Building The 2011 Indians

Much to the surprise of everyone outside of Ohio and, let’s face it, a good number of people who reside in the Buckeye State, it’s May and the Indians are still in first place. Predictably, many are asking whether the Indians will eventually give way to the White Sox or the Tigers and sink to the bottom of the AL Central standings. Here’s an equally relevant question: how did the Indians assemble the team that has posted the best record and run differential in baseball so far in 2011?

The answer, to a considerable degree, is ‘trades.’ The Indians’ closer (Chris Perez), three fifths of their Opening Day rotation (Justin Masterson, Carlos Carrasco, Mitch Talbot) and seven of their nine everyday players (Carlos Santana, pictured, Matt LaPorta, Asdrubal Cabrera, Michael Brantley, Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo and Travis Hafner) were all originally acquired in trades. Though he acknowledges that the Indians have built through deals (some of them enormously successful), GM Chris Antonetti says trades are just one avenue the front office considers. 

Santana

"We’re not wed to that approach,” Antonetti told MLBTR. “Our current roster composition largely reflects value judgments we made at the time we were presented with trading opportunities.  In a number of instances, we had a player approaching the end of his contract and we determined that it was better for the organization to trade for more established prospects rather than take the draft picks in return."

Players like C.C. Sabathia and Victor Martinez don’t often appear on the trade market, so Antonetti and GM-turned-team president Mark Shapiro were able to obtain future difference makers such as LaPorta, Brantley and Masterson in summer trades for their stars. 

The Indians didn’t want to trade Sabathia in 2008 – what team would? – but they faced the reality that they were struggling. Instead of waiting and obtaining draft picks after losing the left-hander to free agency, they decided to send him to Milwaukee. Trades, the Indians determined, could help them turn the team around more quickly.

"We knew to do it solely through the draft takes a long time and it’s an uncertain course, because you’re dealing with players that are so far away from the Major Leagues,” Antonetti said. “By the time drafted players progress through the development system, establish themselves as Major League players, then take that step to become productive Major League players, there’s a very long lead time in that and there’s also a very high attrition rate."

The Indians knew this from experience. After winning the AL Central six times in seven years from 1995-2001, they rebuilt. A mere four years later, they won 93 games and made an extended playoff bid thanks, in large part, to the haul they obtained from the Expos in the Bartolo Colon trade (Lee, Sizemore and Brandon Phillips).

By trading for players who had already developed in the minor leagues, the Indians accelerated a return to relevance which culminated in 2007, when they made it to within a game of the World Series. However, it would be nearly impossible to repeat the Colon trade, especially considering the human element involved in all deals.

“In the end it’s still very much an art, far more than it is a science,” Antonetti said. “We’re ultimately talking about future human performance and that’s certainly something that’s very difficult to predict."

Antonetti isn’t making predictions for the 2011 Indians, yet it’s clear that they’re further along than expected. Summer trades don’t typically pick up until June at the earliest, at which point the Indians front office will evaluate the club and determine whether it’s time to become buyers, rather than sellers.

“We’re encouraged by our start and remain confident that we have a talented team,” Antonetti said. “Obviously, the more games we play, the more information we’ll have on where we stand in the division."

It’s also possible that Cleveland’s reinforcements will continue to come from the minor leagues. Alex White arrived in the majors last weekend and contributed instantly. Other top prospects, such as Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis, could tempt Indians brass if their strong play continues.

“As needs arise, we’ll first look internally and if we don’t feel we have a suitable replacement or fortification internally, then we’ll look externally to improve the team.” Antonetti said.

It may seem unlikely that Indians will make a major acquisition this summer, but it wouldn’t be the first time they’ve surprised us this year. Plus, they certainly aren’t afraid of making a trade or two.

Photo courtesy Icon SMI.


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33 Comments on "Building The 2011 Indians"


JacksTigers
4 years 3 months ago

I’m curious to see how Choo reacts on the field to this DUI. IF he gets distracted then the Indians could be in trouble.

4 years 3 months ago

Why? He waas in a huge slump within the first 3 weeks of the season. The Tribe still won. The Tribe is doing the impossible by playing SOLID ball. There’s not one standout player on a hot streak. Everyone is contributing

Lunchbox45
4 years 3 months ago

if success is going to be sustained, their best player needs to be their best player

4 years 3 months ago

My guess is they are more of a fluke than ahead of schedule. That rotation most likely will not hold up on the season. Won’t surprise me much if they are under .500 the rest of the way but the strong start should push them over .500 for the season.

