Satiating every baseball fan’s sick fascination with watching grown men switch outfits with each other, the 2015 trade deadline has truly delivered like few in recent memory—uprooting dozens of families and creating chaos in AL-Only fantasy leagues. For all the superstars, top prospects, and Brandon Mosses changing hands, however, one longtime staple of the wheelin-and-dealin’ season has been conspicuously absent this year. It’s that faceless silhouette known as the PTBNL—the Player to Be Named Later.
In virtually every deal over the past week—the Rangers trading five prospects for Cole Hamels; Toronto adding Troy Tulowitski and David Price; thirteen players bundled into one Braves/Marlins/Dodgers cattle call—everyone involved was identified by name. That even goes for small peanuts swaps like Dustin Ackley heading to the Yankees (for Ramon Flores and the other Jose Ramirez) and our “good guy” David Murphy going to the Angels (for Double-A shortstop Eric Stamets).
It could be a fluke, or it might reflect on the ever-increasing depth of research that each MLB team pours into prospect evaluation. Rather than negotiating over a few guys who might fit a PTBNL role, GMs could be abandoning that wiggle room in order to seek out and acquire the exact targets that fit their ultra-precise criteria. As an added factor, a low-level minor leaguer can actually be marketed to a fan base as a credible commodity these days. Ironically, in an era simultaneously criticized for its lack of marquee superstars, the public’s familiarity with potential “future stars” has never been higher—thanks to the explosion of Top 100 Prospect lists and the twittering of know-it-alls like my old pal Jeff Ellis. Hence, even the biggest B-Moss fans in Cleveland can’t help but hear the overwhelming A+ grades the Indians earned for “stealing” Rob Kaminsky (a Single-A pitcher) from St. Louis.
Just seven years ago, when the Indians named Michael Brantley as the Player to Be Named Later in the wildly unpopular CC Sabathia deal, Mark Shapiro talked about the advantages of having extra time to choose between the two available Brewer prospects, Brantley and third baseman Taylor Green (who’s currently STILL with Milwaukee’s Double-A squad).
“Normally when you do a trade [for a minor leaguer], you’re lucky if you get a couple looks at the guy,” he said. “In this trade, we got multiple looks over multiple days with multiple scouts. … Brantley is a guy that’s at an advanced level for his age. We think that’s a big positive for us. We would hope with the path that he’s on that he does make the big leagues at a young age.”
Compare that to Chris Antonetti’s statement on Rob Kaminsky earlier this week.
“Rob is a guy who we have liked for quite a while out of the draft. He’s a left-handed pitcher who has got a good fastball with good life to it, generates a lot of groundballs and has a really good compliment of secondary pitches. We think he has a good chance to develop into a solid major league pitcher.”
The dressing is essentially the same in both quotes, but the meat is quite different. Rather than having the rare opportunity to scout a prospect for “multiple days,” the 2015 Indians presumably have an army of robots assessing every better-than-average ballplayer in North America, age 16 and up, 24/7. Enough was known about Kaminsky to make him a no-brainer in this deal. And his name was proudly shared with the world.
In any case, here’s hoping the Player To Be Named Later isn’t going the way of the dodo. Sure, for every Michael Brantley in Indians history, there have been plenty of forgotten never-were’s like Jeff Stevens (Brandon Phillips trade), Mickey Hall (Paul Byrd trade), and Jess Todd (Mark DeRosa trade). But while PTBNL expectations are clearly low for a reason, there have still certainly been a handful of players who’ve walked in Brantley’s shoes before—overcoming those scarlet letters to earn the respect of the Cleveland faithful. Few of them were superstars, mind you. But none of them settled for anonymity. In honor of the glorious deadline season, here are ten of them…
Top 10 Players To Be Named Later in Indians History
In February of 1994, the Indians sent Double-A pitching prospect Shawn Bryant to Minnesota for a rusty bucket filled with pine cones. A few weeks later, the blockbuster deal was finalized when the Twins identified the bucket as 19 year-old Dominican shortstop Enrique Wilson. Bryant quickly puttered out in Triple-A and never made it to the Show, but Enrique matured into a solid prospect and went on to a decade-long career as a serviceable— if not particularly electrifying—utility man. He was hitting .325 for the Tribe in 2000 when they recycled him at the trade deadline to get the loveable Wil Cordero.
