincinnati native, has spent four years with the Cubs. He posted solid numbers in 2012, and has performed even better this season (2.70 ERA, 16 holds). Most importantly, opposing left-handers are batting only .182 off of Russell in 2013. If acquired, Russell could become a key member of the Tribe bullpen for the next few years ( he will not hit free agency until 2016) and provide an instant upgrade over Rich Hill as manager Terry Francona’s go-to situational lefty.
Mike Gonzalez, Milwaukee Brewers
Brewers lefty Mike Gonzalez could be a relatively cheap trade deadline acquisition for the Tribe. (Photo credit: Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
Gonzalez has resurrected his career over the past two seasons while spending 2012 in Washington and 2013 in Milwaukee. The 35-year old lefty has posted a 2.88 ERA thus far in 50 appearances for the Brewers, who also possess another asset the Indians desire in starter Yovani Gallardo. A deal consisting of both Gallardo and Gonzalez seems unlikely, though, as the Tribe would likely have to give up far too much to acquire Gallardo. Given that Gonzalez will be a free agent after this season, his acquisition would likely be a short-term solution to the Indians’ bullpen issues and may not be worth the price tag. His age, however, may also prevent that price tag from reaching great heights. Regardless, his presence would provide the bullpen with a much more stable left-handed option for the Tribe’s 2013 playoff push.
Oliver Perez, Seattle Mariners
This once promising starter has transformed his career in Seattle while producing very quality numbers as a relief pitcher. After posting a 2.12 ERA in 2012, Perez has picked up right where he left off by posting a 1.98 ERA in 39 appearances so far this season. He has been strangely more dominant against righties (.181 average against righties, .262 average against lefties), but his acquisition would (once again) bring a drastic improvement over Rich Hill. Throwing a possible wrench in the acquisition of any Mariners could be the recent proclamation by Seattle’s front office that they are not going to be sellers this season as the trade deadline approaches, as they are currently riding an eight-game win streak which has propelled them to third place in the AL West and a 48-52 record. However, I have a strong feeling that, if Seattle cools off in the next week, the Mariners may quickly change their tune and gladly take an Indians prospect or two in exchange for Perez.
Uncertainty is at a premium for fans and players alike around the time of the MLB trade deadline, and this year will be no different. As the deadline approaches, however, one thing is certain in Cleveland: Somebody has to replace Rich Hill.