Why Don't the Indians Have Any Stars and When Will They Get One?

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Why Don't the Indians Have Any Stars and When Will They Get One?
Jason Miller/Getty Images
Travis Hafner can really hit, but still leaves much to be desired.

As I observed earlier today, the Indians have had some long fallow periods in their history, and they’re going through one now. Since the Tribe’s run as an AL Central powerhouse came to an end in 2002, they have been on a roller-coaster that has included two 90-win seasons and an ALCS appearance, but also six losing seasons, including three straight beginning in 2009.

That great Indians run, which saw them win two pennants, began in 1994. That team was powered by—I hope you will forgive a long list, but these guys are worth it—Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel, Manny Ramirez, Kenny Lofton, Sandy Alomar, Jr., David Justice, Travis Fryman, Roberto Alomar, Albert Belle, Carlos Baerga, Charles Nagy and Bartolo Colon. That is a talented group, and looking back at them, it’s hard to believe that there wasn’t at least one championship in them, or three.

Since then, the Indians have been playing a different breed of cat. Here are the top 10 Indians in games played, 2002 to 2011, along with their rates:

GAMES


G

AVG

OBP

SLG

1

Travis Hafner

1,012

.281

.384

.513

2

Jhonny Peralta

923

.264

.329

.422

3

Grady Sizemore

892

.269

.357

.473

4

Victor Martinez

821

.297

.369

.463

5

Casey Blake

810

.266

.337

.451

6

Asdrubal Cabrera

538

.281

.343

.414

7

Shin-Soo Choo

530

.294

.387

.478

8

Ben Broussard

524

.268

.332

.468

9

Coco Crisp

415

.287

.332

.424

10

Ryan Garko

408

.283

.355

.450


Really? That’s it? Hafner is a fine hitter when healthy, but rarely is healthy and is just a designated hitter. Sizemore could have been something really special, but injuries have destroyed him. Victor Martinez was a fine hitter, but wasn’t very good behind the plate, and with the emergence of Carlos Santana, the Indians dealt him for pitching prospects (including Justin Masterson) rather than pay him.

Choo is an excellent hitter and a great pickup from a Mariners team that just plain missed on him, but he’s not enough. In fact, he's very similar to Bobby Abreu, the superannuated DH the Indians tried to pick up from the Angels last week before the deal apparently fell apart due to money issues. Having two Abreu types in their prime would be a coup. Getting this version of Abreu bespeaks desperation.

Here is the pitching side of the 2002-2011 picture:

GAMES

STARTED

GS

ERA

1

C.C. Sabathia

204

3.75

2

Cliff Lee

178

4.01

3

Jake Westbrook

173

4.20

4

Fausto Carmona

150

4.59

5

Paul Byrd

84

4.68

6

Justin Masterson

72

3.97

7

Jeremy Sowers

71

5.18

T8

Scott Elarton

52

4.52

T8

Jason Davis

52

4.69

10

Aaron Laffey

49

4.41


In contrast to those big 1990s years, the Indians have recast themselves as a small-market club, so Sabathia is gone, traded for prospect bust Matt LaPorta. Lee is gone too, having been sent to the Phillies for four players—the best of whom, Carlos Carrasco, will likely miss 2012 after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Westbrook and his sore wing brought only Corey Kluber, who didn’t even fight Sylvester Stallone in Rocky III. Carmona is still there, but he’s so erratic that he doesn’t even have the same name anymore.

As for the rest, look to that old villain, terrible drafting and free-agent compensation penalties. The Indians have vastly improved their first-round selections in recent years, with Lonnie Chisenhall, Alex White, Drew Pomeranz and shortstop Francisco Lindor coming since 2008. Before that, though, the choices just didn’t pay off, with injuries, ineffectiveness and just low-upside selections such as Sowers the standard for years. Jered Weaver was still on the board when Sowers was selected, but paying him wasn’t in the plans. Other years haven’t produced even that much.

Lindor may be the straw that breaks the star-less streak. Early reports are solid.

Sayeth Baseball Prospectus prospect guru Kevin Goldstein, “Lindor is loaded with tools. He's a switch-hitter with outstanding bat speed. He shocked officials by pounding balls out of Safeco Field, and projects to have as much as average power down the road (15-18 home runs annually). He's a 55-60 runner who should steal a good number of bases, and all of that is wrapped in a package of advanced shortstop skills including impressive range, hands and arm strength, and off-the-charts makeup.”

The only problem is, Lindor is years away, having barely played.   

In the meantime, you can’t have nice things if you don’t draft nice things or trade for them. Sure, the Choo trade was a steal, as was the deal that brought Santana to Cleveland for Casey Blake and cash. But as the deals that sent the pitchers away show, giving a sure thing away for something speculative is always a risky game, one the Indians haven’t been very good at playing.

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