As it turns out, Michael Brantley is not the most recent example of a PTBNL success story for the Indians. Back in 2010, the Wahoos happily shipped the rotting corpse of Austin Kearns to the Bronx at midseason in exchange for “pretty much anything, cuz it’s Austin Kearns.” Incredibly, the Yankees agreed to sacrifice an actual prospect in that swap, and Zach McAllister has turned into a fairly stable cog in the current Cleveland bullpen.
If El Gato isn’t one of the more celebrated PTBNL in Tribe lore, it’s only because of the PTBNL that Cleveland gave up to acquire him. On November 28, 1988, the Indians made a seemingly innocuous holiday season deal with Pittsburgh, sending “somebody” to the Pirates for utility man Denny Gonzalez and “somebody else.” The following March, the mystery men were officially revealed (though the details were well known by then). The Tribe got 25 year-old shortstop Felix Fermin, and the Pirates received former 1st round draft pick Jay Bell, who’d hit just .218 in 70 games for Cleveland in 1988. In a Brandon Phillips-like twist, Bell became an all-star in the NL, but Fermin served his purpose—first as the Tribe’s banjo-hitting everyday shortstop for FIVE years, then as a piece in the 1993 trade that brought Omar Vizquel to Cleveland.
If Ralph Terry knew the PTBNL tag had already been placed on him, he sure didn’t show any signs of it. In September of 1964, the Indians dealt pitcher Pedro Ramos to the Yankees for $75,000 and two players to be named later. With Ramos’ help out of the pen, New York snagged the pennant once more. But in Game 4 of the ’64 World Series against the Cardinals, it was the veteran Terry—still very much a Yankee— who got the call in relief; his team trailing 4-3. Ralph had surrendered the famous World Series winning homerun to Bill Mazeroski in 1960, then won MVP honors himself in the ’62 Fall Classic. Now, in a limited role, he pitched two shutout innings, striking out three and keeping New York in the game. It’d be his final appearance as a Bronx Bomber. Less than a week after they lost the series in seven games, the Yankees named Terry as one of the PTBNL in the Ramos deal. He was now an Indian. He was a good one, too, going 11-6 with a 3.69 ERA and sparkling 1.07 WHIP in 1965. That was Terry’s last hurrah, though. He was traded to Kansas City the next season and was out of the league by the age of 31.
A few weeks after the Bartolo Colon trade signaled the official end to the Era of Champions, the Indians continued purging their rotation by sending Chuck Finley to St. Louis for a minor league schlub and a PTBNL. Fans roared in outrage. Tawny Kitaen remained cool and collected. And on August 7, 2002, the Cardinals announced the last piece of the deal. His name… was Coco Crisp. Yes, it’s been 13 years since we all stopped what we were doing to collectively make fun of the name of Akron’s new outfielder. Within a couple years, though, Coco had shown he was no joke—putting up what would prove to be career years in 2004 and 2005 (averaging 15 HR, 70 RBI, and a .300 avg). His eventual trade to Boston for Andy Marte proved to be a fairly terrible one, particularly as Crisp wound up having a longer shelf life than most comparable cereals in the league.
No discussion of players-to-be-named-later is complete without a brief mention of Harry Chiti, the first man ever traded for himself. The story is a simple one. In April of 1962, the Indians shipped the journeyman catcher Chiti to the expansion New York Mets for a PTBNL. Chiti played 15 games for New York, hitting just .195. Unimpressed, the Mets completed the original trade on June 15, naming Harry Chiti as the PTBNL going back to Cleveland. Thus, Harry Chiti was traded for Harry Chiti. The poor guy never played another game in the Bigs, and never actually played a single regular season game for the Indians.
