July rolled around and the Cleveland Indians found themselves in a position they haven't been in since 2007—fighting for a playoff spot. Recently this has been the time of year to trade off Cy Young winners and perennial All-Stars for the Tribe. This year proved to be quite the opposite.
I'll start off by reviewing the trades from the smallest impact to the largest impact, and will follow that up with additional commentary.
The Indians traded 2B Orlando Cabrera to the San Francisco Giants for Triple-A OF Thomas Neal. Neal is still relatively young and is hitting .295, but he has only hit two HR this year. He could potentially be a fourth outfielder in the future in my opinion. This trade wasn't so much about acquiring Neal as it was getting rid of Orlando Cabrera. Cabrera served the purpose he was brought in for. He kept the 2B job warm while Jason Kipnis was developing at Triple-A.
Now that Kipnis has been handed the starting job the Indians need more of a versatile defender and spark plug off the bench. Calling up Jason Donald to fill that role is perfect. He can play 2B, SS and 3B while still hitting at a level equal to or greater than Cabrera can at this point. He also brings a lot more speed off the bench for late game pinch-running situations. Jason Donald's ceiling is as a top notch backup middle infielder. He now gets to embrace that role on a permanent basis.
So far Kipnis has responded to his increased job security by hitting a home run in four games in a row. The first Indians rookie to do so since Al Rosen. The early results of this trade look very positive for Cleveland.
The Indians traded for RF Kosuke Fukudome from the Chicago Cubs for prospects RP Carlton Smith and OF Abner Abreu. I use the term prospects loosely here. Smith was in the bullpen at Triple-A with an ERA of 4.50. He isn't even young for Triple-A. Suffice to say, he will be lucky to ever be more than a mop up man out of the bullpen at the big league level. Abreu had shown a little pop in his bat as well as some speed (12 HR and 19 SB), but he was only hitting .244 at Class A Kinston. If he can't hit better than that in A-ball I highly doubt he ever makes it to the majors.
A left-handed OF bat wasn't really a pressing need for Cleveland seeing as how Sizemore, Choo, Brantley and Carrera are all lefties. However, upgrading from Travis Buck to Fukudome was worth the cost of two dud prospects. The need and the reward weren't high, but when the cost is almost non-existent why not pull the trigger? Fukudome should provide a nice stop-gap until Sizemore and Choo come back healthy. He plays solid defense and provides an above-average OBP for the lineup. Down the stretch he can provide the occasional day off to the starters, while primarily serving as a nice left-handed pinch hit option.
So far Fukudome hasn't given me any reason to hate this trade. He certainly has been superior to Buck and as previously mentioned the cost of acquiring him was almost non-existent. I expect his numbers to improve as he becomes more comfortable in his new surroundings.
Now for the biggest trade that any team made at the deadline.
Cleveland traded prospects Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Matt McBride and Joe Gardner to the Colorado Rockies for Ubaldo Jimenez. McBride and Gardner are two prospects that you shouldn't lose any sleep over trading away. McBride might eventually make it to the big leagues as a bench player while Gardner had an ERA of 4.99 at Double-A. This trade was all about Pomeranz and White. White has already made it to the big leagues. He looked solid in his short time up with the Tribe before suffering a significant finger injury. He has been out since May 21st with the injury. If he had remained healthy, I truly believe that White has No. 2 starter potential at best while No. 4 starter potential at worst. He should pitch in the big leagues for awhile assuming his finger problem is a thing of the past and he doesn't experience any other injury problems.
However, after the Adam Miller finger fiasco I am more accepting of trading White than I would have been in the past. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Miller, he was the Indians first round pick in the 2003 MLB Draft. At one point he was ranked as high as the 16th best prospect in all of baseball due to his flame thrower of an arm. However, he suffered a career-threatening middle finger injury that has required four surgeries.
I went as far as to suggest he consider amputating part or all of his middle finger in the past. I am a former pitcher and realize the importance of the middle finger. However, I also had three fingers chopped off and sewn back on my left hand (I am right-handed). Former Indians closer Bob Wickman was missing part of his index finger from a childhood farming accident that greatly enhanced some of his pitches. Mordecai Three Finger Brown made it to the Hall of Fame without all of his digits. Maybe I was cut from the same cloth as Ronnie Lott, but drastic times call for drastic measures. White's finger injury coupled with the Miller finger fiasco makes me much less worried about dealing away White.
The player I most fear will end up haunting the Indians is Drew Pomeranz. He is a big left-hander with a superb fastball and a plus curveball. Those sort of pitchers don't come around very often. I feel like he has Cy Young award potential. He is currently only at Double A, but you get the feeling he could be big league ready in less than a year. He has true ace potential and the Indians could have controlled him for six years. Those are the sort of players you hate to give up under any circumstance.
In his first start since getting traded to Cleveland, Ubaldo Jimenez pitched a sub-par game while getting a no-decision against the Texas Rangers. He was actually in line for the win before Chris Perez melted down in the ninth inning. I was willing to chalk that start up to nerves. The day before Ubaldo's second start the Indians won a 14 inning marathon game against the Detroit Tigers. In the process they burned through everyone in the bullpen. Ubaldo had to come up big in his second start to narrow the gap between the Tigers and Indians to two games. The Big U, as Manny Acta calls him, did not disappoint. He went eight innings and only gave up three runs while picking up his first win with the Tribe. The key part is really the eight innings. The bullpen was gassed and they needed Ubaldo to eat innings in a major way.
At this point I can't say I hate or love the blockbuster Ubaldo trade with the Rockies. It really depends on what Ubaldo does for the Indians, and to a lesser extent, what Pomeranz and White do for the Rockies. If Ubaldo leads Cleveland to a World Series championship, the first Cleveland title in 47 years and the first for the Indians in 63 years, I could care less if Pomeranz and White dominate for years. A title means that much to me at this point. If Pomeranz and White both flame out, Ubaldo simply has to be a solid pitcher for me to love the trade. We won't be able to fully assess this trade for several more years at least. In the meantime let's just show some love and support for the Big U.
My final note will revolve around a trade the Indians did not make, but needed to in my opinion. Yes, they added and ace, an upgraded left-handed OF bat and cleared the way for the 2B of the future Jason Kipnis. However, they failed to address their biggest need—a good right-handed OF. At the very least one better than Austin Kearns. With an outfield overloaded with left-handed options Cleveland badly needed a righty to balance the roster.
Carlos Beltran, a switch hitter, would have been ideal, but he wasn't willing to waive his no-trade clause to come to Cleveland. The prospects needed to land Hunter Pence were instead spent on Ubaldo. The San Diego Padres wanted too much in return for Ryan Ludwick. It just feels like this is something that can come back to haunt their playoff chances this year.
A waiver wire pickup in August could be huge for this team. A name I would love to see Cleveland nab would be Michael Cuddyer of the Minnesota Twins. He would be exactly what the Tribe would need down the stretch.