In the last couple days, the New York Yankees have added a pair of arms to their pitching staff; the Red Sox snatched up Nathan Eovaldi. As the deadline approaches, more names are sure to fly to other contenders, bolstering their lineups and rotations and bullpens for runs at the pennant.
The Indians have done some nice work on the bullpen front, though they could probably use another bat in the outfield as our own Chris Davies covered the other day. All these moves from other title contenders is a bit worrying when the Indians’ own relative inaction stares the fanbase in the face.
But when you think about it, does it really matter?
For one thing, the Indians don’t need to fight for a playoff berth. For the Yankees and Red Sox — even the Dodgers in the National League among others — there’s contention in the division. Nobody wants to get one-and-done’d in the Wild Card, which is why this mini arms race in the American League East is going on. It’s why even the Astros are making moves despite their stacked roster. Each division has threatening second place teams. So even getting to the postseason is up in the air, at least to some degree.
There are only so many innings that need filling. Along with that, nobody has the starting pitching like the Indians. Just going by Fielding Independent Pitching, the Indians have four pitchers in the top 15. The Astros have three (albeit with Dallas Keuchel coming in at 16), and nobody else in the AL has more than two. By fWAR, the Indians’ best (Trevor Bauer) tops any other American League team’s best, their second best (Mike Clevinger) is topped by Gerrit Cole of the Astros, and then they have the 10th and 13th best starter by fWAR in the AL. Only the Astros have at least three top-15 guys, though again Keuchel sneaks in at 16.
All this to say, regardless of what moves teams make in the next couple days (or on the waiver wire, as we saw last year with Verlander) the Indians have a leg up when each game begins.
For the most part, at least.
That Astros matchup would be a series for the ages if you just matched up by FIP or WAR, though we know Kluber will start Game 1 (and hopefully finish out the season much better of course). Nobody is trading the caliber of starter needed to leapfrog any of the Indians’ guys in terms of sheer talent and ability. So what’s the worry there?
With the Yankees, specifically, they now have what, four or five elite relievers? That’s pretty awesome, of course. And I suppose it does help to bolster the relative weaknesses in their rotation. But the Red Sox are tearing away from them, especially now that Aaron Judge is on the shelf for a month. They’re still going to make the playoffs, especially now that they can effectively let their starters go six innings at a max and bring in a closer of some quality. But even in October there’s only so many innings. And all those arms aren’t going to help in that one game playoff. Are they really going to turn Betances or Robertson or Britton — even Chad Green or Chad Holder — into matchup guys? Someone is going to lose innings. They’ll be well-rested, but don’t bullpen guys flourish under regular work? After weeks off because they’re fourth or fifth in the pecking order, how are some of these guys going to respond when Boone calls their number in the postseason?
Managers are creatures of habit, even the best. We see Terry Francona call the same number time and again. Boone is no different, and not as good of a manager. Maybe I’m wrong — I was pushing for a Britton trade for the Indians, but that was before Brad Hand showed up, but it’d still be cool to have him. Like I wrote the other day with Bieber and his strike-throwing, though, sometimes there’s just too much of a good thing.
So yes, these moves would be nicer for the Indians if they hadn’t been made. Those other teams might be worst. And there’s some sense in the Yankees adding to their stacked bullpen. But no needles have really been moved, have they? We already know four of the five AL postseason participants, and likely their order, too. The only moves that actually matter here are the Indians’ own. They do need an outfield bat if Lonnie Chisenhall’s calf continues to be made of paper-mȃché and center field keeps looking like it did two years ago. But they still have a pair of MVP candidates, a strong left field bat and some other positive contributors around the diamond. It’s still the third best offense by OPS in the American League, they’ve still hit the fourth most home runs struck out the least of any American League team. Think back to the 2017 World Series. Remember what that was like? That’s Indians baseball.
It’s just a bit hard to really care about the moves other American League contenders are making. The playoffs are hard anyway. Britton doesn’t make it that much harder. Eovaldi doesn’t either, or Happ or Zach Wheeler if he moves. The Indians added a relief ace and a shutdown ROOGY. Outside of a bat, and despite their record (and of course assuming Miller and Allen return to some kind of resemblance form) they’re built to succeed in that month that doesn’t look like normal baseball. Plus they’re poised to snag waiver players ahead of their fellow contenders. They’re in a surprisingly sweet spot.
But really, another bat couldn’t hurt.