CLEVELAND -- As the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline nears, the Indians could conceivably take two different approaches in bolstering their roster for the second half.
Should the team begin to fall out of playoff contention, general manager Chris Antonetti could take a selling approach, notably with shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera set to become a free agent after this season. Conversely, if the Tribe can get on another hot streak like last season, he may look to upgrade on the team's current talent.
With the club's rotation ERA at 4.55 entering Sunday -- the third-worst mark in the American League -- could the Indians be in the market for a starting pitcher?
"Potentially," Antonetti said. "The one thing we continue to believe is we have quality Major League starting pitchers. And any time you acquire a guy, you have to think about who it displaces from the team and the rotation, and you have to have a high degree of confidence it's an improvement."
The organization has already begun making minor moves, acquiring outfielder Chris Dickerson from the Pirates on Monday and trading for left-handed reliever Nick Maronde on Friday -- both in exchange for a player to be named or cash considerations.
Maronde, a former third-round Draft pick who was once a top prospect in the Angels' organization, has fallen on hard times lately, allowing nine runs in 6 1/3 innings with the big league club while posting a 10.50 ERA across 18 appearances in the Minors this season. But the Indians saw a reclamation project that was worth the investment.
"Nick Maronde's a big, physical left-handed pitcher that we've liked for quite a while," Antonetti said. "Recently, he's had some trouble throwing strikes, but we think there's significant upside there and a guy worth taking a chance on. We're in the process of working with him to put a plan in place and get him back to the guy he was a couple years ago."
Regardless of the direction Antonetti and his front office compatriots choose to go, he insists the approach will be to seek out a clear upgrade. And with no "glaring holes at particular positions," perhaps the Indians will go all in on an elite trade candidate should the club vault itself back into the division race before the Deadline.
"With us, we're in a different position. We have guys already in those roles that are capable of contributing," Antonetti said. "For us to improve, we need to improve upon a higher standard. In some cases, we're counting on guys we've already made commitments to rebounding."
Masterson's return to health, form key for Tribe
CLEVELAND -- For the Tribe, the first half of 2014 has been in part defined by its ever-changing rotation. Having a healthy and effective Justin Masterson back after the All-Star break would certainly be a step in the stabilizing direction.
Masterson, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday with right knee inflammation, threw another bullpen session off the mound on Sunday. The right-hander has struggled mightily with his command this season, posting a 5.51 ERA while issuing 56 walks in 98 innings, and his location issues have possibly been tied into his health.
"We would expect Justin to be back sooner," general manager Chris Antonetti said. "It could be within a week after the break. A lot of it will depend on how his throwing goes as he ramps up.
"What we'd like to do is get Justin to a point where he feels 100 percent healthy so he can get back to executing his delivery the way he was last year and not have anything lingering that could negatively affect that. He's made progress on that with [pitching coach Mickey Callaway] already. He's feeling good physically, he's thrown a couple of bullpens and the early results have been really encouraging."
Masterson is not eligible to come off the DL until July 23, and Antonetti noted that he could potentially make one rehab start before rejoining the big league club. Trevor Bauer has already been announced as Friday's starter to open the second half, and Corey Kluber will start Game 1 of Cleveland's doubleheader with the Tigers on Saturday.
The team has not yet revealed its Game 2 starter, though a logical option would be Danny Salazar, who has compiled a 4.50 ERA in nine games with Triple-A Columbus since being demoted in May.
"He's in a much better spot now than he was earlier in the year," Antonetti said. "His delivery's much more consistent and in line with where it was in the second half [last year]. Now what we're trying to do is have him repeat those mechanics -- not only from outing to outing, but inning to inning and pitch to pitch.
"He's made a lot of progress and we're expecting him to contribute in the second half."
But even amid the injury to Masterson and the first-half inconsistencies out of Salazar and Zach McAllister, the Indians have been able to mostly weather the storm. Bauer and rookie T.J. House have both stepped in from the Minor Leagues and provided the team with quality starts, Josh Tomlin has proven solid in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery and Kluber (9-6, 3.01 ERA) has become a true ace.
"I think that's a testament to the organization as a whole, as to the depth they have at starting pitching," Tomlin said. "It's tough to go a whole season without having any setbacks, injuries, things like that."
With McAllister pitching like his old self in Saturday's three-run, seven-inning outing, the only piece left to put back into place is Masterson.
"Trevor's made strides. T.J. House came up and contributed. Yesterday was an encouraging start for Zach," Antonetti said. "We really need to get Masty back on track."
Quote to note
"We're not far off from where we were last year. ... We have a chance today to go into the break at .500. It's just one good stretch and you're right there in it. That's when scoreboard watching starts in September. I think we put ourselves in a decent enough spot to play meaningful games in September. We had a great September last year."
-- Reliever Cody Allen
• With Michael Bourn on the disabled list with another hamstring injury, second baseman Jason Kipnis has found a new home at the top of the lineup. Entering Sunday, Kipnis had gone 9-for-30 with five stolen bases over seven games in the leadoff spot.
"The confidence is going to come with the success," Kipnis said. "That's not too surprising to many people. The more you hit, the better you feel, the more confident you feel at the plate. When you start hitting the ball the other way, you stop trying to press, you stop trying to force the issue and just let it happen and go out and be the player you can be."
• The Indians still do not have a clear recovery timetable for Nyjer Morgan. The outfielder, who remains on the 60-day disabled list with a right knee injury he suffered in May, sought a second opinion from Dr. Christopher Parker last week.
"We're still in the process of gathering information from that. All accounts are that they concur with the opinion of our medical personnel," Antonetti said. "It's going to be a while. So whether or not that ends up being at some point in August or September, we just don't know yet."
• Chris Dickerson was out of the Tribe starting lineup again on Sunday after being held out of the previous game due to a sore hamstring. Manager Terry Francona said the move was only precautionary, and that he wanted Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn to see game action before the All-Star break.
"I think when Mikey plays a couple games in a row, it's really good for him," Francona said on Saturday. "And Raburn can be available if they bring in a lefty. He'll play tomorrow, too. So we'll cover our guys going into the break."
• The Indians will hold an optional players' workout on Thursday evening at Comerica Park. They are set to begin the second half with a four-game series in Detroit against the Tigers on Friday.
Alec Shirkey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.