The Cleveland Indians might not need to do anything at this year's trade deadline to compete for the playoffs, and maybe even the World Series. When you consider what the Indians have done thus far with a patched-together offense missing Michael Brantley, it raises doubts as to if the Tribe should do anything. Getting Michael Brantley back could very well be the greatest maneuver the Indians don't have to give anything up to make. I don't hear anyone making that case in and around Cleveland, however.
It could be considered dangerous to expect the Indians to continue to score the way they've been scoring. The Tribe is relying on players at the extremes of age and experience between Tyler Naquin, 25, and Juan Uribe, 37. The same Terry Francona lineup tinkering that has been maddening to Indians fans over the past few years is now fun and lovable when Rajai Davis gets at bats, and they result in homers and RBI. Francona is the same guy with the same process, but he's now getting better results, so it's all good.
If that luck runs out, however, it won't take much of a losing streak with inaction by the Indians' front office before GM Mike Chernoff, President Chris Antonetti, and anyone with the last name Dolan find themselves in the crosshairs of fan ire. That might seem strange considering the first sentence that acknowledges the Indians really might not need to do anything, but sports are fickle and fluid and the 6.5-game lead on the rest of the AL Central isn't a guarantee as much as it is a head start.
It might not just be the fans either. A clubhouse expects ownership to put confidence in a good first half by making a move to get some help. If you're not getting better in the middle of a baseball season, you're probably getting worse compared to the competition. If you're Jason Kipnis, for example, don't you expect the Indians to do something? He's spent every professional game of his career with the Indians since 2011, and a two-time All-Star in the shadow of his 30th birthday would be crazy not to recognize how different this year feels compared to prior seasons.
To that point, even if the team is good enough that they're not getting appreciably worse compared to the teams chasing, the psychology of the roster can be impacted both by making a move or not making one. A returning Michael Brantley is fantastic, but the roster has hoped — and maybe expected — that would happen for months. There's nothing better than a thoughtful Christmas gift that isn't plucked directly from your finely groomed Amazon wishlist, and a well-struck trade could have an even greater impact than a non-move addition like Brantley.
What the Indians will do is a bit of a wild card this season. This is the first year since Chris Antonetti took over for Mark Shapiro as President, and Mike Chernoff stepped in as GM. Continuity is largely the descriptor I'd use, but these guys aren't clones of each other. Each will have his variant to offer concerning action in each scenario. As Shapiro's Blue Jays chase from two games back, it's probably more familiar a position for him than it is for his former employees in Cleveland, boasting a solid divisional lead. A 6.5-game lead is incredibly good compared to what the Indians have had recently. Their 36 days in first place this season — dating back to June 4 — is also a rarity for the Tribe. Since the year 2000, the Indians have spent more than 40 days in first place in a season only three times, in 2001, 2007, and 2011. The 2012 season, the Indians just missed the 40-day mark by three and never spent a minute in first after June 23.
The 2016 Cleveland Indians have already bested that by making it to July in first place, but they faltered a bit into the All-Star break, losing four out of their last five. The road will be waiting for them when the break is over. The Indians play their first nine games on the road after the break, heading to Minnesota, Kansas City, and Baltimore. So far this season, the Indians are 2-4 against the Twins, 4-6 against the Royals, and 1-2 against the first place Orioles.
After that, the Indians have five more games until the trade deadline, and all eyes will be on the executive offices at Progressive Field. The Indians have one of the best teams since the Dolan family purchased the franchise. They've got familiar names in new positions and what appears to be a mandate from Tribe fans to invest even more in this team, as they have filled the park to about 80 percent capacity since the June-conquering Tribe returned home for July 4. That mandate doesn't specify how big or small a move the Indians must make, but it must be "enough."
The Indians have many great things going for them, including some of the best starting pitching, surprising contributors, both young and old, and the potential return of Michael Brantley. They're far from a lock, however. The Indians have to make it through the second half, and better be sitting on a divisional lead before September 26. It's hard to think about looking that far ahead, but that's the job of those in charge of the Cleveland Indians. September 26 is when the Indians hit the road for their final seven games of the season, against Detroit for four and Kansas City for the last three.
Those games could be meaningless, but Tribe fans will only appreciate that meaninglessnesst if the Indians don't need to win them. That could all hinge on what the Indians do over the next 20 days or so ahead of the MLB trade deadline. It's hard to imagine they can justify not doing anything at all.