The Cleveland Indians were a cool little story in the first half of the 2012 season. They went into the All-Star break with a record of 44-41 and were a mere three games out of first place in the AL Central.
They are now 54-64 and 11 games back. Just as it did in 2011, the second half of the season is doing a number on the Tribe.
The Indians have no shortage of problems. Their starting pitching has been a wreck for much of the season, and their offense simply doesn't have enough depth to produce runs on a consistent basis. It's clear that they have improvements to make this offseason.
But here's a better idea: Instead of the Indians trying to right their ship, how about tearing it apart and building a new one in its place?
In other words, now is the time to rebuild rather than retool.
I fully realize that rebuilding is not an idea that should be tossed around lightly. But in the case of the Indians, a rebuilding movement is warranted.
Here are seven reasons why.
Note: Virtually all of the stats and key information within come from Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
The Indians have been over .500 at the All-Star break each of the last two seasons, which may lead some to believe that they are a classic case of a good team with really bad luck.
But, honestly, just how good are these Indians?
Not very. The Indians don't have a single reliable starting pitcher, and their offense features noticeable holes at first base, third base, left field and designated hitter (true to form, Travis Hafner has been hurt for much of the year).
It's hard to win when you don't have good starting pitching, and even harder to win when you don't have at least one ace. The Indians have one guy with ace stuff in Justin Masterson and another guy who used to have ace stuff in Ubaldo Jimenez. But neither is a true No. 1 starting pitcher.
Offensively, there's a lot to like about Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo. Of the four, however, three are streaky hitters (Choo being the exception). Even if they were consistent, trusting the four to take care of the offense on a daily basis would be asking a lot.
There's little to complain about the Indians' bullpen. Chris Perez is really good, and he has a collection of quality setup men at his side. A good bullpen, however, is only worth so much when the rest of the team is lacking.
It's therefore no surprise that Cleveland's Pythagorean record is 48-70. That the Indians are 54-64 is a sign that they're not underachieving, but overachieving.
That can be explained by the grittiness that the club has under Manny Acta, who has done a good job this season with the talent he has at his disposal.
But that's the dilemma. Talent wins ballgames, and the Indians don't have enough of it.
The Indians have a 20-27 record against AL Central teams, and that record would be a lot worse if not for their 7-5 record against the Detroit Tigers.
That record is misleading, however. The Indians beat up on the Tigers for much of the season, but they never were a better team than the Tigers on paper. It was just a matter of time before Detroit broke through and put the Indians in their place.
That happened earlier this month when the Tigers swept the Indians in a three-game series in convincing fashion.
The Indians were also swept by the White Sox the last time they played them. They're 4-8 against the White Sox this season.
The Indians obviously aren't catching either of those two teams this season. What should concern them going forward is that the Tigers and the White Sox are set up for sustained success. The Indians aren't.
The Tigers have an excellent core of star players in Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Austin Jackson, all of whom are in the prime of their careers. Doug Fister and Max Scherzer are also quite good, and they'll be around for a while as well.
The White Sox are also in pretty good shape, with young stars like Chris Sale and Dayan Viciedo and veteran stars like Adam Dunn and Alex Rios locked up for the foreseeable future. They tend to look weak on paper, but general manager Kenny Williams is as good as anybody in the business at solving problems.
Compared to the Tigers and White Sox, Cleveland's future is uncertain. They have good young players (Cabrera, Kipnis, Santana, Masterson, et al) locked up, but the rest of the roster is going to be a revolving door this offseason and the offseason after that.
One solution would be to take advantage of the free agent market, but that's not so easy in a market like Cleveland.
According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, the Indians opened the season with a payroll of just over $65 million.
They're not going to go much higher than that any time soon. Since 2002, Cleveland's payroll hasn't climbed any higher than $81 million. The Indians have tended to operate fairly comfortably in the $60-80 million range.
There are good reasons for this, chief among them being that Cleveland isn't the kind of market that generates tons of revenue for Larry Dolan to spend on free agents. It doesn't help that the Indians are once again among the lowest of the low in MLB in terms of attendance.
Also, there's no denying that Cleveland isn't exactly a hot spot for big-name free agents. The dollars aren't there, and the Indians can't promise championships the way that the Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers and Angels can.
The Indians will have money to spend this offseason, to be sure. Grady Sizemore is coming off the books, and Travis Hafner could too if the Indians choose to buy him out rather than pick up his $13 million option.
Even despite this, a big spending spree is highly unlikely. If the Indians commit to spending money, they'll have to be content to spend it on bargain players and reclamation projects. They won't be inking any superstars.
Since buying them isn't an option, the Indians really have no choice but to develop their own superstars.
