It wasn't exactly the "Shot Heard Round The World," but the AL Central is covering its ears.<br><br>…
Are Lawton's Days Numbered?
But now that Lawton is having an All-Star season, his salary doesn't seem like it'll be a stumbling block if indeed the Indians choose to move him, thus opening the door for a younger and less-expensive outfielder on the roster. Trading Lawton not only would free up $7 million for next season, but also should bring some quality young talent in return. It also would allow the Indians to bring up Ryan Ludwick, who is nearly ready physically following extensive rehab from knee surgery. Ludwick would give the Indians a solid righthand bat with power potential, something manager Eric Wedge currently lacks among his outfielders. As it stands now, Jody Gerut, Grady Sizemore and Lawton are all left-handers, while Coco Crisp is a switch-hitter who provides virtually no power from either side of the plate. Lawton, who is well on his way to a career year, says he tries not to think about a possible trade, but because fans, friends and media are constantly talking about it, avoiding the subject is next to impossible. "Friends call me to try and figure out what I am thinking," he said. "And I hear my name being brought up (in trade talks)." Lawton says he isn't concerned. "If it happens, it happens," he says. "I can't worry about it. If it happens, you pack your bags and go play for whoever traded for you. If I am here, I will continue to just go out and try to continue doing the things I have done over the first half of the season." Lawton's numbers have been solid all season. Not only did he earn his second All-Star selection, but he also has a shot at career highs in batting average, homers, RBI and runs-scored. Through late July, he was hitting .302 with 16 homers, 52 RBI and 75 runs scored. His current career highs are .305, 21, 88 and 95. Lawton is a big reason why the Indians have been in contention all season. And if he isn't traded, he vows to continue doing everything in his power to help transition the Indians back into legitimate title contenders. It's a role Lawton has filled before, and one with which he says he is comfortable. "It seems like I have always been playing with a group of young players," he said. "It was the same thing in Minnesota." Lawton first came to the majors with the Twins in 1995. He remained with Minnesota until July 30, 2001, when he was traded to the Mets. After just 48 games in the Big Apple, Lawton was traded to the Indians along with Jerrod Riggan, Billy Traber and Earl Snyder in exchange for Roberto Alomar, Mike Bacsik and Danny Peoples. Thus, just as the Twins were developing into legitimate AL Central Division contenders, Lawton found himself with an Indians team that, after years of dominating the division, was in the process of rebuilding. That certainly isn't the best situation for a veteran player who has his sights set on his first-ever post-season appearance. That, combined with his own personal struggles, made the past two seasons very difficult for the 33-year-old. Fans and media constantly were criticizing him. In their eyes, he was a bum both at the plate and in the field. Forget the fact he had several injuries, people wanted production from the only veteran received in exchange Alomar, who was a fan favorite throughout his stay in Cleveland. But now that his own game has returned to its previous level and the team has surprised many and remained in contention, things have been much better for Lawton this season. The media has praised him from the start of spring training, when he reported to camp determined to turn things around after hitting just .242 with 30 homers and 110 RBI in 213 games with the Tribe in 2002 and 2003. Fans no longer boo his every appearance. Instead, they have welcomed him with cheers that seem to indicate they have forgotten the past two years. But Lawton admittedly has a long memory. He hasn't forgotten or forgiven the negative things that have been said and written. In fact, he took issue with this writer, saying, "I've read what you've written and I've heard what you've had to say." Indeed, much if it has been critical the past two years. But Lawton, who is sometimes candid to a fault, knows that as a professional ballplayer, he is open game to criticism if he isn't playing well. "I know how people are," he said. "I take it (criticism) for what it is. I am a baseball player. You have the right to criticize me and I have the right to criticize you. "Hey, we will both criticize each other and then laugh about it at the end of the day." And if the young Indians continue to remain competitive in the AL Central, we'll both be smiling at the end of the season. He says the current Indians compare favorably to the Twins teams from four or five years ago. "Our strength here is our starting pitching," he said. "The talent is very comparable to what we had in Minnesota. We have C.C. Sabathia, Jake Westbrook and Cliff Lee. In Minnesota, everybody talked about the big three –- Eric Milton, Joe Mays and Brad Radke. "And then we also have guys like Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner. These two guys are far beyond any talent we had in Minnesota." Lawton says he thoroughly enjoys watching talented young players develop into star-quality players. "For me, it is fun to watch those young guys think along with the opposing teams; think along with the opposing pitcher; learn to take advantage of their God-given talent. "It is so good to see young players do that and for them to realize they are only going to get better if they continue to work hard." Lawton says the most important thing for the Indians this year is to remain in contention through the season, thus gaining the extremely important experience of being in a legitimate title chase. "I think if we come close this year, everyone will have a lot more confidence next year," he said, adding that, in reality, the Indians should be running away with the division instead of just trying to stay in contention. "We really should be far ahead because of the way we've played," he said, noting that in all areas of the game outside of the bullpen, the team has been far and away the best in the division. But Lawton said that now is not the time to start pointing fingers. "If you start talking about the bullpen, or the offense, or the defense, that's when you will really start to break down (as a team). "We have played as a team and there has been no finger-pointing at this guy or that guy. We just have to continue to battle. Each day we go out there it is a new day. It doesn't matter what happened yesterday. The only thing you have to care about is today; to try and win the game that day. That is what the team has been doing all year." Lawton is prepared to provide veteran leadership down the stretch, if indeed he is with the team. "The last two months are always the hardest," Lawton said. "Everyone starts to get a little tired. You have to stay focused and not worry about things like the trade deadline." Which isn't an easy thing to do if your name is Matt Lawton.
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