Not every move involves rosters: Some just involve putting your better assets to work. Case in point: Today’s lineup card for the Cleveland Indians, which featured Shin-Soo Choo batting leadoff, something Manny Acta started trying just yesterday.
Choo was followed by second baseman Jason Kipnis in his usual slot, then Asdrubal Cabrera, then Carlos Santana. If that sounds to you like every good Indians batter, stacked up in a row, you’d be right. But with Choo’s .362 OBP (pre-game) up front, it gave manager Manny Acta some big-inning potential, and when Minnesota's Jason Marquis got into trouble in the fifth, there was no easier out for him to get, and they cranked a trio of home runs before Ron Gardenhire could get him off the mound.
Admittedly, your best four up front is pretty much the definition of a short-sequence offense. But stacking all the good stuff up front is usually a better way to get a crooked number or two on the board, and then you can try to be cute with the assorted sidekicks in the bottom of the order: Jack Hannahan and Michael Brantley, Casey Kotchman and Johnny Damon. Considering that it was a rare day off for Travis Hafner against a right-hander, though, that front-loaded lineup can at least go five deep, Choo to Kipnis to Cabrera to Pronk to Santana. That isn’t a bad place to start.
And while that back end might not be a good group, it’s worth remembering that the Indians aren’t married to any of them. Hannahan and Kotchman are defensive specialists who at the best of times get on base. But behind them, the Tribe has options: Lonnie Chisenhall’s slugging .562 at Columbus and ready to roll, while Matt LaPorta’s hammered 10 home runs as his teammate.
It’s the outfield where things aren’t happy. Damon’s utility as a source of OBP or power is now several seasons out of date, while Brantley’s marking time until he goes from ex-prospect to outright suspect and career fourth outfielder. And the Tribe doesn’t have a ready or ready-ish alternative in the upper levels among their outfielders; rather, they have the latest iteration of a story they’ve been putting children to sleep with for years: “Grady Sizemore will be back soon.” When your former center field star is the stuff of milk-carton legend, you know that you probably shouldn’t count on him as an in-season solution.
Which is what will make the weeks and months to come interesting to follow as far as the Tribe’s lineup cards are concerned. Will Brantley or Damon earn his keep? Will Sizemore actually return, and play well enough to consign one of the other two to the bench? Will Chisenhall or LaPorta get the call?
Or will Mark Shapiro simply deal for a corner bat worthy of the name before the end of July? Because that’s the thing that you can really wonder about: If you’re not getting offense out of first base or left field, that’s usually one of the easiest things to fix around the deadline, and without having to give away a top prospect. If Choo gets to be the Indians’ once and future leadoff man, then in addition to riding the benefits of that front-loaded lineup, you can stop excusing Damon or Brantley as guys who help at the top of the order, and start looking at how little they’re delivering on offense. Fix that, and the team the Tribe’s winning with now could be better still a deal later in August.
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.