4 years 3 months ago

It is possible, but perhaps they really are starting to arrive. It is always so hard to tell with baseball. Everyone kept saying Bautista was a fluke last year and he wouldn’t hit more than 30, and then they said 40, and then lo and behold he hits 50. Of course, people just wrote his whole season off as a fluke then, but he came out swinging again this year. So who knows, maybe some of these “unknown faces” mixed with the Sizemore’s, Santana’s, and Choo’s are for real.

notsureifsrs
4 years 3 months ago

except not everyone said that about bautista. people paying attention observed the changes in his approach that lead to the success. john dewan actually predicted bautista’s breakout year the spring before the 2010 season. so for the average casual fan they may be, but these things aren’t just a wash of white noise and conjecture for serious analysts

in cleveland’s case this year, i don’t know of anyone who thinks the indians rotation is for real. the best argument for their contention this year is that the young players will stay hot and the rest of the central will stay cold enough to get ’em in despite their weak pitching (which like all pitching is capable of pitching well at times)

that’s not exactly a fluke, i guess. it isn’t meant to discredit them; they’re playing great. but they’re definitely, as a club, playing over their heads

Hermie13
4 years 3 months ago

Not only do the Indians have the best record in baseball….

But their AAA club the Columbus Clippers have the best record in AAA at 21-5! 8 of their 9r regulars have OPS’s over .800 (only leadoff man Carrera doesn’t, he has an OBP of .398)…..counting the 2 guys called up, 4 of their starters with ERAs under 3.20.

And “experts” are still saying this team doesn’t have depth to continue playing well…..

iheartyourfart
4 years 3 months ago

“there’s two or three potential all stars there”

TrueYankeeFanNYC
4 years 3 months ago

I’m happy to see the Indians, royals, marlins and pirates play competitive baseball. It’s great for the league. Masterson is a stud and that’s a big L for bean town because v-mart is in Detroit, and Masterson has cy young stuff and could definitely win one in the next 3-4 years. Santana, talk about a steal for washed up Casey Blake. Sizemore is returning to form. Good luck Indians fans I hope they keep it up and win division.

diehardmets
4 years 3 months ago

Masterson is good, but he he is not even close to Cy Young material and never will be.

0bsessions
4 years 3 months ago

You’re delusional if you think Masterson is a stud and has Cy Young stuff. A guy with Cy Young stuff gets outs on both sides of the plate. Masterson, for his career thus far, has a line of .291/.380/.432 for an .812 OPS against for lefties. Until he solves that problem (Which he has not done, despite his strong start, he’s still .295/.368/.423 to lefties this year).

Masterson, thus far this year, has been feasting primarily on poor competition. He’s only faced one team that’s currently over .500 (And that’s the Royals). Now, I like Masterson and I enjoyed having him on the Red Sox, but let’s not kid ourselves, he’s got a ceiling of three or four starter when it comes down to it. Once he starts facing stiffer competition (Especially lefty heavy teams like the Yankees or Red Sox), he’s probably going to level out to an ERA closer to the mid fours, which is respectable, but far from a stud.

Masterson was far from the centerpiece of that deal anyway, more of a throw in to get someone that could be used by the MLB team immediately. Hagadone and Price were the big pieces of that trade and both have much more upside than Masterson.

TrueYankeeFanNYC
4 years 3 months ago

6’6 250 26 year old who throws a 95 mph fastball with the highest increase in speed from 2009-2011 of any pitcher, changes speeds, three quarter delievery which is very deceiving, slider/changeup are getting better every year. Masterson has natural sink on his pitches. Boston dropped the ball. Masterson is more like a 1-2 but a 2 could never win a cy young right?

notsureifsrs
4 years 3 months ago

did you not read his comment or what. you can talk to yourself without posting comments you know

0bsessions
4 years 3 months ago

Did you look at the stats? I don’t care how much his fastball improves, he cannot get lefties out. His ceiling is essentially Derrek Lowe, which is a quality pitcher, but far from “stud.” He’s a number three on any team with quality pitching depth. He’s faced nothing but crap teams this year and his numbers are being artificially inflated as a result. More facts to chew on:

His LOB is a likely unsustainable 80%, his opponent BABIP is .271 (Indicative of a good defense behind him, if the defense flags, he gets in trouble).

Don’t get me wrong, he’s a good ground ball pitcher and he should have a decent career if he can learn how to get lefties out, but he’s never going to be a TOR guy.

Hermie13
4 years 3 months ago

Masterson was a top 25 pitcher in the AL LAST YEAR. His FIP and xFIP were both top 25. Tribe had horrible defense last year. This year they have a very good one…..it’s really that simple with him. Throwing first pitch strikes also helps.

