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The column you didn't read thanks to the Indians

August 2, 2011 - Zach Baker
I wrote this column Saturday afternoon, basically as a warning to the Indians about trading prospects. I had it on the page, it was ready to go, and then... the Indians traded two of their top prospects, and two other prospects, for Ubaldo Jimenez. By the time the deal went down, it was too late to re-write it. Still, the lesson remains. For the Tribe's sake, I hope they don't have to learn it again.

Here's the column.:

When the Indians were contending in the late 1990s, it was one of the most exciting nights of the summer. The trading deadline. It was a magical night, and it was the equivalent of desperate shoppers filling their carts with toys on Christmas Eve.

When I was in high school, my friend and I would stay up all night and wait for the results (the deadline was at midnight then). Would the Tribe get Randy Johnson? David Wells? Denny Neagle? The Indians contended every year between 1994 and 2001. In just about every one of those years, they made a trade to grab a player they thought would solidify them for the postseason run. Perhaps due to my lack of patience, I didn't care what Cleveland gave up. Richie Sexson for Bob Wickman? Sure, they need another closer. Reliever Steve Kline for Jeff Juden? Well, OK, Juden was kind of sort of good once.

What I didn't understand then was that trading prospects for veterans was a dangerous game, one that could come back to haunt your team. It didn't matter then because I wanted my team to win now. The fact that Sexson and Kline would go on to have solid major league careers with other teams showed the gamble of dealing at the deadline. In the search of instant gratification, you mortgage the future.

This became all the more apparent a few years later. With a farm system devoid of prospects and with an aging roster, the Indians blew things up in 2002, and again several times after that. I bring this up because the Indians, to the shock of just about everyone, entered play Saturday just 2 ½ games out of first place. For the first time since 2007, the Tribe is in the position of being buyers — that is, surrendering prospects for a veteran who could help the team win the division. The Indians, riddled with injuries and a lineup about as imposing as an action film starring Zac Efron, already have made a move, getting outfielder Kosuke Fukudome from the Cubs.

But rumors persist that the Indians aren't done. There are a few impact players left, most notably Colorado starter Ubaldo Jiminez, who won 19 games last season. But to get Jimenez (who has been an underwhelming 6-9 with a 4.20 earned run average), Cleveland likely would have to part with at least one of its top four prospects — second baseman Jason Kipnis, third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall, or pitchers Alex White and Drew Pomeranz.

That price is too steep.

As much fun as it has been to watch the Indians contend, the reality is they entered play Saturday just one game better than .500, and are playing in a weak division. Perhaps more disconcerting, the team has played poorly since a red-hot start. After beginning the year 30-15, the Indians have gone 22-36.

That seems like more than an aberration.

The point is, Cleveland is more than one talented player away from making a serious run at a championship. The mid-to-late 1990s were fun, but they also serve as a warning. Cleveland gave up future stars like Jeremy Burnitz, Sean Casey and Brian Giles for veterans, and then when the veterans got old or left in free agency, the team was left with neither a future or rings.

Not all of those trades were deadline deals, but all of them represent an “act now, worry later” philosophy.

If the Indians part with one of their “big four,” it could be history repeating itself. It may make for a boring deadline, but that's OK.

History tells us so.


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