CLEVELAND — Unless they make a move during the August waiver-wire period, the Indians are pretty much going with what they’ve got the rest of the season.
While a number of American League rivals — including Kansas City, its closest competition in the Central Division — improved their rosters prior to Monday’s trade deadline, Cleveland’s remained relatively unchanged.
The Indians added some bullpen assistance, bringing back right-handed relief pitcher Joe Smith, who spent the 2009-13 seasons in Cleveland’s bullpen. But despite being mentioned as suitors in a number of trade talks in different areas, the Indians were all but inactive with team president Chris Antonetti telling reporters on a conference call that he was confident his club could contend for a return trip to the World Series.
“I think it would be a little bit short-sighted just to look at moves,” said Antonetti, whose team, a preseason favorite to repeat as AL champs, entered Monday atop the division standings with a two-game lead over the Royals.
“I think what you need to look at is the balance of the team. I think we shared with everyone a couple weeks ago that we feel really good about the group of guys that we have in our clubhouse, and its capabilities to play at a championship level. And our approach as we headed into the deadline was to find guys that complemented that group. So I think the way we look at it is the balance of our roster, and not just what may happen at the deadline over the course of a few days.”
During the days leading up to the deadline, Cleveland was mentioned as potential landing spots for infielder Asdrubal Cabrera, outfielders J.D. Martinez and Jay Bruce and starting pitcher Sonny Gray. The Indians were also reportedly interested in left-handed relievers Zach Britton, Justin Smith and Brad Hand, and were among a number of teams vying to acquire Rangers ace Yu Darvish, who was dealt to the Dodgers at the deadline’s final moments.
Cleveland was likely reluctant to include mega-prospect catcher Francisco Mejia in any trade package.
“It’s hard to say whether or not you’re close,” Antonetti said. “I can say I don’t think there was a player of magnitude that was either traded or discussed that we didn’t have some dialogue about. Now, where in the end those ultimately led, it’s hard for me to say, because I’m not sitting in those GMs’ chairs.”
In Smith, who was acquired for Double-A Akron pitcher Thomas Pannone and Class A Mahoning Valley second baseman Samad Taylor, the Indians get a
late-inning reliever to ease the burden on the back end trio of Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen.
“Yeah, that was part of our hope with this,” Antonetti said of Smith, who has appeared in 38 games for Toronto this season, posting a 3-0 record and 3.28 ERA. “As we looked at our options, we did want to try to find a guy that could fit in with that group and, hopefully, in certain situations maybe take some pressure off of them. If Joe can eat some of those outs and take some of that workload off some of those other guys, that would definitely be a benefit. That group has pitched exceedingly well for the balance of the season, but one of the things that we sought to do as we headed into the deadline was to try to fortify it if we could.”
Smith, 33, returns to his home state of Ohio, where he graduated from Wright State University near Dayton. His wife, Allie LaForce, is a CBS reporter and anchor and former Vermilion High sports standout. Smith will be closer to his mother who is battling Huntington’s disease. He attended a fundraiser for the illness last week in Cleveland.
“I think we all know Joe’s an extraordinary fit on our team and we’ve got a great deal of respect for him as an influence in the clubhouse and a teammate,” Antonetti said of Smith, an 11-year veteran who owns a lifetime 2.95 ERA. “But he’s also been a really effective reliever that we think complements our group really well. He’s been one of the most effective pitchers in baseball against right-handed hitters and hopefully he can come in and pitch in some meaningful spots in our bullpen.”
The Indians have gotten two impressive outings from Danny Salazar since his activation from the disabled list and are expected to get a boost from the return of injured second baseman Jason Kipnis and outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall.
“I think when you look at the guys that we have returning from injury — either guys like Danny who have returned, or as we look at the near-term horizon with Jason and Lonnie — those guys coming back definitely shaped our view of the deadline,” Antonetti said. “And to see Danny come out and make two really good starts gave us confidence in our rotation moving forward. And so, it maybe changed the shape and the types of guys that we looked at on the market.”
An injury to right-hander Josh Tomlin will force the Indians back to a five-man rotation.
Tomlin was placed on the 10-day disabled list Monday with a left hamstring strain. Tomlin had not allowed a hit through four innings of Sunday’s series finale in Chicago, but left after feeling discomfort while warming up prior to the fifth.