Indians

Just how did the Indians get so much talent?

The aftermath of the 2017 Cleveland Indians 22nd victory saw an entire ballpark standing and screaming with no one in attendance wanting the electricity firing throughout their bodies to dissipate as Jay Bruce sliced a shot down the right field line that mercifully stayed on the fair side of the chalk allowing Jose Ramirez to score. Gatorade, talcum powder, and jerseys littered the air near second base where the entire 40-man roster had descended upon Bruce as if he were Princess Poppy and the crack of the bat had alerted them to hug time.1

The first 21 victories had been accomplished by brute force. Only three of those contests had been decided by a single run with none needing the dramatics of a walk-off win. Any parallels to harken back to the only other squad even comparable included a sidebar discussion on the mystical quantities of the 1995 comeback wins compared to the seemingly absence of a singular defining moment from the current edition. No more.

Just how did we get here?

Everyone on the roster has been utilized and needed during the best run of Indians baseball in the 117 year history of the team. Josh Tomlin might get squeezed off the postseason roster, but he put up his seventh straight start of giving up three runs or less on Thursday.

Tomlin was aided by some sterling defensive plays including double plays to help end threats in the second and third innings, none were bigger than the last two outs of his start. With Merrifield sitting on second base, Lorenzo Cain completed the equivalent of a swinging bunt. Rather than take the easy play at first, catcher Yan Gomes fired a bullet to Yandy Diaz at third base who refused to allow a swim move deter him from completing the tag. Melky Cabrera then hit a grounder to Santana at first who immediately spun to nail the speedy Cain at second base for his 84th infield assist from first base.

Down a run in the ninth, the youngest members of the Indians came to the rescue. Yandy Diaz, Tyler Naquin, Francisco Mejia, Erik Gonzalez, and Francisco Lindor would all make appearances. Naquin singled. Gonzalez ran. Lindor doubled. The end of the inning saw both the Tribe tie the score and grant invaluable experience to players expected to carry the team into the future.

Top to bottom of the roster, each player has the capability of providing something needed on a championship contender. Having such a wealth of talent on a small market ballclub is supposed to be impossible in the age of the big markets not only dwarfing the revenue of those teams but also incorporating the same analytic approach.

So, how did the Indians get here?

Free agents ain’t free

Outside the rare dip to sign Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher before the 2013 season,2 the Indians have largely avoided large dollar signings in the expensive setting of free agency. Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff saw an opportunity to take advantage of a tepid market on Edwin Encarnacion though, and they struck. The upgrade from the average power hitter of Mike Napoli to the explosive bat of Encarnacion has been a vital addition to the lineup.

Otherwise, the front office made their normal small moves on talented players whom had issues constraining their value in Austin Jackson, Boone Logan (DL), and Craig Breslow (minor league deal). Each has shown the Indians front office has the ability to recognize under-appreciated assets.

Buying talent trades

A big shift in the post-Shapiro world of the Indians has been the completion rather than mere speculation of buyer trades in contention seasons. Andrew Miller was the prize won at the trade deadline in 2016.3 Joe Smith the needed reliever in 2017. The Tribe also one-upped themselves on an August outfield addition from last year as Jay Bruce has proven himself the professional bat the team needed.4

Smaller deals as a buyer over the years have also allowed the Indians to add low risk players with either some upside or a specific skill the team needed. Dan Otero was acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies in 2015 for cash. Nick Goody was obtained from the New York Yankees in 2016 for Yoiber Marquina who is injured and has yet to appear in a minor league game for them. Brandon Guyer was received from the Tampa Bay Rays in 2016 for minor league outfielder Nathan Lukes. Tyler Olson a claimed when the Kansas City Royals designated him for assignment in 2016.

Sell-off trades

Much talk has been made about the Chicago White Sox waving the white flag on the 2017 season to prioritize creating a dominant farm system to utilize in future contention years. Of course, the Indians have done similar deals in 2008 and 2009 when they famously traded Cy Young Award winners in back-to-back years alongside the leader of the clubhouse in Victor Martinez.

A great reminder from those trades is how long it can take to realize the rewards from them. The Martinez trade was lauded for the early return of Justin Masterson’s ability to ruin the infield grass. The Indians also received left-handed pitcher Nick Hagadone and right-handed Bryan Price to develop. Hagadone has since been lost after being designated for assignment after elbow surgery in 2015. Price retired rather than accept a demotion from Columbus to Akron in 2016. And Masterson has since been traded for outfielder James Ramsey who was then traded for cash. The current club has not benefited from that particular trade.

