CHICAGO -- The Indians aren't officially open for business in the trade market, but they are at least setting up their stand, just in case. Thanks to fortuitous placement in a division in which a record just four games over .500 gives you outright claim to first place, the last-place Indians actually can be considered to be in contention for the American League Central title. They entered play Sunday with a reasonable seven-game deficit in the standings. But that standing says a lot more about the division than it does about the Indians, who have experienced inconsistencies, ineffectiveness and injuries en route to a 24-34 start.
"We go into each game hoping to begin a sustainable winning streak," Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro said. Yet a series of unfortunate events keeps getting in the way. With center fielder Grady Sizemore (inflamed left elbow) out for at least another week -- and perhaps longer if surgery is necessary -- and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera (left shoulder joint sprain) out until later this month, the Tribe's lineup has lost two of its cornerstones. In the bullpen, the Indians should have right-hander Joe Smith (strained right rotator cuff) back from a rehab assignment any day now, but righty Rafael Betancourt (strained right groin) won't be back for another month. The rotation is anchored by ace Cliff Lee and the surprising Carl Pavano, and Jeremy Sowers has shown improvement. But the back end, with rookie David Huff still cutting his teeth and Tomo Ohka thrust into action after Fausto Carmona's demotion to rookie ball, doesn't inspire a great deal of confidence. The Indians are holding out hope they can remain in contention long enough for Jake Westbrook (Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery) and Aaron Laffey (strained right oblique muscle) to return to the rotation later this month or in early July. To that end, Westbrook made an important stride Saturday, when he began his Minor League rehab assignment by tossing three scoreless innings for Double-A Akron at Altoona. He gave up one hit and one walk and struck out a batter. He'll throw four innings in his next start and probably will make somewhere in the range of four to six starts total in the Minors before rejoining the Tribe. With all this in mind, Shapiro has slightly shifted his direction when it comes to exploring the trade market. Whereas the Indians were hoping to acquire pitching pieces a few weeks back, the mounting injuries and the continual struggle to go on a sustained winning streak has forced them to consider the possibility of shopping veterans in the last years of their contracts. Mark DeRosa is believed to have been available for a little while now, but the Indians would be searching for young, Major League-ready pitching in return for the versatile veteran. That's a difficult asking price for the likes of the Giants, Mets, Cardinals, Cubs, Brewers and any other teams who might be in on acquiring less than four months of DeRosa's service. And DeRosa has become more valuable to the Indians now that Cabrera is out. Pavano, who currently is projected to earn $3.5 million in performance incentives on top of the $1.5 million he's making in guaranteed money this season, certainly would be attractive to contending teams looking for starting pitching -- and that, no doubt, would be a long list. Lastly, utility infielder Jamey Carroll also could find himself on the block, given his contract status and the value he might add to a contender as a versatile bench player. All speculation -- and there has been plenty of it -- about the Indians shopping Lee or catcher/first baseman Victor Martinez probably is a little overly imaginative at this point, given that the Indians have affordable options on both players for 2010 and are not entertaining the possibility of a rebuild. But the possibility of the Indians shopping veterans in the final years of their contracts is very real, and it seems to become more real by the day. The Braves-Pirates swap involving Nate McLouth aside, Shapiro said the trade market really hasn't developed yet. But as it does, the Indians will be listening. "We're on the sidelines right now," Shapiro said. "We're keeping a pulse of the market and not making a decision in either direction."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.