I said before the year that Masterson would get a Cy young vote (not win it). Guy’s ceiling is that of Brandon Webb though….who happens to have won a Cy Young.

notsureifsrs
4 years 3 months ago

pretty disingenuous to suggest the difference between last year and this year has been the defense. if he gives up the long ball at 10% so far this year instead of the 3% he has, the results are entirely different

i don’t have a way to estimate how much his team’s defense hurt him last year. baseball reference tries to determine it using team total zone data from when he pitched, and they definitely don’t think his defense was to blame (negative rWAR in 2010)

his FIP isn’t bad (and i like FIP), but his tRA was below league average in 2010, which tells us that – defense aside – he was hit pretty hard last year

Hermie13
4 years 3 months ago

It was not “only” the improved defense, but it played a HUGE part in Masterson’s turnaround. His BABIP last year was the 6th highest in baseball (among qualified starters) at .324. Reason is way too many groundballs got through the infield. Those easy grounders are not getting thru this year, plain and simple.

And while his tRA wasn’t the best, I’d like to see a split on that (pre-All Star vs post). Looked like a difference guy in the second half. His slider is the pitch that has really improved.

It was universal knowledge that the Tribe had one of if not the worst infield defense in baseball last year. Now they have Hannahan playing some of the best 3B in baseball, a healthy Asdrubal Cabrera at SS (vastly better than Donald or Valbuena), and a former GG shortstop playing 2B in Orlando Cabrera.

Masterson didn’t get hit hard last year, he was giving up WAY too many seeing eye singles. Those grounders are now turning into easy outs. His ERA last year should have been in the mid-3s had he had a decent defense.

I agree, Masterson is not a low 2 ERA guy, but a low 3 is VERY reasonable with his stuff and this defense. He is doing better against lefties. Their OPS was not that great last year and even this year while they are hitting him much better, they are getting a bit lucky (.361 BABIP).

If you want a number that shows just how the defense hurt Masterson last year, look at his nunbers from July 25th til the end of the year (or even thru this year). That’s the day that Asdrubal came off the DL and started playing SS again instead of the Donald/Valbuena/Sutton combo that was there for most of the year.

AC is not a great defensive SS by any stretch, but he’s lightyears ahead of those others. From July 25th on last year, he had a 3.80 ERA….and his BABIP (which was one of the highest in the game) dropped to a more reasonable .296. This year with an even better defense he’s been even better. Again, it’s not “only” the defense. Watching Nasty Masty pitch you can see his slider is light years better than where it was early last year.

Scariest part IMO about his late surge last year was the fact that he only threw 129.1 innings the year before adn only 88 in the bigs in 2008 since he was a reliever. He should have been tiring….not improving and getting stronger.

Hermie13
4 years 3 months ago

Also…..his tERA in 2010 was good for 20th best in the AL, better than guys like Trevor Cahill (got Cy Young votes), Clay Bucholz, Garza, Shields, Buerhle, Ricky Romero, etc.

his tRA may have been below average, but his Earned run numbers show that defense did in fact hurt him.

Jonathunder
4 years 3 months ago

As Manny Acta tells all of the local radio stations here in Cleveland, we’ve gotta play that Wahoo baseball.

4 years 3 months ago

it’s weird how you only mentioned “giving way to the White Sox or Tigers.” The Twins are ahead of the White Sox and you are acting like the only two teams they could give way to are those two teams.

4 years 3 months ago

Well, given that the WPCT just went in the Twins’ favor after the no-hitter tonight against the ChiSox, and how late the game was played plus the time zones, and I think it’s safe to say that when the article was written they had the same WPCT but Chicago had more wins. Don’t fault the author for posting an article before a game was finished or for not trying to predict an outcome and write it down as fact.

redskyraymond
4 years 3 months ago

And the Royals have looked much better than all three of those teams.

dodgers1994
4 years 3 months ago

the reason why they win is because during spring training i made a bet that the dodgers would have a better record than the indians and whoever looses has to by the other 2 tickets right behind home plate thats why!

McCourtNeedsToGo
4 years 3 months ago

The Indians committed absolute highway robbery by trading Casey Blake for Carlos Santana. I was livid when that trade went down all because McCheap and his wife didn’t want to pay the rest of Blake’s salary that year due to them bilking millions from the Dodgers to finance their lavish multi-home lifestyles. Indians did a great job with that coup. Keep it up Tribe, this Dodger fan is rooting for you.

4 years 3 months ago

Hermie is right.. the Indians depth both on the major league squad, at the AAA Columbus and the kids coming from the AA Akron Aeros are all talented players. The key issue facing the Indians at this early stage of the season is the starting rotation. Two fifths of the starting rotation is currently on the DL (Mitch “Unleash the Fury” Talbot: acquired via trade from the Tampa Rays for Kelly Shoppach & Carlos Carrasco: Obtained as the second piece from the Cliff Lee Deal with the Phillies). Upon their return, both slated to be back sometime within the next 14-21 days, the Indians will have an “embarassment of riches” in their starting rotation.. gee, what a bad problem to have (tongue in cheek). There is no reason why the Indians cannot continue to win games. They are talented. They are young. They are fundamentally sound, both offensively and, with all the sinker ball pitchers, defensively. No one player is carrying an overly heavy load.. it’s someone different every night..

