Treading near the stable equilibrium of mediocrity

I have had an incipient feeling of dread regarding the Tribe's offseason. The reason, I believe, is a fear that the Indians might be entering into a cycle of mediocrity that is hard to escape. Think Toronto, which has sat between 75-87 wins every season except 2004 (67 wins) since 1998. Certain teams just seem to get stuck in the 75-86 win range - not terrible, but not really viable contenders - year in and year out, uncertain whether they are contending or rebuilding, but really just sputtering in the unproductive middle ground. There are a variety of paths that can lead to the mediocrity vortex, but for the Indians the path seems to have begun with the Ubaldo trade, leveraging the long-term future (i.e. Alex White, Drew Pomeranz) for the near-term future (Ubaldo 2011-2013). That move was a gamble, and one that you can mount a strong defense of. But the risk is that Ubaldo is not enough, the core around him is not enough, and that all the trade really did was put the Indians in the "close, but not quite" range of contention. And that would be fine if the Indians had resources to continue to push forward, but do they? We obviously aren't making major payroll additions, which eliminates free agency for us. After trading White and Pomeranz, and with injuries to the team's core veterans (Sizemore, Choo, Hafner), the team can't really afford to leverage much more in the way of young talent.

So the only real option that seems to remain is getting lucky with what we have. To be fair, it isn't really "luck." Lonnie Chisenhall, Jason Kipnis and most especially Carlos Santana, are all extremely talented young hitters. Justin Masterson's performance last season was a credit to the organization's belief that he could be a front-line starter (and his own work effort). Ubaldo has been an elite pitcher in the very recent past (+12 WAR in 2009-2010).

It just seems like the Indians really need all of that to come together for it to work. The injuries to Sizemore, Carrasco, Hafner and company have hugely thinned the Indians talent base. The failure to get adequate replacements in the Sabathia (LaPorta, Brantley) and Lee (Carrasco, Knapp) trades have added to this challenge. The question is whether the critical mass of talent in play for the organization over the next two seasons is enough? The Indians haven't been so terrible as to merit a spot in the true sweetspot of the draft, so no Bryce Harpers or Stephen Strasbourgs have come their way. And yet the organization lacks the funds to spend their way into contention. My fear is that we won't, under the current circumstances, have that opportunity until the next cresting wave...after we have traded away the hopefully productive young careers of Santana et al., bottomed out in a few nice draft picks, and then had time to develop the returns...in a decade.

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