"The Roundtable" is a regular weekly Sunday feature that will continue throughout the year covering hot topics surrounding the Browns, Buckeyes, Cavaliers, and Indians. One question. Several different answers from TheClevelandFan.com panel.
The Indians hit the quarter pole of the season on Saturday, and through 40 games stand at 25-15 on the season. Believe it or not, the Indians are on pace to win over a 100 games. This of course is new territory for the Indians under Eric Wedge, as the Indians have gotten off to starts of 19-21 (2006), 17-23 (2005), 18-22 (2004), and 13-27 (2003) in Wedge's first four seasons.The season’s quarter pole is always a good time to sit back and assess the strengths and weaknesses of the team. For the most part, things have gone well for the Indians, but don’t let their 25-15 record fool you. There is still progress to be made. The question is, what do the Indians still need, and how can they fill that need (or needs) this season? TheClevelandFan.com writers opine… Tony Lastoria: The biggest need to me is a right-handed middle of the order bat. Travis Hafner is going to destroy the single-season walk record for the Indians, and while Victor Martinez has mostly been making opponents pay for walking him, he will not be able to keep it up all season. The Indians need someone else besides Martinez to carry the offensive load when teams decide to not let Hafner beat them. Who this player is, and how they acquire them, I do not know. Some players I think may be available come the trade deadline: Miguel Tejada, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Vernon Wells, Troy Glaus, Sammy Sosa, and Miguel Cabrera. A-Rod, Miguel Cabrera and Wells would be extreme longshots as their teams will want the farm for these guys, and you will also have heavy interest from most other playoff contenders trying to acquire them as well. The Blue Jays are going absolutely nowhere this year, and may be looking to dump Glaus come July. But, we need him to play third base everyday, and is he healthy enough to handle that? I don’t know. The best solutions to me might be Tejada, Teixeira, or Sosa. Tejada would be a dream. He would fill the much needed right-handed hitting void, would settle into the middle of the order, and you can move him to third base or keep him at shortstop and move Peralta there. Teixeira may be available too, and not only would he be a nice upgrade in the middle of the lineup, but defensively at first base as well. If you acquire Teixeira, you could throw Ryan Garko into the deal, or then use Garko to get a much needed late inning bullpen arm. But, to me, the most likely scenario is a trade for Sosa. He’ll come cheap not only in dollars, but prospects as well. And, he would fill a great need in the outfield for a power right-handed bat and would compliment the other veterans David Dellucci and Trot Nixon well. Erik Cassano: I still think the Indians' biggest need is adding some more muscle to the bullpen. While the bullpen is greatly improved over last season (which, admittedly, was pretty much rock-bottom), there have still been enough early-season hiccups -- such as against the Yankees and A's -- to make me a bit nervous. The good news is that since the bullpen is mostly competent, Mark Shapiro doesn't need to make a blockbuster deal and part with top prospects to add an elite closer or setup man. He can fill in around the edges as he sees fit, maybe find another veteran arm to pitch in the seventh or eighth inning. The Indians are on pace to win 100 games right now, so I'm not about to look a gift horse in the mouth too thoroughly. This team is off to the best start of the Mark Shapiro/Eric Wedge era, and unlike in previous seasons, they have shown an ability to bounce back from rough stretches and keep winning. But while I no longer flip the channel in disgust when the bullpen door swings open, I'd still feel a lot better if there was another effective veteran arm or two holding down the fort in the later innings. Cris Sykes: What do I think the Indians need to do between now and the playoffs? They have three needs right now; right-handed middle of the order bat, a second lefty in the bullpen and an upgrade at shortstop. I am going to leave an upgrade at closer off the list, because I think it will be too expensive to get one better than Borowski. I really think one move could handle two of their problems, and would love to see them make a run at Miguel Tejada if he becomes available. Depending on what Baltimore would be looking for, I think they could send Peralta, Sowers, and Franklin Guitterez to the Orioles in exchange for Miggy. If