KANSAS CITY -- The Indians looked poised to jump into the buyer's market earlier this month while still hanging within a few games of the American League Central lead. The situation has suddenly changed in Cleveland.
Following the emotional high of winning a critical home series against the division-rival Tigers last week, the Indians suffered a deflating series sweep at the hands of the Twins this past weekend in Minnesota. That has created the perception that the Tribe might now flip the switch from buyers to sellers in the hours leading up to Tuesday's 4 p.m. ET non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said the series in Minnesota has not changed anything.
"I don't think it really affects our approach leading up to the Deadline," Antonetti said during a break between meetings on Monday. "Certainly, we would've preferred to be closer to first place than we are right now, but there's still a lot of time left in the season, and teams demonstrated last year there's still an opportunity to overcome a deficit.
"The most important thing for us is that we get back to playing well and winning games."
The third-place Indians headed into Monday's off-day with a 50-52 record, 5 1/2 games behind the AL Central-leading White Sox. While Cleveland has been fielding calls about a few of its players -- most notably right fielder Shin-Soo Choo -- the ballclub does not feel it has reached a point of possibly needing to rebuild again.
There are plenty of holes on the roster -- the rotation has lagged, and the lineup still lacks right-handed pop -- but the Indians still maintain faith in their young collection of core players. That is why Cleveland feels, especially in its division, that it still has the makings of a contender.
Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera (26 years old) and catcher Carlos Santana (26) signed extensions before this season and are in the fold through 2014 and '16, respectively. Second baseman Jason Kipnis (25), center fielder Michael Brantley (25) and setup man Vinnie Pestano (27) are all in their pre-arbitration years.
The Indians also have youth in starters Zach McAllister (24) and Carlos Carrasco (25), as well as third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall (23). Carrasco is expected to be back in the mix for a rotation job next spring after missing this season with a right elbow injury. Chisenhall is an up-and-coming third baseman but is likely done for the season with a broken right forearm.
"Most of our top performing players," Antonetti said, "have been our young players with the least Major League experience, other than Choo. Brantley. Cabrera. Kipnis. Santana, who's actually come back and has performed relatively well. Zach McAllister has been great. Vinnie Pestano and the other guys in our bullpen are under multiple years of control. And we'd feel even better had Chisenhall not broken his wrist.
"We have a lot of very good young players that are under control for quite a while."
Choo, 30, has drawn interest, and Cleveland has been willing to listen to trade proposals, largely due to the expectation that he will test free agency after the 2013 season. The Pirates, Reds, Phillies and Dodgers have each reportedly expressed interest in the right fielder. The Rangers reportedly inquired but are no longer in the mix.
Indians sinkerballer Justin Masterson, who is in his arbitration years and will not be eligible for free agency until after the 2014 season, has also garnered interest from the Reds and Rangers, according to a report on CBSSports.com. Masterson is in the midst of an inconsistent season but remains a key part of the Tribe's rotation.
Cleveland is reluctant to part with either player, but things can always change with one phone call.
Another attractive trading chip in Cleveland's hand is All-Star closer Chris Perez, who will see a considerable spike in his salary through arbitration this offseason. Like Masterson, Perez -- with 29 saves in 31 chances this year -- is not eligible for free agency until after the 2014 campaign, but the Tribe has a more affordable potential replacement in Pestano.
The Indians could try to trade players who are not likely to be part of the 2013 plan, such as starter Derek Lowe, outfielder Johnny Damon or first baseman Casey Kotchman. There is little to no market for the struggling Lowe and Damon, however, and much of Kotchman's worth is linked to his defense, limiting his value on the market.
It is highly doubtful that designated hitter Travis Hafner or center fielder Grady Sizemore will be back next season, but Cleveland would be hard-pressed to find a taker for a full-time DH or a player who has spent the entire season rehabbing from multiple injuries.
Jose Lopez is one player who has reportedly drawn some interest from the Yankees, who are looking for a temporary fill-in at third base for Alex Rodriguez, who is expected to miss several more weeks with a non-displaced fracture in his left hand. Lopez will be a free agent in the coming offseason.
Antonetti did not anticipate any trades coming to fruition on Monday.
"I think it'll go up to the Deadline," Antonetti said. "But I couldn't handicap it either way."