The economy is sagging, gas prices are surging, and the Indians -- despite winning six of seven games -- remain in last place.
You might be feeling a little downtrodden at the moment. So if you need a positive pick-me-up, do what I did and head to your local library.
When I was handed a pamphlet detailing the local library's new schedule for late fees, I figured it would follow the fiscal trend of the rest of the world and find a way to cut into our cash flow. Certainly, I figured, I would no longer be able to keep those audio CDs of Barbara Walters' memoirs past the due date and pay just a dime a day, right?
I could not have been more wrong. Shockingly, the library eliminated fines for children's books and items taken out by those 60 and over. Considering 95 percent of the people who go to the library are children or adults 60 and older, this is a major, major development. Furthermore, the library extended the loan period on most items, lowered its maximum fines threshold and increased the number of items that can be borrowed per card.
So a big thank you goes out to the leaders of the library -- those poor souls who, as I understand it, only receive a paycheck if we don't return our books on time. A dollar doesn't go very far these days, but, at the library, a dollar can buy you 10 more days of Barbara's soothing voice.
Let's get to this week's questions...
With all this talk of trading Casey Blake, I can't help but wonder what caliber of prospect(s) the Indians could hope to get for him. It seems to me that his personality and veteran presence is valuable to this young team -- qualities that wouldn't translate into trade value. I know his contract is up after this season, but aren't the Indians interested in re-signing him, especially with the future uncertain at third base?
-- Colin D., Tucson, Ariz.
Blake is the most obvious trading chip the Indians have right now, but that doesn't necessarily mean he'll be dealt, for the very reasons you so astutely cite, Colin.
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You don't trade a guy just for the sake of trading him. It's questionable how much Blake would pull in, and he could potentially remain in the mix with the Indians if they can sign him to a short-term deal.
All that being said, several teams -- including the Dodgers, Mets and Twins -- appear to have some interest in Blake. Nothing appears imminent at the moment.
The Indians' other obvious trade candidate is Paul Byrd, but you have to wonder how many contenders would be interested in a 37-year-old who is 3-10 with a 5.47 ERA this season.
If the Indians wish to make another trade of long-term impact, they'd have to get creative. They could explore deals involving the likes of Franklin Gutierrez, Ryan Garko or Jhonny Peralta -- either this month or in what figures to be an important winter.
With a hole looming at third, could we possibly see Peralta shifted to the hot corner, then Asdrubal Cabrera taking over at short and Josh Barfield at second?
-- Richard R., Canton, Ohio
When a season goes this far astray, anything is possible. Right now, the Indians are giving Andy Marte his first legitimate shot at regular playing time in 2008, and we'll see how he handles it. If he falters, moving Peralta to third -- even on a part-time basis -- is not out of the realm of possibility.
Keep in mind that Peralta struggled at third when playing there at Triple-A Buffalo in 2004, so it's not guaranteed that he'd be any more of a defensive asset at third than he is now at short. Also keep in mind that we don't know what kind of hitter Barfield is going to be.
I believe Cliff Lee will be a free agent after next season. Is he going to be our CC of 2009, or do the Indians have plans to talk about an extension with him either now or in the offseason? I would hate to trade back-to-back Cy Young winners in back-to-back seasons.
-- Chris W., Columbus, Ohio
The Indians have an $8 million option on Lee for 2010. In the meantime, they could make an attempt to restructure and extend his contract.
Woo hoo! First pick in the Draft, here we come! Or should I not be that excited? Anyway, have the Indians ever had a first overall pick in the Draft?
-- Sean O., Honolulu
The Indians have never had the first overall pick in the Draft. And as long as the Nationals and Padres keep showing up for work, it doesn't look like the Tribe will have the first pick next year, either.
Since the Draft was instituted in 1965, the Indians have had five picks at No. 2 overall -- Steve Dunning in 1970, Rick Manning in 1972, Greg Swindell in 1986, Mark Lewis in 1988 and Paul Shuey in 1992.
After the mess that was the 2008 All Star Game, I have the solution: Put a limit on the number of innings the game can go and, if it's a tie, give home-field advantage to the league that wins the Home Run Derby. That would make the Derby more exciting and would eliminate the problem in the All Star Game. What do you think?
-- Adam, Cleveland
I think one of those Josh Hamilton homers must have hit you in the noggin.
We already have home-field advantage riding on an exhibition event (and unnecessarily so). Let's not tie it in with another -- especially one that is an individual competition.
I'm in the camp that says the home-field advantage should go to the team with the better regular-season record. Failing that, the idea that it should go to the league that comes out on top in Interleague Play is intriguing.
And I quote, from the July 8 mailbag: "Sabathia's trade value diminished by the day." Explain to me how the reigning Cy Young winner's value can diminish day by day when, in reality, as the deadline looms, teams would have been even more desperate? I don't buy into your claim or anyone else's that his value can taper off just like that because a team wouldn't have him for another two weeks. Absolutely ludicrous. I didn't mind the trade because I expected it, but I just find your logic on his diminishing value preposterous.
-- Josh S., Beachwood, Ohio
Yes, teams can and do get more desperate as the deadline nears. But remember that only a handful of clubs had the type of prospect pool that intrigued the Indians, when it came to shopping Sabathia. More teams are in contention in early July than later in the month. Two or three weeks can be an eternity in baseball. The Brewers, for example, might have been out of the NL Central race by the time the deadline came around, and therefore would have been uninterested in Sabathia.
The Brewers and the other teams interested in dealing for Sabathia all had more incentive to acquire him before the All-Star break to squeeze as many starts as possible out of this rental. The Indians, save for mere sentimentality, had no justifiable reason to keep Sabathia any longer, because he was a more valuable trading chip on July 7 than he would have been on July 31.
I was speaking with my mother earlier, and she had an interesting question. If CC would have been selected to the All-Star Game before his trade, what would have happened? Would he play on the AL team, the NL team, or forfeit play because of the league switch?
-- Gregory T., Cleveland
Isn't mom supposed to have all the answers?
CC wouldn't have been eligible to represent the AL, because he's no longer an AL player. And because the All-Star teams had already been announced at the time of his trade, his only hope to get selected for the NL roster would have been if he had been a last-minute addition as an injury replacement.
This happened a few years back with Carlos Beltran. He was traded from the Royals to the Astros in late June of 2004, after he had been named to the AL team. It wasn't until the Reds' Ken Griffey Jr. went on the disabled list and forfeited his spot that Beltran was able to join the NL team as a substitute. Beltran was the first player to get selected to one All-Star team and play for the other.
No question, just a heads up. Seeing as how you are a big Springsteen fan, I thought you should know that the Minor League Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws are hosting a Bruce Springsteen Night this week. They'll even wear uniforms that change the team name to "BruceClaws."
-- Jason W., Columbus, Ohio
Now that's a well-run organization.
Travis Hafner's injury seems rather mysterious. Why was he only at 50 percent strength in the right shoulder after a month of rehab? How could he have even swung the bat before that? Didn't the Indians notice a strength difference in the offseason or Spring Training?
-- Rich S., Worthington, Ohio
The biggest mystery is what the Indians were doing letting Hafner playing with basically no shoulder strength. That weakness that landed him on the DL on May 30 didn't exactly spring up overnight.
For Hafner to go through a month of shoulder strengthening exercises with little to no progress is a major, major concern for a club that owes him another $49 million from 2009-12. He's reportedly made much more progress in recent weeks, which is encouraging, but the shoulder obviously has the potential to be a nagging problem for the rest of his career.
And finally...SERENITY NOW!!!
-- Doug W., Mentor, Ohio
Yep, it's been that kind of year.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.