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Friday, July 26, 2013
Indians stuck in contention limbo

By Matt Meyers

I'm not sure there is any team in a more difficult spot leading up to the trade deadline than the Cleveland Indians. No one -- and this probably includes members of the Indians' front office -- thinks they are as good as the Detroit Tigers. However, after a wild walk-off win against the Texas Rangers on Friday night, the Tribe sit just three games out of first place.

It was the kind of game that was shaping up as a disaster for the Indians, who jumped out to a 7-1 lead in the fourth inning only to see the Rangers fight back to tie the game at 8-8 in the eighth. Both teams' bats went quite for a few innings before Ryan Raburn ended the affair with a three-run, walk-off homer in the 11th to give Cleveland a thrilling 11-8 victory.

Of course, the Tigers won again as well, so the Indians didn't gain ground, but they are obviously right in the thick of things. And that's kind of the problem: As close as they are, they can't be sellers at the deadline. It would make all sorts of sense for them to try and market Asdrubal Cabrera to the Cardinals. St. Louis desperately needs a shortstop and the Indians are unlikely to re-sign Cabrera when he becomes a free agent following the 2014 season because their top prospect (Francisco Lindor) is a shortstop, but that just can't happen.

Why? Because you can't tell your fans you are punting the season when you are three games out of first on July 26. (The Indians are also three games out of the wild card, but that is a much more crowded field, and they probably have a better shot of beating out the Tigers than winning the wild card.)

On the flip side, does it really behoove the Indians to try and be buyers? As noted, the Tigers have a three-game lead and are a more talented team, so giving up long-term assets is probably not the most prudent move. At the same time, general manager Chris Antonetti will likely be perceived as timid if he doesn't do anything to improve the club. So what's a GM to do?

If you skim Rumor Central, you'll see that the Indians aren't being mentioned in a lot of deals, so it seems like they are likely to sit tight. The one trade chip who could make sense is shortstop Dorsyss Paulino, who is a good prospect but not as good as Lindor.

To catch the Tigers, their biggest need is on the mound, as they could really use an elite starter. But the best guy available is Jake Peavy, and it's rare for teams to make big deals within the division.

What seems more likely is the Indians behaving like the Pirates at the last two deadlines, making a couple of minor upgrades that are mostly cosmetic -- a way to tell the fans, "look, we're going for it!" They are probably better off playing out the season with their current hand and hoping that enough breaks go their way. If not, they can hope to move Cabrera over the winter in the same way they moved Shin-Soo Choo last winter in the offseason before he hits the market.

With a core of Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, Justin Masterson, Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, the Indians are close to contending. However, this probably isn't their year. So while it would be fun if they tried to make a splash at the deadline, the lack of available upgrades and the fact they are not quite as good as the Tigers suggests the will (and should) stand pat.

Sometimes the best moves are the ones you don't make.