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Covering the Corner Roundtable: Cleveland second-half preview

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The team is somehow above .500, but they still have a tough hill to climb to win the AL Central. Can they do it, or is it time to pack it in and build for 2022 and beyond?

MLB: JUL 09 Royals at Indians Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Welcome to the first-ish edition of the Covering the Corner Roundtable, where we’ll be bringing together the best of Covering the Corner to discuss various Cleveland baseball things. Because that’s sort of what we do here.

This time around, we’re talking about Cleveland baseball past the 2021 All-Star break. The team is still close enough to make it interesting, but far enough away that it’s hard to call them favorites to win anything. At the very least, as long they don’t rattle off a dozen losses right away, it should make for an eventful second half.

Participating in this roundtable are the following Covering the Corner staffers:

  • Matt Lyons (ML), Managing Editor
  • Matt Schlichting (MS), Editor
  • Jason Philipps (JP), Staff Writer
  • westbrook (WB), Staff Writer
  • Blake Ruane (BR), Staff Writer

Before we get into talking about the second half, what was your biggest surprise from the first three-plus months of the season?

ML: Hey, me, excellent question. You sure look handsome today. Honestly, my biggest surprise is a pleasant one — Bobby Bradley being as good as he has been. I still don’t know if he can keep this up, but even striking out a third of the time he is an absolute superstar right now and I thought for sure he’d be marginally better than Jake Bauers, if at all. I’m here for Bobby Bradley Mania. Oscar Mercado being good in his first few plate appearances falls under this category too.

JP: The decimation of the club’s starting rotation with injuries. Injured list stints happen, but losing Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac, and Aaron Civale to serious’ish injuries has certainly been a shock.

MS: Logan Allen the Elder going from a presumptive answer in the starting rotation to a borderline org-depth guy in the course of a few weeks is still pretty wild to me. Spring training continues to just be spring training.

WB: I guess it’s the injuries because Cleveland has had good luck in the past half-decade with keeping starting pitchers healthy, but I was also very surprised that for so long, the offense managed to be even worse than they were in 2020, a feat I considered to be impossible.

They got no-hit three times and the hitting coach is still employed!

BR: Bryan Shaw. I am convinced that he made a deal with the Devil years ago to be a good relief pitcher, with a catch in the fine print of the contract that the deal is only valid when he is wearing a Cleveland uniform. Very on-brand for Satan.

Currently eight games back of the White Sox, what’s the one thing Cleveland needs to do to win the AL Central in the second half?

MS: Stop making horrendous errors in the outfield. They almost always result in runs scored and young pitchers often struggle to bounce back from a setback like that. We’ve seen it half a dozen times already this season and I feel like we’re just giving those games away at times.

JP: Get those top starting pitchers back healthy and performing at a top level. It’s a must if Cleveland is going to make a run at the Central (realistically the Wild Card too).

BR: I’m beating a dead horse here, but there is no way Cleveland can win the AL Central with their current “rotation.” They need to get Bieber and Civale back and soon. Four of the five rotation spots essentially pitching bullpen games is just not sustainable.

WB: Bieber, Civale, and Plesac need to return and be effective. Prior to that, the replacement crew needs to pitch enough innings so that the bullpen is still capable of throwing baseballs a month from now.

ML: I think getting healthy is the big answer here. Pitchers need to get there, Franmil Reyes needs to stay healthy. Obviously, Josh Naylor isn’t coming back this year, but Jordan Luplow needs to get back and start mashing lefties again. I don’t think we’re going to see much action at the trade deadline, but getting key players back (mainly pitchers) is going to help this team so much.

What, if anything, should Cleveland do at the trade deadline to either improve their chances of winning the World Series or building for next year?

JP: Dial up Colorado and trade for Trevor Story and German Marquez!?! Take that big market clubs!

In reality, I’d work both ends of the phone and look for value with either a small sell or small buy. If selling, GM JP would lean towards younger prospects because we already are going to have too many tough 40-man decisions coming up this offseason.

ML: Honestly, Chris Davies’ idea of trading some fringe Rule 5 guys for Jon Gray is my go-to answer until it no longer works. Unfortunately for Cleveland, Gray has been a strikeout machine since his return from a flexor strain in late June so they might not be able to get him at quite the bargain basement price they would have before. Still, some kind of swap like that — even for a half-year rental on the extreme cheap — is where I’d go. There’s no sense in trading top-flight prospects right now, and there is no one worth trading that makes sense to trade in anything short of a full-blown teardown (which I don’t think they’re going to do)

BR: Nothing. This team is what it is. Just keep the train moving and let the chips fall as they may. They weren’t going to win a playoff series before they were beset by injuries, so it would require selective amnesia for me to think they’re a few trades away from contending.