The CC Sabathia trade netted the team Michael Brantley even though Matt LaPorta was the key to that particular deal, who is now gone along with Zach Jackson and Rob Bryson. Current non-ability to run aside, Brantley has been a valuable player for the Indians over the past several seasons, including hitting .299/.358/.445 with a 110 wRC+ in 2017 before succumbing to his ankle ailment.

Cliff Lee was a similar trade in that the top prospect acquired, Jason Knapp, did not wind up being the most valuable piece. Neither Lou Marson nor Jason Donald did much in their limited time with the Indians, but Carlos Carrasco has been a mainstay in the Tribe rotation as he has secured his spot as the second-best starter.

Several other expiring contract trades have been made by the Indians over the years for players currently helping aid the Indians quest for the first Cleveland World Series trophy since 1948.

  • Carlos Santana (Casy Blake trade in 2008)
  • Corey Kluber (Jake Westbrook trade in 2010)
  • Zach McAllister (Austin Kearns trade in 2010)
  • Trevor Bauer (Shin-Soo Choo trade in 2012)
  • Bryan Shaw (Shin-Soo Choo trade in 2012)
  • Mike Clevinger (Vinnie Pestano trade in 2014)
  • Abraham Almonte (Marc Rzepczynski trade in 2015)
Draft or Development?
Rule IV Amateur Draft
  • Josh Tomlin: 19th round of the 2006 MLB June Amateur Draft from Texas Tech University (Lubbock, TX).
  • Lonnie Chisenhall: 1st round (29th) of the 2008 MLB June Amateur Draft from Pitt Community College (Winterville, NC).
  • Roberto Perez: 33rd round of the 2008 MLB June Amateur Draft from Florida Gateway College (Lake City, FL).
  • Jason Kipnis: 2nd round of the 2009 MLB June Amateur Draft from Arizona State University (Tempe, AZ).
  • Francisco Lindor: 1st round (8th) of the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft from Montverde HS (Montverde, FL).
  • Ryan Merritt: 16th round of the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft from McLennan Community College (Waco, TX).
  • Shawn Armstrong: 18th round of the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft from East Carolina University (Greenville, NC).
  • Cody Allen: 23rd round of the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft from High Point University (High Point, NC).
  • Tyler Naquin: 1st round (15th) of the 2012 MLB June Amateur Draft from Texas A&M University (College Station, TX).
  • Kyle Crockett: 4th round of the 2013 MLB June Amateur Draft from University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA).
  • Bradley Zimmer: 1st round (21st) of the 2014 MLB June Amateur Draft from University of San Francisco (San Francisco, CA).
  • Greg Allen: 6th round of the 2014 MLB June Amateur Draft from San Diego State University (San Diego, CA).

Whether the Indians lacked the ability to draft or the development needed in their farm system before 2007 when Brad Grant took over the lead role in scouting was a constant debate amongst fans of the Tribe. The item not up for debate was the wretchedness of the returns as WFNY’s Jacob Rosen highlighted when he did a deep dive on the farm system in 2013.

via @JacobLRosen

Unbeknownst to him and most everyone else was that the machinations for changing both the draft and development were already at work. The results of those changes is being seen on the current roster where both high-round selections (Chisenhall, Kipnis, Lindor, and Zimmer) alongside late-round finds (Tomlin, the Allens) have made up over 25% of 40-man set.

Also of note is how much the prospect valuation can change. Lindor and Bauer were rightfully at the top of Rosen’s deck, but Danny Salazar (No. 9), Jose Ramirez (No. 10), and Chisenhall (Others) have proven to be the other most valuable players from the list. In fact, Rosen should get credit for even having Ramirez listed at a time when many other publications did not consider him a Top 10 prospect.

Fangraphs recently highlighted how many of the top players in MLB were never considered top prospects as they rose through their team’s systems. Ramirez and Kluber made his Top 5 of under-appreciated non-prospects.

International Signings
  • Danny Salazar signed in 2006 from the Dominican Republic
  • Erik Gonzalez signed in 2008 from the Dominican Republic
  • Giovanny Urshela in signed 2008 from Columbia
  • Jose Ramirez signed in 2009 from the Dominican Republic
  • Francisco Mejia signed in 2012 from the Dominican Republic
  • Yandy Diaz signed in 2013 from Cuba

The last key acquisition arena in baseball is the international market. The best prospects often have deals years in advance5 or are snatched up by the big market teams such as the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox who bend the rules and use their gigantic cash reserves. Teams such as the Indians must act as they do on the free agent market and find the under-valued prospects. Finding an AL MVP candidate despite the limitations the Indians face is ridiculous.

