Exploring Some Possibilities
The Indians now sit at .500, and 4 games out of first place. To me, I don't really know if they're a contender or just a team that's a year away. Matt Lawton and Ronnie Belliard have been crucial to the teams' success, and although the Indians can bring both back next year, I doubt very much that both will repeat what they've done this year, especially Belliard.
So what am I getting at? With the addition of Aaron Boone for 2005, I'm wondering if this is the perfect time for the Indians to dangle Belliard or Lawton out in the trade market and see if they can hook a flounder. With Carlos Beltran and Freddy Garcia off the trade market, teams like the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers may be willing to overpay for second-tier players. Given a choice between Belliard or Lawton, I'd keep Lawton, as at least his numbers this year don't deviate too much from his good years with the Twins.
Before considering what you could get, you first have to consider the public reaction. Remember the fan reaction when Bartolo Colon was traded? I sure did. And that was during a season where it was pretty apparent the team was going nowhere fast. This season, most people I talk to are generally optimistic about the team's future, and some even think the Indians have an outside shot at winning the division. So trading an integral piece to the team would definitely elicit a negative response, to say the least.
On the other hand, if you hold onto Belliard and play things out, and look to trade him after the season, he may wear down in July and August like he did last season:
OPS by Month, 2003
June: .837 (7 games)
September: 1.149 (12 games)
So if you hold onto Belliard and he stays consistent the rest of the season, then you have some major decisions as to the composition of next year's infield. If, say, Paul Konerko, the type of hitter the Indians desperately need in their lineup, shows some interest in playing first base for the Indians next year, who do you get rid of? Blake is still going to be cheap, and you just signed Aaron Boone for a 2005 contract. One of Brandon Phillips or Jhonny Peralta is going to be the shortstop next year, and you still have Ben Broussard and Travis Hafner floating around. See where I'm going with this? Belliard is eligible for arbitration, and if the Indians offer it to him, he'll be making a a lot more than he's making in 2004, probably more than Boone's 2005 base salary.
With the dearth of really good second baseman out there on the free agent market, Belliard will probably fetch a good return, be it a starter, reliever, prospects, or a combination of the three. Then you're left with an infield of Blake, Phillips/Peralta, Boone, and Konerko with Hafner as the DH, and Broussard on the bench or elsewhere. The money you save paying Belliard's arbitration bill you use elsewhere.
Of course, things could end up happening very differently from my scenario. But it's certainly a possibility.