Last night, it was Fausto Carmona going 8 innings of one run ball w/ Matt LaPorta and Orlando Cabrera getting the big hits in a 4-1 win. Tonight, it’s Josh “The Tomlinator” facing Trevor Cahill..

And yes.. I know the little nicknames are corny…

Mick_Stepp
4 years 3 months ago

I don’t think the Indians are this good but they are good and will get better in successive years. It was frustrating reading the casual fan’s assessment of the Indians in the off-season. Most baseball fans (those w/o extensive knowledge of minor league systems and metrics) can only extrapolate, i.e., team X was terrible last year so they, of course, will be terrible this year and vice versa. I’m still short of picking the Indians to win the division but I think they’ll be in the hunt all year, esp. if they parlay some prospects into filling in weaknesses. Neither the Sox or the Tigers look all that impressive nor do they have a reserve of talent in the minors to draw from. KC is much, much better but I think they’ll fade. The Twins are the most likely to assert themselves as the season progresses. It will be interesting to watch.

4 years 3 months ago

this seems like the same thing that happened to giants fans last year (i am a giants fan for the record). but we were extremely lucky, we had career years from almost all the players. Indians fans seem to think that since these young players are flashing brilliance at this early point in the season that it is a guarantee they have arrived to stardom in the majors. Granted the giants roster was filled with older players on the downfall of their careers and the indians are young and only blossoming. But the pace set for the start of the season cant be expected to be upheld, especially with a roster as young as these indians. Im not trying to be negative because i am happy that they are doing well and would rather have them win the central than the other teams but i caution people not to be delusional about the expectations set.

Guest
4 years 3 months ago

It’s funny how people say this and that CAN’T and WON’T happen, but who predicted the Padres to contend? As for Masterson not winning the Cy Young award, who ever thought Cliff Lee would be where he is today (Cy Young and $100+ million in pocket)? So, anything can happen.

4 years 3 months ago

That is certainly too strong.

notsureifsrs
4 years 3 months ago

the invincible mitch talbot

Hermie13
4 years 3 months ago

I disagree. While the Tribe rotation is far from ideal, the fact that very few give them any credit shows they are undervalued, not overvalued. Again, Masterson was a top 25 guy in FIP and xFIP last year, yet gets no love. His ERA from late July on was under 3.5 (the very same time that Asdrubal came off the DL to improve the defense as SS). Masterson has been hot for about 4 months now.

Carmona is a solid vet. Not as good as his 2007 but he’s a solid 2/3 guy. Tomlin is just a grinder. Carrasco isn’t the Ace some thought, but again a good starter.

No ace on this staff (yet), but a group of guys that on any day can give you 7 shutout innings.

This team reminds me of the 2008 Rays. There was no true Ace on that staff, just a bunch of solid starters. Kazmir, Sheilds, Garza, Jackson, Sonanstine. Not exactly a rotation that stuck fear in the hearts of the AL to start the year. And the offense….Pena, Crawford, and Longoria……Choo, Sizemore, and Santana.

This Indians team is probably closer to last year’s Padres, but I would not sleep on them.

Mick_Stepp
4 years 3 months ago

Thanks for the penetrating, insightful analysis.

Hermie13
4 years 3 months ago

A) Didn’t say the Tribe had superstars in AAA…depth does not equal superstars (ie, Posey), so not sure what you’re talkign about. My post did not suggest such. My poat was simplying saying that in the event of an injury, we have depth to plug the hole for the time the player is hurt. Considering we already HAVE had 2 injuries (Talbot and Carrasco) and just plugged in Alex White and Gomez and have not missed a beat, I’d say my assessement was very valid.

Plus, you’re a bit off on that only the Posey’s of the world come up and play well. Tribe brought up a relatively unknown in Asdrubal Cabrera in August 2007 for the stretch run (he was in AA to start the year). He knocked Kenny Lofton out of the 2-hole.

Tribe has guys like Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis in AAA (ie, guys like Gordon Beckman) who can come up and perform well enough.

The Tribe has more Depth than any team in baseball. Not saying they are loaded with superstars, but they are selling off AAA players because there is simply too many good players there. Most are only ML bench guys (ie, Buck, Valbuena, Huffman, Carrera), but there are some gems in there, especially the pitching.