Last Word

Nearly half of the Indians 40-man roster is homegrown through the Amateur Draft of from an international signing. Many of the others acquired in trades have been developed within the Indians system (Carrasco, Kluber, Santana, Clevinger, etc.). The Indians have also been intelligent about their dips into free agency and the trade market. The result has been a MLB team as deep as any and a farm system capable of fortifying the ballclub when injuries inevitably arise. As the rest of baseball has found out, it has made the 2017 team quite dangerous.

  1. Lonnie Chisenhall still utilizes Hair Up from the movie Trolls as his walk up song, so I’m still allowed to use parallels. These are the rules. []
  2. Let’s remember that the actual payroll after these signings did not go up more than a few million dollars due to a bunch of contracts also coming off the books. []
  3. Welcome back to Miller who pitched OK in his first appearance off the DL on Thursday. []
  4. Indians are 31-5 since acquiring Bruce. []
  5. Vladimir Guerrero Jr with the Toronto Blue Jays []

  • BenRM

    Great piece.

  • Ransom

    I’m a long-time reader of this site, but I never comment. I just wanted to say that I really enjoy reading Bode’s content. I was halfway through the article before I realized I didn’t know who the author was but I guessed that it was Bode. Anyway, I just wanted to say keep up the great work.

  • mgbode

    Thank you for reading and the kind words. They are appreciated.

    https://m.popkey.co/f884f7/b0XRr_s-200×150.gif

  • CBiscuit

    Bode is the best (non-lawyer) on this site for sure.

    And you only have 32,149 comments to catch up to him. Otherwise, welcome aboard!

    PS. Also, if you look at the terms of the agreement on the site, after your first comment, on Friday, you have to buy everyone drinks. Sorry, I don’t make up the rules…

  • BenRM

    There are a surprising number of lawyers in these comment sections…what are we doing with our lives?

  • Chris

    DOLANZ R CHEEP!!!

    Great stuff Bode! Interesting to see what no-names rise out of a trade or draft and end up contributing in the bigs

  • Chris

    Dont worry, I would ask that of most lawyers anyway.

  • BenRM
  • CBiscuit

    Avoiding our masters (billable hours and our clients) and steering from existential crisis?

    Or if that’s too heavy, effing around on the webz and wasting other people’s time and money?

  • lovelygreatwonderful

    Great summary. I don’t think enough attention is given to the impact continuity (front office and roster) has had on this team’s culture, its success, and its popularity. These guys have all come up together, suffered through frustrating mediocrity together, and seem to genuinely care about each other as a result. It also makes it easier for veterans like Edwin and Bruce to fit right in from the start, as well as for the Yandy/Gio/Allen set to step right up as well.

    Whether or not that has any direct, quantifiable effect on performance, it sure makes them even more fun to follow.

    It’s also a lesson the two other teams in town would do well to learn.

  • scripty
  • Eric G

    I think one of the most telling parts of last night’s game was that Gomes was lifted for Mejia. In the 9th. Down a run. With a runner on. And one down.

    This wasn’t Tito saying that Gomes wouldn’t get a hit and trying to find a bat that would. This was giving a callup a chance in an electric environment to see how he responds, to see if he makes the post-season roster.

    I don’t think Tito doesn’t care about the Streak. I think he is as wise a manager as there is, where many would have been focused on giving the crowd what they want (and ultimately got elsewhere), he looked forward to see what we might need next month. Really, really smart. He’s just the best.

    Also, Bode, for the love of God, please don’t reference Trolls music anymore. I hear it nonstop at home, and now it’s in my head at work.

  • mgbode

    Also, on Tuesday Mejia thought he was getting a somewhat high leverage AB (Tribe up 1-0, Santana on 3B, 2 outs). Instead he got an IBB, then subbed out for a pinch runner.

    Apologies. It has also been on in my household non-stop for 9 months now. I oscillate between enjoying it and getting tired of it. At the moment, I’ve got this feeling. Inside my bones. It goes electric wavey, when I turn it on…

    (oh, sorry, sorry.)

