Indians

Cy Kluber and the Trades That Built the Tribe

Corey Kluber Cleveland Indians

In the seven o’clock hour Wednesday night, Cleveland’s own Corey Kluber, the out-of-nowhere ace of the Indians, was named the AL Cy Young Award winner. Kluber’s 2014 season was legendary and the best part of it was almost nobody saw it coming. As his teammates will all tell you, nobody works harder and deserves this award more. His preparation and focus are raved about by his peers. Once Justin Masterson, the “No. 1” starter in name, was traded to St. Louis after flaming out (and hurting the Tribe’s playoff chances in the process), it was Kluber who assumed the role of staff leader and became the guy the young starters turned to. Not only was he dominating on the mound, but he was a major presence in the clubhouse. Said his battery-mate Yan Gomes: “After the trade deadline, Kluber put it on himself to lead us back. … I know a lot of guys followed him.”

Even though his numbers were incredible, few expected Corey to beat out perennial All-Star and 2010 Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez. After all King Felix had a terrific season of his own, including a record 14 straight starts where he went at least seven innings while allowing two runs or less. But it was Kluber’s consistency from April through September that won him the award. He struck out 269 hitters in 235.2 innings while walking just 51. He was only the fourth pitcher since 1987 with 18 wins, collect more than 260 strikeouts, and post an ERA below 2.50. How about his 11 starts with 10 or more strikeouts? When the Tribe needed him the most, when there was no margin for error, The Klubot won his last five starts going eight or more innings in four of the five and allowing two earned runs or less in all of the five starts. Not good enough? In the last three starts – Corey punched out 14, 14, and 11, respectively.

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“After the trade deadline, Kluber put it on himself to lead us back. … I know a lot of guys followed him.”

— Yan Gomes

We should all be rejoicing and basking in the glow of Kluber earning his due. Instead, I spent a good hour answering back “fans” on the Interwebs. I really love Twitter. I do. But night’s like Wednesday bring out the worst of the worst. Scrolling through my timelime after the announcement was one bad “so when are the Indians going to trade Kluber” jokes1. They came from everywhere. Why can’t we just enjoy this moment and be happy for Corey? That set me off. Here are some REAL facts for those of you who don’t get it.

Chris Antonetti is doing a fine job as the Indians GM. Is he perfect? Of course not, but so many people seem to only bring up the negatives without even touching on the fact that the current team — winners of 92 and 85 games the last two seasons — would be nowhere without the shrewd deals made by Kid Chris.

Every time you think about wanting him fired, you should remember that the guy who won the Cy Young Award Wednesday night, was acquired in a trade deadline deal in 2010 for Jake Westbrook, who was a free-agent-to-be and already had one cleat out the door. Ah, he got lucky on that one you say? Well what about working as co-pilot with Mark Shapiro, holding out for the player to be named later in the 2008 deadline deal for CC Sabathia. That player was Michael Brantley. You know him don’t you? The best position player on the Indians and 2014 Silver Slugger award winner and MVP finalist. You know who else won a Silver Slugger award this past season? Tribe catcher Yan Gomes. And how was he brought to Cleveland? In an absolute heist (along with utility man Mike Aviles) for reliever Esmil Rogers. Gomes is arguably the best catcher in the American League and Antonetti got him for a reliever he bought from the Rockies a year earlier—for cash. Antonetti was also right there with Shapiro when the team dealt Casey Blake for Carlos Santana in 2008. How are you all feeling today about the Shin-Soo Choo deal from two winters ago that brought the team its top set up man in Bryan Shaw and a young starter in Trevor Bauer who will be a mainstay in the rotation for years to come? This team that has played just TWO meaningless games in the past two seasons has a core that has been built with smart trades from a calculated GM.2

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Once the Dolan family ownership took over and decided to slash payroll in 2002 (the White Flag Trade of Bartolo Colon), the “Dolan’s are cheap” narrative began and never went away. Never mind that they overpaid to keep both Westbrook and Travis Hafner and both of those deals turned out to be mistakes. Westbrook immediately blew out his elbow and by the time he found himself fully healthy, the Indians were ready to ship him off. Hafner’s contract was an immovable anchor as his shoulder issues caused a steep decline in his game even before his extension kicked in. In other words, ownership had been burned before. Fan support and distrust of the front office were at an all-time low when Manny Acta was mercifully let go after the 2012 season. That’s when Shapiro and Antonetti pulled the ultimate coup, snagging the best managing free agent on the market in Terry Francona. Nobody thought this was possible. Yet, Francona stated at his opening press conference that the reason he came to Cleveland was because of the opportunity to work with two men he has long respected and called friends. With Francona came the proverbial kick in the ownership pants to make a splash.

Enter Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. All of those Tribe fans who pined for big name, big money free agents got their wish. Two veteran free agents came on board with four-year contracts. It took essentially a year and a half before people began to turn on those deals. Ya’ll LOVED them when the contracts were inked, yet when both players — on the wrong side of 30 and the downside of their careers — couldn’t stay healthy and didn’t live up to expectations, everyone has been trying to figure out a way to move them out (well, Swisher at least). Big money free agency is fools gold, especially in this market. The Indians right now would love to have more financial flexibility to add a player or two via trade, but they are somewhat limited because Swisher and Bourn will make a combined $28.5 million next season and in $29 million 2016. I also seem to recall how upset so many people were earlier this year when the Indians didn’t work out an extension with the free agent to be Masterson. Imagine if he had taken the Indians reported three-year, $45 million offer. They’d be saddled with almost $45 million in three players, two of whom (Masterson and Swisher) look borderline cooked.

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Remember when Antonetti went for it at the 2011 deadline and sent Drew Pomeranz and Alex White for Ubaldo Jimenez? Many praised the guts of the young GM for moving into “win now” mode. he saw a chance to make a playoff run and he attempted to bolster the rotation. Naturally he caught flack as well because he had moved two of his first-round draft picks to snag the Rockies starter. Antonetti can’t win. He “goes for it,” and he gets flack. He sits on what he has, he gets flack. Meanwhile Ubaldo did end up doing what Antonetti brought him here to do: get the Indians to the playoffs. Only he did so two seasons after the fact. White has essentially never been heard from again and the jury is still out on Pomeranz.

You will get no argument from me that the drafting has been borderline atrocious for more than a decade, but the General Manager is not in charge of overseeing the draft. Those mistakes by the now replaced-John Mirabelli have set the franchise back years. But this team is close in large part to those trades that have built the core of this team. Even in 2014, moving Asdrubal Cabrera and Masterson in separate deals brought power in Zach Walters and depth in outfielder James Ramsey, a 2012 first round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals on the fly. Maybe both will flop, who knows, but the time was upon them to move on from both Cabbie and Masterson and the team didn’t miss a beat with them no longer in the fold.

Wednesday night should have been about Kluber and not about defending how this team was built, but it unfortunately went in that direction. I will leave you with this: If the Indians go into 2015 with the rotation with which they ended last season — Kluber, Carlos Carrasco (also acquired via trade), Danny Salazar, Bauer, and T.J. House — they will have five guys each making less than $1 million who are under team control for at least three more years, all under the age of 29. That includes Kluber, who won the Cy Young Award while making $514,000. The guy he beat, King Felix, made over $22 million. Credit your much-maligned GM for that.

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  1. “Jokes” used loosely as, by definition, these are meant to be funny []
  2. Of course I say all of this fully acknowledging the horrific Ryan Raburn extension amongst other things. []