Watching this weekend's series, beyond getting a first-hand of how bad the Oakland Athletics are, I saw the potential for the team, with the addition of a big bat, to have a shot of at least the wild card. Now I have no idea if the White Sox will continue to win at their current pace (though as I speak the Rangers are doing a number on Jon Garland), but a 10-game lead is a huge obstacle to overcome no matter how early in the season it is.
Where would this "big bat" come from? Some think it will be Juan Gonzalez. Juan is probably going to start in right field in Minnesota, so he's the first contestant, although all indications show that Ryan Ludwick, not Aaron Boone would be the one squeezed out. Ludwick, who will probably get snapped up on waivers, is a guy I'd much rather have in the lineup than Boone at this point. Shapiro has shown an ability to admit his mistakes (see Jeriome Robertson, Scott Stewart, and Jose Jimenez), and if there was an example of a sunk cost, Aaron Boone is it. Convincing Boone to go to Buffalo not only betters the offense by removing a everyday black hole, but it keeps Ludwick around until Coco Crisp returns. Moving Casey Blake back to third isn't something I'm really enthused about, but I think the circumstances really dictate it.
Then there's the trade route. At the time of this writing, there probably isn't much the Indians could get besides an outright salary dump (Preston Wilson?), but there are a couple intriguing possibilities:
1. Placido Polanco. The Phillies have no real use for him; in fact, they didn't expect him to be back this season. Philadelphia offered him arbitration in the offseason, figuring they'd get a compensatory draft pick when he signed with another team. Imagine their surprise when Polanco accepted arbitration. Given what's happened to Boone, getting someone who can play third base well and hit well enough for a third baseman would be a nice fit for the team. The Phillies don't really need him, and it wouldn't take all that much to get him.
2. Joe Randa. You all probably know about what Randa does to Indian pitching. With the Reds already 13 games out from the division-leading Cardinals, they may start dealing some of their upcoming free agents. Randa isn't a spectacular offensive talent, but he's a solid fit down in the order. He's also a pretty good defender at the hot corner, and he obviously knows the pitching in the AL Central. The Reds are looking for pitching, and a mid-level prospect should be enough to get him.
You could also take advantage of your outfielder crunch by dealing someone. While Juan Gonzalez is only a short-term fix, Jody Gerut, Coco Crisp, Ryan Ludwick, Caey Blake, and Grady Sizemore are all inexpensive and are under the Indians' control for the next 3-4 years. Ludwick is a guy I would think several teams might be after, and if one of them has a third baseman they'd like to deal, it might turn into a win-win trade. Neither the Phillies or Reds really need a right-handed outfielder, though. Either way, the Indians should be able to get something for Ludwick, if in fact he's the one tossed to the curb.
You could say that Victor Martinez v. 2004 would be that addition if he can climb out of his season-long slump from the left side of the plate. He pulled the ball with authority for the first time in quite a while, hitting a double and a home run off of Oakland starter Seth Etherton. That's a great sign, and probably even more significant than the Indians' 6-2 win. In order for the Indians to have any shot at the playoffs, Victor has to start hitting from the left side of the plate. Given that the Indians have a very important six game stretch on the road against the Twins and White Sox, ending his skid now becomes that much more important.
But I think that any of these moves is predicated on Aaron Boone's absence from the lineup. If you can't send him down, at the very least sit him on the bench and throw Casey Blake or Jose Hernandez out there at third. Time is of essence, and regardless of what move Mark Shapiro makes, it'll be a tough one. Hopefully he decides to bite the bullet and either demote or release Aaron Boone.