And sadly, that's not much of an option right now either.
The Indians had a very good farm system heading into 2011. Baseball America, for example, had it ranked as the seventh-best in baseball.
A couple of things have happened since then. Jason Kipnis (pictured) is now in the majors as Cleveland's everyday second baseman. Lonnie Chisenhall no longer qualifies as a prospect after stints in the majors in 2011 and 2012. Last season before the trade deadline, the Indians traded two of their top prospects.
In the process, Cleveland's farm system got worse. Heading into 2012, the consensus is that the Indians now have one of the worst farm systems in the league (No. 29, according to Baseball America).
The Indians do have some talent down on the farm, most notably shortstop Francisco Lindor. They just don't have a lot of talent down on the farm, which is discouraging seeing as how they're at a point in time where they need as much young talent as they can get.
With Sizemore and possibly Hafner and Roberto Hernandez coming off the books this offseason, the Indians are finally going to rid themselves of the final remnants of their last truly great team in 2007. It's a process that has been ongoing for what feels like too long a time.
For a while there, the Indians were progressing toward a proper transition. The plans they had in place called for a young, talented team to be on the field by the time Sizemore, Hafner and assorted other veterans were out of town.
They basically abandoned those plans in 2011, and a lack of talent in the minors isn't the only price they're paying for their shortsightedness.
And that leads us to the next point...
The Indians were barely over .500 when they decided to trade for Ubaldo Jimenez last season at the trade deadline. The justification for the trade was that they were very much in the race despite their mediocre record, and that they needed an ace to punch their ticket to the postseason.
Even at the time, it was obvious that they were making a mistake.
Yes, they needed an ace. But Jimenez was no ace. He had a 4.46 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP when the Indians traded for him.
Worse, the warning signs were there that Jimenez's struggles were no fluke. In addition to his poor showing in 2011, there was Jimenez's poor showing in the second half of the 2010 season and his declining velocity to take into account.
The Indians decided to risk it anyway, eventually shipping four prospects to the Rockies in exchange for Jimenez. Among the four were two of their top pitching prospects in Alex White and Drew Pomeranz.
Jimenez was a disaster for the Indians upon his arrival in 2011, going 4-4 with an ERA over 5.00. He's been a disaster once again this season, going 9-12 with an ERA of 5.62.
According to FanGraphs, Jimenez's WAR is 0.0. There is literally no difference between him and a scrub from the minor leagues.
The Jimenez trade would have been worth it if the Indians had gotten the Jimenez who went 15-1 with a 2.20 ERA before the All-Star break in 2010.
Instead, they have to be wondering if they even want to pick up Jimenez's $5.75 million option for next season. They may be better off paying him $1 million to go away.
That's how bad he's been. If Chris Antonetti could have this trade back, he'd probably do it in a heartbeat.
The Indians have neither money nor payroll flexibility, so signing superstars isn't an option.
And since they are short on talented minor leaguers, trading for superstars isn't an option either.
Improving their chances in the short term is therefore going to be very difficult.
Improving their chances in the long term, on the other hand, is far from impossible. All the Indians have to do is deal their deal-able assets.
Among the names that come to mind are Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo, Justin Masterson and Chris Perez.
These four players represent a good chunk of the core that the Indians hope will allow them to contend in 2013, but they're kidding themselves if they think they actually have enough talent to do anything of note in 2013. Instead of chasing that ghost, they're better off getting what they can for their star players and setting themselves up for success down the road.
And indeed, the Indians will make a killing if they choose to trade these players. Choo is one of the most underrated hitters in the game. Cabrera's a young, star-caliber shortstop controllable through 2014. Masterson has great stuff and is also controllable through 2014. Perez is a proven closer who's controllable through, you guessed it, 2014.
If general manager Chris Antonetti chooses to go into fire sale mode this offseason, he'll be able to rebuild Cleveland's farm system in the blink of an eye. He'll have enough young talent to build a championship-caliber club from the ground up.
And that's a road the Indians went down not too long ago.
Remember the 2007 Indians? You know, the team that came within one win of going to the World Series?
That was a great team, and what made them so appealing was that their wins weren't bought.
As far as WAR is concerned, Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez, Travis Hafner and Jhonny Peralta were four of the Indians' five best position players that season.
Sizemore and Hafner were traded for when they were still prospects. Martinez and Peralta were signed as amateur free agents.
Three of Cleveland's top four pitchers that year were CC Sabathia, Roberto Hernandez (still Fausto Carmona back then) and Rafael Perez.
Sabathia was drafted, and Hernandez and Perez were acquired as amateur free agents.
Building a winner from the ground up worked once. It will work again if the Indians make a few tough decisions this winter.
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