Friday, July 19, 2019 Medina 81°
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Tribe Notes

For the Indians, payment comes due for title that never was

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    Jason Kipnis, left, is hugged by starting pitcher Mike Clevinger after the Houston Astros defeated the Indians 11-3 in Game 3 of a baseball American League Division Series, Oct. 8 in Cleveland.

    PHIL LONG / AP

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The Indians have run the race, and they’ve lost. Well, maybe not lost, but they didn’t win it all. At least not with the cast they thought was capable of winning it all, which it was. But it didn’t.

Now comes the next challenge. How do they execute a necessary reconfiguration of assets in order to maintain their place and stature in the championship hunt?

At this point, all we know for sure is that the Indians seem willing to trade one of their top three starting pitchers to fill a hole elsewhere on their roster — that Grand Canyon-sized crater in their outfield comes to mind — but also, reality being the grim reaper it so frequently is, because the Indians simply can’t afford to employ indefinitely three starting pitchers as great as Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer.

That, boys and girls, is the REAL tragedy of the lost opportunities to win the World Series in any of the last three years. The Indians had a World Series championship-caliber starting rotation all three years. Sure, there were some injuries, but that’s all part of it.

On paper, the Indians’ rotation was good enough to win the World Series at least once. But, for a variety of reasons, they didn’t. And now they are forced to contemplate dismantling part of that rotation they worked so hard to assemble.

These are tricky times and complex maneuvers being contemplated by the Chris Antonetti Dance Company. Trading starting pitching in a market starved for it sounds like a seller’s dream, which it is — but only to a point, beyond which it can become a dangerous game of roster roulette.

The latest hint that the Indians are apparently willing to push more chips to the center of the table than was previously believed, occurred with USA Today’s Bob

Nightengale reporting that, according to teams talking to Cleveland, the Indians are more inclined to trade Bauer than Kluber or Carrasco, primarily for economic reasons.

Being proactive is never a pretty sight, but this is the reality the Indians, and other non-major market teams face. It hurts more and looks worse in the Indians’ case, only because they have been so adroit, and worked so hard to construct a consistent winner, despite their financial limitations.

The trade of one of their top three starting pitchers, which at this point seems slightly more likely than unlikely, is by itself not an unreasonable strategy. The Indians do have a couple of major roster holes. They need an impact outfield bat and at least one, preferably two, dependable relievers.

One of those three starters could be used to address those needs. Kluber makes the most sense, because he’s the oldest of the three and has the most impressive resume.

Bauer would be the most painful to trade. He’s younger than the other two, and may one day have a portfolio every bit as extraordinary as Kluber’s.

But there is only so much money under the mattress to go around, and the hard decisions Indians officials knew they would one day have to make, are now knocking on the door.

If there’s a silver lining — and, let’s face it, in Cleveland, we specialize in searching for silver linings — it’s that the Indians, by reducing the Big Three by one, can presumably fortify another area of a roster that needs fortifying.

Small consolation there, however. Because, ideally, you’d prefer to keep riding the Kluber/Bauer/Carrasco road grader into postseasons until you finally win one. But that’s apparently not going to happen.

Not only that, but what shouldn’t happen is what might happen. If the Indians trade Bauer, they would potentially have to cope with the queasiness they would feel for having ushered him to the brink of stardom, only to have another team cash in on his peak years.

Those peak years are going to be pricy years, the kind of pricy that only teams such as the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers can afford.

Bauer is eligible for arbitration this winter and next winter, and he’ll become a free agent after the 2020 season. There is probably no pitcher in the game more likely to become a free agent after the 2020 season than the ultra-confident Bauer, who knows there is a monster contract waiting for him in free agency. The Indians will have no chance — none — of keeping him beyond 2020.

So, as painful as it might be, why not trade him now? Or a year from now? The Indians can’t afford to not trade him at some point. The only question is not why, but when?

Who knows? We may have already seen the last of the Indians’ Big Three. They should have won a World Series with this rotation. But they didn’t. And now, they probably won’t.

Contact Jim Ingraham at jingraham4@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jim_Ingraham.


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