As we have throughout the last several years, WFNY will use the last two weeks of December to discuss the most important stories of the last twelve months. Stay with us as we count down the biggest and most discussed topics of 2016. Our “Best of 2016” continues on with the day 1.3 million converged on the city of Cleveland.
The Andrew Miller trade is one so sweeping in its implications, so vast in its complexity as to necessitate contemplation upon contemplation of its meaning. The Andrew Miller trade altered the Indians and Major League Baseball’s approach to postseason baseball. This paradigm-altering trade shattered the glass ceiling on the big league reliever market and reshaped asset allocation. For the Indians and Chris Antonetti, it changed perception about the goals of the organization.
Whether well-founded or not, there was a vocal group arguing that the Indians were too passive. That there model was based on building an 85-win team and hoping for positive variance to press the club over the precipice. This perception changed. There was perception that Chris Antonetti, a Mark Shapiro disciple, shared Shapiro’s apathy towards opportunism. This perception has surely changed. There was a league wide sentiment that the Indians overvalued their minor league assets in terms of moving them for big time talent. This has changed as well. Finally, the Indians were perceived as limited by a lack of payroll flexibility, a competitive team without the assets to push itself over the line. This may not have changed, but it probably should.
In April 2016, the Indians began the season as projection darlings, a team built to win a division with few competent teams to compete with. This team was built with a floor of 85 wins and every lottery ticket the Indians purchased in the offseason came up aces. Mike Napoli had the most plate appearances of his big league career at 34 and was productive until at least August. Rajai Davis rediscovered his speed, stealing his way to a two-win season and a stolen base title. Even Marlon Byrd, in a limited time before suspension, steadied the offense with a lot of productivity against left-handed pitching. This team had catapulted into near-elite status with one average aspect to the team, a thin bullpen. The Indians decided that this was the time to push the chips in.
Which brings us to Chris Antonetti. Shapiro was criticized for a certain level of passivity during his time controlling baseball operations with the assumption being that his protege shared his stylistic preferences. (This was, of course, ignoring Antonetti’s involvement in the Ubaldo Jimenez deal as well as his pursuit of manager Terry Francona.) The thought of the Indians dealing potentially their best prospect for a relief pitcher making $9 million a season was one which seemed to ignore the past decade of Indians decision making.
In order to demonstrate the manner which perception has evolved following the trade for Andrew Miller we must rely on vox populi, the voice of people, the voice of the fan.
Indians fan Adam Wheeler detailed to me how it shifted his perception of the 2016 Indians:
It showed ownership was willing, not just to make a deal, but to deal for the best. The [Jonathan] Lucroy trade really showed this as well. We weren’t going after just nice additions; we acquired the best arm on the market, and made our pen, already fairly good, into a top three bullpen in the league. Lucroy wasn’t just a good catcher. He was the best hitting catcher on the market, and would have totally remade the weakest spot in the lineup. Ownership was going for it. The team was all in on not just making it to October, but winning the “whole f***ing thing.”
This was a common thread throughout numerous response from Indians Twitter, the team went, to borrow a phrase, “All In”:
This was a different Indians move, it was not a small complementary acquisition nor a sale of a high value assets for long term prospects:
Over the past few years the Indians assembled an exemplary core with Jason Kipnis, Corey Kluber, Michael Brantley, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Cody Allen, Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez… and I am sure someone I forgot, still there was fear that the Indians would not supplement because of a perceived tendency to overvalue in house assets, this changed.
Of course, the Indians perceived limitations were shared by many important national writers just hours before acquiring the best reliever in baseball.
Indeed, this most shrewd and opportunistic move has allowed Indians fans to conceive that further aggressive moves are more reasonable, more possible than what they used to believe:
The Andrew Miller deal changed so many things some of which are yet to be uncovered, perhaps the only thing unchanged in the entire transaction was the dominant man himself.
For Miller, his future changed to that of being employed by a World Series contender. For the Cleveland Indians the perception of acquisitional hesitance was eliminated. For the Dolans it shifted a perception of not being all in on building a title contender. For Major League Baseball the reliever market and postseason strategy has likely been changed forever.
On July 31, 2016 Chris Antonetti made a simple value surplus trade that would dramatically change Cleveland’s perception of its baseball team and the landscape of baseball itself.