In many ways, I think you could make the argument that the Indians got worse yesterday. It was slightly complex, but the team traded Edwin Encarnacion and Yandy Diaz for Carlos Santana and Jake Bauers. There was also an influx of $5 million to Cleveland’s coffers as a part of the deal. Edwin Encarnacion is a former MVP candidate and managed to smash 32 homers in 2018 for the Tribe. The Mariners are really excited to have landed him for their team in 2019. I also loved the potential of Yandy Diaz and I’m sorry we won’t get to see what he can be in his career as a member of the Indians. And yet, despite the concerns that the Indians just got worse on paper, and it will be argued by some that this is the Dolan family being cheap, this feels smart and necessary to me.
Baseball is the ultimate analytical game, but I think there’s still some room for squishier takes as well. Just because we boil this game down to stats and situations and measurables like launch and arm angles doesn’t also preclude the idea of team chemistry and emotions and feelings. There’s also no way to avoid the undeniable results of the past two years since the Indians’ magical run to the World Series.
I’m not going to tell you that the last two seasons were failures because the Indians didn’t make it back to the World Series, let alone win one. Making the playoffs and dominating your division is valuable and worth something. However, with one of the greatest pitching staffs in team history and two of the most electric stars in their younger controllable years in Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, there’s just no questioning that it’s at least somewhat disappointing. To put it simply, I think the Indians as-constructed heading into this off-season were stale.
While the Indians have slashed expense this off-season and traded the biggest free agent they ever signed off the street, I’m feeling good about it. This team gets back someone that I considered to be an emotional leader of the team in Carlos Santana. He’s on an expensive deal, but it’s set to decline, having been front-loaded in Philly with a $10 million signing bonus and a 2018 base salary of $15 million.1 When you see Carlos back in Cleveland, ask him for a loan as he cashed $25 mil worth of checks last year alone. Philly unloaded the remainder of his deal and J.P. Crawford to bring back Jean Segura and relievers Juan Nicasio and James Pazos.
When Carlos Santana is the pawn that keeps moving so that other teams get what they want, it’s at least a little bit curious that when the music stopped and all the chairs were full the Indians ended up with Santana almost by default. That’s where I start to get squishy about all this and I find a way to justify it. Carlos Santana might be overpriced to most other MLB rosters, but to Cleveland it’s only a slight overpay for someone with known history and chemistry in the organization. Edwin Encarnacion is the better player on paper, and there’s no reason to think he was a problem in the clubhouse or anything like that, but I still think it’s reasonable to think that the Indians could achieve better results with Carlos Santana than with Edwin Encarnacion even though technically Edwin is the more talented and accomplished player.
This is the story of baseball. There are plenty of stars drafted at the top who end up living up to their potential, but there are countless stories of other guys like Jose Ramirez who become decorated MLB players after walking into the league as unsigned prospects. You have the most talented teams in Indians history like the 1996 Indians that got knocked out of the playoffs only to be followed up by the 1997 Indians that knocked on the door of a championship with Brian Giles, Marquis Grissom, and David Justice, replacing Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, and Eddie Murray. That had more to do with a magical run by Jaret Wright, but the point remains. Sometimes you can get worse on paper and end up achieving better results.
I don’t know that that is what has happened here with the Indians today, but I felt like the team was stale and needed a makeover. It just so happens that the makeover included digging up that nice shirt from two season ago that you might have retired to the back of your closet a bit too early.