There’s a line for every team. Whether it’s the Indians, Yankees, Astros, or a team deep into a rebuild, there’s a point where fans start to panic and see their postseason hopes slip away.
For a team like the Marlins, who know they are rebuilding, maybe it comes immediately when diehard fans realize there won’t be a savior walking through those doors any day. You still watch because baseball is great, and your team is your team, of course, but there’s no stress about a playoff push coming your way.
But what about the Indians? A team that’s supposed to be going for it all with the best rotation in baseball, two of the best infielders in baseball, and an outfield that is technically present in this plane of existence? What if they flop out of the gate in some ways, and somehow are still within spitting distance of the division leader? When is it time to actually slam that panic button?
The Indians are in a weird spot, and it can’t go without saying that a lot of it is their own doing. Their strategy of skirting by on just enough talent to the win the AL Central isn’t off to a great start, despite multiple small additions being available before the season started, and some even on the table after Opening Day.
Adam Jones and his $6 million contract has a 118 wRC+ in Arizona. Derek Dietrich might be the most fun player in baseball, and oh yeah he quietly has a wRC+ of 154 when he’s not fighting bees or changing fashion as we know it. He signed a minor league deal with the Reds in the offseason. Even Matt Joyce, who the Indians released shortly before the season started, is 11-for-43 with the Atlanta Braves providing a boost off the bench from time to time.
Don’t even get me started on Yandy Díaz.
Meanwhile, the Indians have cycled through Eric Stamets (-40 wRC+), Greg Allen (-18 wRC+), Max Moroff (7 wRC+), Hanley Ramirez (70 wRC+), and Brad Miller (97 wRC+) trying to find any kind of offense from someone not named Carlos Santana or Francisco Lindor. They might have a hit in Jordan Luplow (104 wRC+), but how long will he and his .385 BABIP last? It was just a couple weeks ago that Leonys Martin was the talk of the town and now his wRC+ has dipped into the upper-80s. No one Indians hitter is pulling away to be the one to carry this team out of the swamp.
That’s all to say: There are a lot of reasons to consider panicking right now. Whether it’s because of the Indians’ coaching staff not changing anything for seven years, or just the team making the wrong choice on virtually every player they pursued this offseason, something isn’t working early on.
Even the stalwart pitching staff is breaking apart; if it wasn’t for Jefry Rodriguez coming out of nowhere to stabilize the back-end of the rotation, the early season outlook would look even bleaker than it does without Corey Kluber and Mike Clevinger pitching every five days. And even then, his 2.92 ERA being carried by 7.0 K-BB% and 80.2 LOB% isn’t the most encouraging look. But Kluber and Clevinger will be back eventually, Trevor Bauer has already shown he can bounce back, and Carlos Carrasco will be fine as long has he doesn’t take another comeback. That’s the hope anyway.
With a surprisingly good bullpen, and a starting rotation still loaded with league-leading potential, a good time to panic for the 2019 might not be until the trade deadline.
A four-game deficit in mid-May is nothing, and if there’s ever been a reason to be optimistic about this team, it’s that they probably won’t look the same after the trade deadline. I’ve written about it before, and I still stand by that it’s a decent strategy to wait it out and see what they actually need, when they need it. Not a risky veteran signing that helps them get one or two more wins in the regular season, but someone who could be an impact bat in the postseason — the one place they haven’t won in the last two years.
Today, we’ll see one of those potential fixes in the form of Oscar Mercado’s major league debut. He’s by no means an offensive savior, but there’s no reason he can’t provide some kind of spark. He’s fully capable of stealing a few dozens bags and covering every inch of center field. If he can be even an average hitter with his revamped swing, combined with his other tools, he’s the Indians’ best outfielder by a long shot.
It’s been nearly four years since Francisco Lindor debuted and gave this team their last real injection of a young offensive spark. Bradley Zimmer was close, but has ultimately fell flat. Maybe that’s Mercado’s role this season.
For all the concerns about this team right now — many of which still require some kind of change to fix — there is still a really good team buried in there somewhere. Parts of it should emerge by the deadline, and if they don’t they should be filled accordingly. If not, by all means smash that panic button, because something has clearly gone wrong.