On June 22, the Indians led the AL Central by 1½ games with a 37-32 record. They played about .500 ball through the All-Star break, winning their first game after the break to stand 45-41. They were three games out at that point and were still in it.
Then the team collapsed.
On July 14, Ubaldo Jimenez gave up eight runs and four walks in less than three innings to the Blue Jays. The next day, the Indians were shut out. Derek Lowe had a 3.06 ERA through June 1 but an 8.77 ERA over his next 10 starts, nine of those Indians losses. And so on.
From July 14 through the end of the season, the Indians went 23-53, manager Manny Acta lost his job, and the team now has to consider what to do. Do you build around Carlos Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley and try to patch holes, or do you clean house and start over?
Starting rotation (the Indians ranked 13th in the AL in ERA), first base, left field, designated hitter.
• DH Travis Hafner
• CF Grady Sizemore
• 1B Casey Kotchman
• Roberto Hernandez
All of the above. Two trade targets for opposing teams are Shin-Soo Choo, who has one year left before free agency, and Cabrera. The Indians acquired Mike Aviles from the Red Sox, and their top prospect is highly touted shortstop Francisco Lindor. If the Indians trade Cabrera, Aviles could hold down shortstop until Lindor is ready in a couple years. Closer Chris Perez is as good as gone after his public criticism of the organization. Perez is a proven closer, so he may actually bring back a decent prospect in return, even though his 3.45 ERA over the past two seasons isn't that impressive.
If the Indians look to wheel and deal, they'll be seeking young pitching. They also have to decide if Santana is a catcher, a first baseman or trade bait. His arm strength behind the plate is adequate, but his movement on balls in the dirt left something to be desired. Lou Marson is a solid defensive catcher, and Yan Gomes, acquired with Aviles from the Blue Jays, can catch. Otherwise, the first-base market is thin with guys like James Loney and Carlos Pena.
Attendance has plummeted in Cleveland in recent years -- they ranked 29th in the majors in 2012 -- ownership is unwilling to spend in the free-agent market, and the farm system is considered one of the weakest in the majors. In other words, it looks like a lose-lose-lose trifecta in Cleveland.
New manager Terry Francona lends an air of credibility to the franchise and there is a base of talent with Cabrera, Kipnis, Santana, Choo and Brantley, but this is a team that allowed the most runs in the league and scored the second fewest. Francona may wish he would have waited for a better job, especially if the Indians embark on an Astros-like teardown.