CLEVELAND -- Part of Tribe general manager Mark Shapiro looks at the 2008 season with the "glass half full" mentality. "A very small part," Shapiro said with a laugh. Indeed, there hasn't been a lot for Shapiro to love about this club, which entered Wednesday's game against the Twins with a 30-35 record and a 7 1/2-game deficit in the American League Central standings.
But that small, optimistic side of Shapiro still has enough say to sway him from packing it in and looking toward 2009 and beyond. "I still enter every night believing we're entering that point where this team's going to go on a sustained run," Shapiro told reporters Wednesday. "There are other points in the day when I question how that's possible, when I look at some of the things that have happened to us. What you do is prepare both ways. You prepare for adding players and trading players, as well." Shapiro said the Indians have been in trade discussions with other clubs since the second week of April. As the season has progressed, the tenor of those discussions has shifted, in some cases. The Indians began the year as potential buyers. Now, as the July 31 trading deadline creeps closer, they have to investigate the possibility that they might be sellers. It's no secret who would be the Tribe's biggest ware if the club opened up for business. Left-handed ace and pending free agent C.C. Sabathia would be a major addition for a contending club in need of a starter and in a position to pay him big bucks at season's end. But Shapiro still hopes the Indians are that contending club. "Right now, we're looking at this team climbing into the race any way we can," he said. "Our jobs are to prepare for any potential outcome. Right now, our hope and our focus are on this team getting back in it." For the Indians to get back in it, they'll need to endure the rash of injuries that have fallen upon them and fix the declines in performance at the plate and in the bullpen that have haunted them. Designated hitter Travis Hafner (strained right shoulder) and starter Fausto Carmona (strained left hip) each remain at least two weeks from returning from the disabled list, and catcher Victor Martinez is playing with a hurting left hamstring. "Injuries are part of [any season]," Shapiro said. "That's why depth is so important and can be a separator. What's unique this year is we have injuries not just to important guys, but injuries combined with disappointing performances combined with no real positive surprises." Until the Indians get on a sustained stretch of winning, little positive will come from this season, Shapiro said. "We need to start playing consistently better baseball and sustain that over a period of time," he said. "I don't think anybody can just run away with our division. The first step is to get back in it, then we can start thinking about winning the division. [Manager Eric Wedge] talks about us developing a different identity, because it's a different group of guys from last year. We need to develop a different winning identity." As the losses have piled up this year, Shapiro said he has examined his inactive offseason, in which the Indians signed reliever Masa Kobayashi, traded for utility infielder Jamey Carroll and did little else. The Indians investigated trades for the likes of left fielder Jason Bay, third baseman Miguel Cabrera and starter Dan Haren but didn't pull the trigger because of the big league talent they would have had to give up to make those deals happen. "I look back at the offseason almost on a nightly basis and can't think of anything we could have done differently," Shapiro said. "You take into account the players available in free agency, the year we were coming off of, the track records and the talent we had internally. We could have made a very, very painful trade to add one corner bat, and I'm not sure that would have made any impact, besides maybe one or two wins." Nor does Shapiro believe there is one trade the Indians could make right now that would guarantee them a return to contention. The Tribe's problems remain widespread. Until the Indians' fate is reasonable to decipher, either positively or negatively, Shapiro will continue to look at this season from both perspectives and brace himself for all possibilities. "Once the objective side of you, the subjective side of you and the emotional side of you line up, you have to be prepared to act quickly," he said. "I can't tell you what moment or day that is. But I can tell you that when that happens, we'll already know the right value is out there to either add players or to consider trading players."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.