MS: If this team is within striking distance — call it fewer than five games back — at the trade deadline, then a rental outfielder a la Jay Bruce is probably on the way. I hope they pick a good one.

WB: (a) Trade Cesar Hernandez, Bryan Shaw, and Eddie Rosario, but also acquire immediate replacements for at least two of them. (b) Acquire a starting pitcher capable of doing that thing I mentioned in my previous answer, even if it’s a guy who posts a 5.50 ERA going six innings once every five days.

Later this month, the Mets are expected to activate a guy off the injured list who I would very much like to reacquire. He’s making $1 million less than the Cesar-Eddie combo. Hernandez would be an upgrade over José Peraza for them. Would they be interested in a “this contract suddenly doesn’t look as great as we thought” swap?

Let’s talk hard decisions: Is it time to trade José Ramírez? If not now, when (if ever)?

BR: No. Next question.

MS: No, but from an organizational standpoint the team should trade him one year before his contract expires if they are unable or unwilling to extend it. They should be able and willing, however ...

JP: No way, not now. The dream is that this offseason the club should use that minority owner money to lock up JRam and/or Bieber long-term. The reality is he’ll probably be shipped off at next year’s trade deadline.

ML: Tough crowd, bUT HEAR ME OUT. OK, no. Probably not. BUT MAYBE. Probably not. But maybe they just really love Nolan Jones and don’t see them themselves competing for a championship this year and don’t want to be left dealing him for so little like they had to with Francisco Lindor? I don’t see why Ramírez would be interested in another team-friendly deal, and I don’t see Cleveland paying him handsomely well into his 30’s.

WB: No.

Which starting pitcher not of the big three (Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac) will have the biggest impact in the second half?

JP: Was on the Cal Quantrill bandwagon all offseason and he hasn’t been horrible, but the 6 K/9 is downright scary. Triston McKenzie is probably the answer here, even with his control issues and innings limit ceiling.

Fun dart throw would be Logan T. Allen (1.45 ERA through 55.1 IP this season in minors) dominating so much at Akron that the brass gives him a chance to shine in Cleveland.

WB: I’m all in on Triston McKenzie. If he can pitch as well with men on base as he has with the bases empty (.159/.275/.292), he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball. If he continues his .190/.407/.431 men-on-base travesty, then I guess I’ll roll the dice and name Eli Morgan.

BR: I too am pushing my chips in on McKenzie. I think Morgan has shown flashes that he can mature into an effective No. 4 or No. 5 pitcher in the rotation, but McKenzie is your best bet.

ML: I want to be fun and pick a different answer here but I can’t go against Triston McKenzie. I’m still a big Cal Quantrill believer, but I just feel like McKenzie is more poised to contribute this year and have the bigger impact down the stretch. That all depends on if he can keep attacking the strike zone and cut down on the walks. He’s done it occasionally, now he just needs to do it consistently.

MS: Scott Moss. Why not?

Alright, to wrap things up, let’s put it all on the (round)table: What is one bold prediction you have for Cleveland’s second half?

ML: José Ramírez will finish no worse than second in MVP voting. As a side prediction, I think Cleveland makes the playoffs on the back of his heroic performance in September. Ramírez historically surges late in the season (a career 149 wRC+ in the final month of the season), and I don’t see any reason why he can’t do it here. He’s going to have Franmil Reyes and Joey Gallo backing him up, maybe a few runners on base, and he’s going to approach — or even surpass — 40 home runs. Book it, José rules.

WB: I don’t know what to say here. Saying Franmil ends up with 40 bombs would certainly qualify. But do I believe it? Not really. Maybe Harold keeps hitting and signs an extension? That’s not really bold. The range of outcomes from our pitchers is so wide right now that I don’t know if anything would be bold. Maybe Logan Allen will no-hit the Rangers! It’s so easy a caveman could do it! No, not that either. I got nothin’. Maybe we’ll call up one of the 80,000 pitchers we just drafted? If we didn’t have 40-man crowding issues, I’d go with that. But we do, so … no answer from me.

JP: Plesac traded and Nolan Jones hits enough in Cleveland to lock up a starting OF job for 2022. I especially like the latter.

BR: We will have a new team name by the end of October.

MS: The entire season will pivot on a gorgeous Bradley Zimmer suicide squeeze play. He will be safe, but some awful rule technicality will result in him being out. He will fight the umpire and destroy him handily before the benches even reach him. Intoxicated with his newfound power, Zim—