Over the past 18 months "window of contention" has become the Cleveland front office's business-speak equivalent of, "really, all you fans should pay attention, we are a contending team." For the remainder of this season, I would highly recommend the Indians seek an alternative narrative.
Paul Cousineau has been dancing around this issue the last few weeks, and covers the topic again today, but the whole notion of the Indians "window" is overplayed. The Indians do not have a tidal year of loss of club control anytime in the next several years:
* - could be pushed back depending on time spent in minors
The notion of the "window" is intimately attached to the Ubaldo trade, but does that make sense given the failure of the trade at this point? Does Ubaldo and his 5.29 ERA this season (5.22 with Cleveland, total) define the Indians window? Given that we were in contention this year for four months, is he really the key? A successful Jimenez would certainly make a big difference, but his failures should end his association with the window. More broadly, the "window" seems constructed around an anxiety about our starting pitching. In this view then the window is not solely about Ubaldo but also his "big two" tag team partner Justin Masterson (currently sporting a 4.78 ERA). The same argument applies. The reality is the Indians, like every team, need quality starting pitching wherever it comes from. Jimenez and Masterson have certainly shown the ability at times to reach a very high level, but their inability to maintain those performances is a big part of the Indians current troubles and should dispel any notion that they are essential to the Indians future.
Offensively, the big imminent loss is Shin-Soo Choo, who will leave Cleveland in free agency after next season if he is not dealt before then. Choo has turned his current season around dramatically and, based on B-Ref's numbers, shares the title of Cleveland's most valuable positional player with Jason Kipnis (3.1 WAR apiece). The Indians will miss Choo's production considerably, but again, I would hesitate to place the entirety of the club's chances on Choo's 4-win contribution. If there is a big wave of losses coming in the near future, though, it is in the the slightly less near future of 2017 and 2018.
The other side of the equation is the introduction fo new talent to Cleveland. Consider the following table. This is a list of notable Indians draftees still within the organization, but not currently in Cleveland, five years after their draft season. So the players listed in 2013 are 2008 draftees, the players in 2014 are 2009 draftees, and so on (* - I've also tried to include major international signees based on their current level, AAA>2013, AA>2012...).
|Loek Van Mil*
The Indians farm system is far from tops in the majors, but it does have a lot of young talent scattered between Columbus and Goodyear. The list of players above, together with a bunch of people I have left out, is going to produce quite a few major leaguers, some of whom will be impact players. It is impossible to expect any one of these players to come in and be the next Choo or the next Kipnis, but I would argue it is not unreasonable to expect such a player to emerge. The real crux of the Indians positional talent is at high-A and below, meaning they are a few years off, but might start arriving into Cleveland as early as the latter part of 2014, conveniently coincidental with the real need in Cleveland. On the pitching side of the ledger, the Indians actually have a fair number of interesting arms (if they can stay healthy) in the upper part of the system, meaning the loss of "aces" like Jimenez and Masterson may not be as dire as predicted.
An additional reality is that even if it did not happen this year, some of Cleveland's major league talent is going to be traded before they reach free agency, with the goal, in part, being to acquire high-end prospect talent in return. So significant additions will likely be added in the next year or two to the upper part of the list above. And, of course, the Indians could sign free agents. Hopefully they will. Hopefully they will do a better job than they have in the past at not missing out on great deals (i.e. Carlos Beltran) and not missing on the deals they do sign. While I am optimistic about the changes that have occurred in the Indians acquisition of amateur talent, their targeting and acquisition of free agents and near major league talent still leave something to be desired.
My larger point is simple. Do not worry about the window. Open the window. Break the window. Take your non-sanctioned "official Albert" bell and throw it through your window. The Indians need to continue to add talent at all levels of the organization, they need to do a better job of this than their competitors, and in the absence of a significant budgetary infusion, they need to get lucky with health. And they need to avoid what I have called the stable equilibrium of mediocrity.
As for the remainder of this season, I return to my already stated position that the Indians should cut ties with the spare parts acquired for 2012--a process that has already started with the release of Lowe, Damon and Accardo--and focus on giving major league experience to some of the spare parts in Columbus. I would like to see Fedroff playing LF three or four times a week, I would like to see what Langwell or Berger look like in the pen, I would like to see Donald and/or Phelps getting some reps on the left side of the infield and I would like to see some combination of Canzler/Goedert/LaPorta getting time at 1B and DH. Before we enter this off-season, an off-season that the Indians will have to creatively seek to fill a few holes, it would be nice to see what parts we might already have in house. This is not a matter of the Indians waving a white flag, it is simply a matter of pressing "refresh" with the Indians talent.