No player-to-be-named-later ever went on to log more service time for the Tribe than two-time all-star and sad-eyed laddie of the hot corner, Brook Jacoby. A seventh round pick of the Braves in 1979, Brook was still biding his time in Triple-A Richmond when he became the last piece of the trade that sent the occasionally infallible Len Barker to Atlanta. In the first phase of the swap—August 28, 1983— Cleveland only got $150,000 in cash and a promise of “two other fellas.” On October 21, the prospects were revealed. And by the following summer, Tribe fans realized that Len Barker had bestowed them with some pretty good parting gifts. From 1985-1987, among players with at least 200 games started at third base, only four had a better OPS than Brook Jacoby (.814). One was Rance Mulliniks (who knew?), but you can probably guess the other three: Schmidt (.905), Boggs (.967), and Brett (.969). Of course, Brook is also in the top ten in Indians history in strikeouts and double plays grounded into. He was never the picture of consistency.
And would you believe that very same Lenny Barker trade also delivered my first childhood baseball hero, Brett Butler (not to be confused with my first redneck female comedian hero, Brett Butler)?! Despite being a PTBNL, Brett had already established himself as an exciting, everyday player for the Braves in 1983, hitting .281, swiping 39 bases, and leading the league with 13 triples. At 27, he was a bit of a late bloomer, but his best years were ahead of him. Though he’d go on to greater acclaim in San Francisco and L.A., Butler was arguably at his peak in Cleveland, where he averaged 5 HR, 48 RBI, 99 runs, 41 steals, a .288 AVG, and .768 OPS from ’84 to ’87. He and Huey Lewis were in their primes at the same time. Brett is still #8 on the Indians’ all-time steals list.
Signed through the 2017 season and cemented into the No. 3 spot in the Tribe lineup, Brantley has truly become that rarest of birds– the PTBNL turned core player. As for Matt LaPorta, the centerpiece of the Sabathia trade, he announced his retirement from pro baseball this past spring. By comparison, Dr. Smooth’s accomplishments should look all the more impressive. But, in a subtle way, he still seems to suffer some residual judgment for the PTBNL tag he once wore. “Casual fans” still bemoan the CC deal, inexplicably downplaying the return. A .300 hitting, 28 year-old outfielder coming off a 20-20 season seems like a guy who has transcended his PTBNL past.
He’s the only former Tribe PTBNL to wind up in the Hall of Fame, but the Cleveland chapter of Ralph Kiner’s story is predictably also the saddest chapter. Just a couple years removed from leading the National League in homers seven straight seasons, the former Pirates star was a Chicago Cub in 1954. And though he was only 31, back problems had begun to limit his power. Even so, as players-to-be-named-later go, it didn’t get much bigger than November 16, 1954, when Chicago added Kiner to a trade that had begun with Cleveland sending Sam Jones to the Cubbies back in September. Indians GM Hank Greenberg was old pals with Kiner, and as a token of good faith, Ralph offered to take a 40-percent pay cut to ease his transition to the new club. The selfless deed was not rewarded with good fortune on the field, however. While Kiner put up solid numbers in 113 games—.243 AVG, 18 HR, 54 RBI, .818 OPS—his back condition worsened. At the age of 32, his career was over—a sure fire 500 homerun career cut short.
If you build it… etc etc. Joe Jackson is, of course, not a Hall of Famer, but that is certainly not a consequence of his statistics. He was easily one of the greatest players of the Dead Ball Era; a career .356 hitter with a .940 OPS. Back in 1910, though, he was just an unproven, 22 year-old country boy with the Philadelphia A’s. On July 23rd of that year, Philly struck a deal with the Cleveland Naps to reacquire their former outfielder Bris Lord, aka “The Human Eyeball” (man, the early days of baseball were awesome). In exchange, Cleveland received infielder Morrie Rath and a PTBNL. Just a week later, Shoeless Joe became a Nap. And by the following season, he was well on his way to icon status, hitting .408, driving in 83 runs, and stealing 41 bags. He’d lead the league in hits in 1912 and 1913, with his average dipping to a meager .395 and .373, respectively. Jackson’s Cleveland career concluded in 1915, when he was dealt to the White Sox for Ed Klepfer, Braggo Roth, $31,500, and—naturally—a player to be named later. The player was Larry Chappell—a left-hand hitting outfielder like Michael Brantley. Except that Larry Chappell never amounted to jack squat.