  • Steve

    “This wasn’t Tito saying that Gomes wouldn’t get a hit and trying to find a bat that would”

    Sure it was. Against a RHP, Mejia is a better bet than Gomes. Same with Naquin for Guyer one batter earlier. Neither Mejia nor Naquin are making the postseason roster either.

    Where he threatened the streak was leaving Tomlin in to face Hosmer a third time, and letting Bruce bat against a lefty.

  • Eric G

    I see where you’re going with this, but this was a high-leverage situation. I think there was more to it (as I stated) than historical double-A batting averages. I don’t mean to over-snark your comment, but Gomes is a big-league batter with years of experience.

  • Eric G

    I just told you, rescue everyone, make it home safely.

  • mgbode

    That’s not a plan, it’s a wishlist.

  • Steve

    Yan Gomes is a big-league batter, who is projected for an 80 wRC+

    http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=9627&position=C

    Mejia is projected for a 78 wRC+

    http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=16403&position=C/DH

    And far more goes into those projections than AA batting averages. So they’re pretty much equivalent value as hitters. Then you take into account that Mejia, as a switch-hitter, is going to have the platoon advantage, whereas Gomes is going to give it up to the pitcher. Mejia is a better bet against RHP than Gomes (or Perez for that matter).

  • Steve

    And I really think that the Hosmer-Tomlin matchup is not getting enough play, almost certainly because we won. That was rostering-Martinez level of foolishness.

  • mgbode

    It was getting play in my household and I was quite glad that I didn’t have to bring it up.

  • mgbode

    I think you are saying essentially the same thing here. You are just giving slightly different meaning to it. Most MLB managers if they were focused on the winning first-and-foremost would not give that PA to a 2-week old rookie whose statistics show he is equal or maybe just barely better in probability than the veteran he is replacing. Tito did.

    Now, we can use that to talk of the rest of MLB and managers, but that is another point.

  • Steve

    I agree that most managers would go with the vet. Our standard should be higher than most managers though.

    I don’t think it was just barely better. Once you take into Gomes splits – career .666 OPS vs RHP, .789 vs LHP – he’s a clear step down vs RHP from Mejia.

  • Eric G

    OOooohhh…I suppose you have a plan

  • Saggy

    Yan Gomes is a big league batter. But probably shouldn’t be for much longer. He’s pretty awful.

  • Saggy

    One can only wish Tito was managing at the beginning of Lindor’s rookie year. Surely he would have given the rookie some early Big League reps in lieu of a certain negative-WAR middle infielder.

  • jpftribe

    +1000

  • mgbode

    Looks like the franchise plan is for Mejia to shift to 3B, so we should probably get used to Gomes-Berto & punting on offense from our catcher.

  • jpftribe

    Even if we lost it wouldn’t get any play. He gets a hall pass for these mistakes as part of some greater long term good. Even when he’s asked about it by the press, he gives the aw shucks maybe you’re right response and on we move to the next item.

    I was on another game thread site last night during the game and the defense of it was preposterous. Don’t mistake my comment for Tito sucks and he needs to go. Fabulous manager, likely a HOF’er, hope we keep him here a long time. But these in game mistakes are entirely predictable.

  • jpftribe

    Thought it was really telling Tito pulled Mejia for Perez after the PH, knowing Tito’s disdain for having to use his last catcher in extra innings.

  • Steve

    “he gives the aw shucks maybe you’re right response and on we move to the next item”

    So much of this. So many times have we heard him say something to the extent of “maybe I should just tell Lindor to bunt less often”.

  • mgbode

    I really don’t feel like typing out the whole thing. We end up getting eaten by the Bergens though.

  • Eric G

    hahahah. I was wondering we’d stop. I only started because that’s my favorite line. The animators did such a great job w/ her expression of disgust like, “Uh, how dare you question me”

    Yes, I’ve seen this far too many times.

  • Eric G

    Ugh, sad to say that’s true. But he’s been pretty stellar these last 22

  • mgbode

    The animators did an amazing job on expressions throughout the movie. You can watch it w/o listening to the words and tell what each character is feeling. Not that, well, umm…

    My favorite line of the movie though is…
    or watching your parents while they sleep

  • Garry_Owen

    Loved this, Michael. Very well done.

  • tsm

    Excellent as usual. As far as Tito is concerned, he is average at best as an in game strategist. His strength is in his leadership, which is of greater importance in the big picture.

  • mgbode

    thanks

  • mgbode

    thanks and yes.

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