they decide to go a little smaller, I would be on board with a bring Omar back crusade. If you can do that, then it would open the possibility of going out and getting a solid right handed option for the outfield who could offer some lineup protection by using Sowers, Byrd or Lee. The bullpen is going to be awfully hard to upgrade, so unless there is an injury, I think the Indians will try to continue to fill in the end of games with what is currently in the system. Jared Regano: The Indians are playing very, very good baseball. At the beginning of the season, I was adamant about the need for another right handed bat with power. Little did I know Jhonny Peralta would be on pace to eclipse 30 homers and Ryan Garko would earn a much deserved spot in the lineup. The starting pitching is deeper than anyone could have imagined with the emergence of Fausto Carmona. I still feel, though, the team may eventually be hurt by their corner outfielders, but I would love to be wrong. The surprising thing about the terrific start is that it basically has come with no help from any acquisitions. Joe Borowski's ERA is nine, Roberto Hernandez looks 50, David Dellucci isn't driving the ball, and Keith Foulke is on a yacht somewhere. Aaron Fultz and Trot Nixon have been serviceable, but not spectacular. That is why the Indians best bet may be to do nothing, especially if a move to improve the pen or add a bat involves trading a highly thought of prospect or two. Shapiro's accuracy with these players is much higher than his accuracy in acquiring veteran talent. Would giving up a Chuck Lofgren be worth a Scott Stewart or Joe Borowski? Jeff Rickel: The greatest need for the Tribe is still a right-handed power bat to hit behind Hafner. Martinez does a great job hitting, but he's not a great power threat. He hits for some pop just like most players in the lineup, but there's no complimentary basher. I believe that has hurt Hafner and not given him the kind of pitches he'd like to see. A legitimate righty who can hit 30+ over the fence for the season may make it easier for Hafner as teams can't easily choose a lesser threat like Martinez. The Indians may already have the bat if Peralta continues on his homerun pace. I'd suggest trying moving Martinez into the third spot, pushing Hafner back to the fourth, and hitting Peralta fifth. I still feel uncomfortable with Hafner in the third slot. There are more needs, though the righty offensive fire-starter strikes me as the biggest. The Tribe could always use defensive help and a true-blue, proven shutdown pitcher in the bullpen. Peralta might be able to solve the offense issue for a time, but a power-hitting corner outfielder would ease my mind more. Paul Cousineau: Sitting atop the AL Central, on pace for 100 wins at the quarter pole; the Indians have succeeded despite much adversity. But this team is not complete, and it has nothing to do with the starting pitching or the offense (on pace for over 850 runs); rather, the deficiency lies in the back end of the bullpen and it has nothing to do with a closer who enjoys White Russians, bowling, and an occasional 5-run 9th inning. The lack of a certifiable 8th inning pitcher is what continues to haunt the Indians after the unexpected retirement of Keith Foulke. Rocky Betancourt projects more as a 7th inning pitcher, as does Aaron Fultz. Perhaps Nasty Boy Tom Mastny or (assuming he can shed the difficulties of the past two weeks) K-Brera can step into that role. The role, at this time, though stands out as a glaring hole. Throw in the fact that Borowski is on pace for 68 appearances (remember he failed a physical in Philly) and the hole keeps looking bigger. The need for a legitimate set-up man could be filled by a number of pitchers (Akinori Otsuka, Brad Lidge, Jon Rauch, etc.) from teams that fall out their divisional races, but they won’t come cheap because most teams will look to fortify their bullpen for the stretch run. To get the quality arm that they need, the Indians will have to part with one of their AAA outfielders (Big League Choo or Frank the Tank), probably a high-level starter who may not have the highest upside but a capability to contribute at the ML level this year as a 5th starter (Brian Slocum, Jason Stanford), and a lower-level pitching prospect who may be more-highly-thought-of (Frank Herrmann or Kevin Dixon in Kinston would be examples). Shapiro’s readiness to pull the trigger on such a trade will be the first real test of his willingness to forfeit prospects to add the missing piece to solidify that back-end of the bullpen and provide some insurance in case of a JoeBo blowout.