How to Play the 300-Pound Ace in Your Pocket

Jeffrey SantonAnalyst IJune 10, 2008

We're sixty-five games into the Cleveland Indians' season, and things haven't exactly gone as planned.

After falling one game short of the World Series last year, the Indians were picked by many to win it all this year. Their start doesn't exactly have those same prognosticators patting themselves on the back thus far.

The Cleveland Indians are 30-35 and 8.5 games out of first place. Starting pitching has been one of the Indians' only strong suits. The offense has been dismal, and last year's lights-out bullpen hasn't been much better.

The Indians' bullpen has a 4.81 ERA, second-worst in the American League. Their batting average is only .240, which is the lowest overall in the AL and second worst in all of baseball.

The question now for the Cleveland Indians (and most notably general manager Mark Shapiro) is: Where do we go from here?

One could make the argument that it is still early in the season, which it is. The White Sox also might not strike one as an unstoppable force that will be impossible to catch, which may also be true.

But the way the Indians are struggling so far, they may not have to be. Someone may simply take this division, once thought to be best in baseball this year, by default.

Mark Shapiro is going to have to earn his paycheck. Over the next month, he must carefully consider what the plan of attack is going to be. Does he tear the team apart and build for next year, or does he attempt to make the moves to right the ship this year and contend in a surprisingly weak AL Central?

A lot of that will depend on the players and how they perform before the July 31 trade deadline. Based on how the Indians play, and Shapiro's confidence in his ballclub's ability to excel in the second half, he must make the decision of how and when to use the 6'7", 300-pound ace in his pocket: C.C. Sabathia.

If the Tribe's woes continue, Sabathia will most likely be the Indians' ticket to a few new prospects, which Shapiro values more than your average GM. Maybe he could add a few affordable sticks that he could hang onto for the long term.

Regardless of the name on the jersey, Shapiro will stay true to form and continue to obtain cheaper, 'more-bang-for-your-buck', long-term probability guys.

This is not breaking news.

But the 2007 Cy Young winner may not be as easy to trade for value as many think he is.

One has to think Sabathia is going to want to test the waters of free agency, and if a team can only be assured that Sabathia will be playing for them the second half of this season, they won't be trading the farm to get him.

Also, Sabathia isn't exactly the most limber of men, so GMs may be afraid to sign him to a big money, seven-year contract. Sabathia's weight makes him injury-prone in a lot of GMs' minds, and it is sure to scare some from offering long-term deals.

According to some clubs, the Indians are floating Sabathia's name out there. They are making it known that they aren't interested in pulling the trigger as of yet, but may be a few losing streaks from doing so.

According to Jason Stark, "The Indians are heavily scouting the Boston Red Sox." So obviously, Shapiro has grasped it may be time to consider planning for 2009.

On the other hand, if the Indians can muster up a few wins and the bullpen and bats come alive, the Indians will begin to resemble the team from a year ago.  Shapiro would then hold his ace and use it for battle in the second half of the season.

The Indians could then try and look around for some plug-in pieces for the home stretch. Unfortunately, Adam Miller, who was on every MLB team's wish list, has continued to be unreliable in the health department, and with another injury, he will not be traded this year.

Aaron Laffey is another guy with huge trade value, but with a season-ending injury to Jake Westbrook and Laffey pitching the way he is, the club needs him. Shapiro has never been one to sacrifice the future either.

Others, such as Kelly Shoppach, could be bargaining tools. The Pirates showed a lot of interest this past offseason, and maybe if the right guy was tossed in, (Aubrey, Sowers, Marte) the Tribe could land a Jason Bay-type player to throw in the outfield.

Honestly though, we could talk trade rumors all day, but unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), I don't believe any major deals will be done.

Minus a Sabathia deal in a lost season, the only move I see getting done will be a Ryan Garko lock-up for long-term. Some have given him a hard time this year, but let's remember: It is only his second season in the bigs.

All that being said, only time will tell. A lot could happen between now and July 31. Hopefully for those of us who are Tribe fans, it will be a lot of wins, and instead of speculating whether or not to rebuild, we can start getting ready for a competitive AL Central race to the playoffs.