COMMENTARY | The Cleveland Indians will have some interesting decisions ahead of them in the next few weeks, that much is for sure.
As of right now, the Tribe is in a proverbial no man's land in regards to the July 31 trade deadline. Only two games above .500, yet just four games behind the Detroit Tigers in the American League Central, the Indians do not yet know if they will be a buyer or a seller five weeks from now. Complicating matters are Cleveland's perennial frugality, a farm system that isn't exactly loaded, and the fact that the Tribe players most teams would love to have, such as second baseman Jason Kipnis or catcher Carlos Santana, are off limits.
That begs the question: Who can the Indians trade that is expendable and can provide some good value in return?
Outfielder Drew Stubbs is certainly expendable at this point, but it's doubtful any team would want a guy with a .239 average, weak power numbers, and who strikes out a third of the time. Pitcher Scott Kazmir wouldn't really be missed in the rotation, but like Stubbs, Kazmir isn't exactly setting the world on fire in 2013, so there wouldn't be much interest in him by prospective trade partners. Fellow starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez would go for the right price, unfortunately that price isn't too high at this point for the man that finished third in the National League Cy Young voting in 2010.
Outfielder Ryan Raburn on the other hand, has had a good year in 2013 in limited action, and could bring a quality relief pitcher in a trade. As the fourth outfielder, he is potentially trade bait, especially since the Indians seem intent on letting Stubbs play everyday, but realistically the Tribe can't afford to get rid of a solid bat at this point. That leaves one player that is proven, expendable, and could bring the Tribe a decent player in return: Joe Smith.
A key part of the Indians bullpen, Smith is having another fine year in 2013, posting a 1.71 ERA in 29 appearances. While it would hurt the Indians to lose the change of pace that Smith's unique sidearm/submarine pitching style brings, there are plenty of reinforcements waiting in the wings in the Tribe bullpen. Matt Albers, Cody Allen, and Bryan Shaw are all pitching well this season, so it's not really a stretch to imagine that one of those three could fill Smith's shoes should he be traded.
The Indians most pressing need right now is to get a guy that can hit for average and get on base consistently. Hitting for power is certainly not a problem for the Tribe, but it's getting harder and harder to stomach a lineup where a third of the players(Stubbs, Mark Reynolds, and Nick Swisher)are hitting in the .230 range. With Raburn ably filling the gaps in the outfield, the Indians would do well to pick up a utility infielder that can get aboard more often than Mike Aviles and his sub-.290 on base percentage.
No matter what happens, it will certainly be entertaining to see what direction the Indians choose to go in come late July.
Shaun Heidrick is a Yahoo! Contributor that has followed the Cleveland Indians for 25 years.
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