Former Indians abound in MLB playoff race

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One of my favorite traditions leading up to the MLB playoffs is scanning the rosters and news headlines to pick out the individuals with connections to the Cleveland Indians franchise. Yes, it’s exciting enough that Tito Francona has led the Tribe to yet another hope-laden October. But it’s also neat to see some familiar faces around the baseball landscape.

Below, I’ll share a few anecdotes of folks that are interesting to me as the playoffs tee off next week. At least one should get a rendezvous with his former organization.

Hector Rondon, reliever, Houston Astros

Rondon, who will turn 31 before the 2019 season, was once a hot-shot Cleveland Indians pitching prospect. In 2009, he combined for a 3.38 ERA in 146.1 innings between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus. He looked well on his way at an early age to become a major league starter for the Tribe … before arm injuries wrecked his future in Cleveland. Multiple seasons of recovery later, he was a Rule 5 selection of the Chicago Cubs prior to 2013 and stuck around with the MLB club for five seasons, including the 2016 World Series title.

Following Chicago’s decision to non-tender him, Rondon signed a two-year deal with Houston in the most recent offseason. He’s had a mostly productive campaign in the bullpen, despite a rough September. Over the last six seasons, he’s averaged 60 relief appearances, a 3.23 ERA, 15 saves, 9.4 K/9 and a solid 1.16 WHIP. He appeared in relief in two of Chicago’s World Series losses back in 2016 (Games 1 and 4) but will have a chance to enact revenge in the ALDS.

CC Sabathia, starter, New York Yankees

Big CC just does not stop pitching. Although many in New York still believe he was not worth the seven-year $161 million contract that lasted from 2011-17, Sabathia is still around, still pitching fairly well, and still providing stability to the Yankee pitching staff.

Over the last three seasons, he’s averaged 159 innings and a 3.80 ERA. His 2013-15 seasons were undoubtedly difficult, but CC proved in last year’s ALDS against the Tribe that he can still make an October impact. He signed a one-year $10 million deal to remain in town last offseason. He’s decided on playing at least through 2019, whether that is still in The Bronx or not.

Jesus Aguilar, first baseman, Milwaukee Brewers

This one hurts. It was mostly a numbers game that prevented Aguilar from ever receiving a legitimate look at the major league level in Cleveland. He only accumulated 64 plate appearances throughout 2014-16 in intermittent stops with the Tribe. The Brewers snatched him off waivers leading up to 2017 and he’s been raking ever since.

His 34 home runs are second in the National League this season. Combined with MVP candidate Christian Yelich (nearly an Indian himself), the Brewers have stormed their way to a playoff appearance and a possible surprise NL Central title. Aguilar is only 28 years old and under team control for another four full seasons. He hit .273/.346/.472 in 386 games for Columbus … but it just never materialized in him getting a shot for the Tribe.

Rich Hill, starter, Los Angeles Dodgers

Back in 2013, Hill had a disastrous season out of the bullpen for the Wild Card-bound Indians. He posted a 6.28 ERA in 63 games, allowing 38 hits, 30 runs, and 29 walks in 38.2 innings. Given his age at the time and the fact he was arguably most well known for being a former Cubs prospect, it seemed like maybe the end of the road.

But he famously found his way back to MLB success with a great start to the 2016 season in Oakland as a starter. He was traded mid-way through that year to Los Angeles, where he still remains and signed a three-year $48 million deal that will last through his age-39 season in 2019. Hill has been back and forth at times this year but still should presumably have some playoff role for the Dodgers.

Drew Pomeranz and Steven Wright, pitchers, Boston Red Sox

Pomeranz, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2010 draft by the Tribe, and Wright, a 2006 second-rounder, don’t necessarily have guaranteed October roles for the best team in baseball. Despite being a lefty, Pomeranz looks less likely given his difficult season (even in the bullpen most recently). Wright had an awful 2017 but looks like the more reliable move this time around.

The Indians dealt Pomeranz to the Colorado Rockies in the major 2011 trade for Ubaldo Jimenez. He went to San Diego next, then Boston in mid-2016, where he’s underwhelmed since on his way to free agency. Wright was traded to Boston for Lars Anderson at the 2012 trade deadline as he was midway through his conversion as a knuckleballer. He remains under team control for two more seasons and has produced a decent 3.78 ERA in 338.1 career innings.

Managers: Dave Roberts (Los Angeles Dodgers), Bud Black (Colorado Rockies), Alex Cora (Boston Red Sox), Aaron Boone (New York Yankees)

As many as four other MLB playoff managers had playing experience with the Cleveland Indians. Roberts played his first 75 MLB games for the Tribe from 1999-2001 before moving on to Los Angeles and, most famously, Boston. (I’ve also got a great Dave Roberts story myself, too.)

Bud Black had two different stints as a starter with the Tribe from 1989 to late 1990 and again in 1995 before being released to end his MLB career. Alex Cora played 49 games for the Indians in the second half of the 2005 season. That leaves Boone as the most successful former Indian, batting .246/.306/.375 over 247 somewhat underwhelming games from 2005-06 as the team’s regular third baseman.