Cliff Lee and the 2011 Former Cleveland Indians All-Stars
It has been an amazing year for the Cleveland Indians.
You probably think we're talking about the 2011 Cleveland Indians, which is a fair assumption, since those Indians are back in playoff contention again.
But no, we're talking about different Cleveland Indians. We're talking about former Cleveland Indians.
Since emerging as a small market power in the early 1990s, the Indians have continued to succeed time and again despite their inability to spend with the big boys. As a result, the Indians are in a constant state of trading the stars of today for the stars of tomorrow.
Yet somehow, it works.
Here is a look at an All-Star roster composed entirely of former Cleveland Indians.
Catcher: Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers
Victor Martinez was the Indians' All-Star catcher, and one of the best hitting catchers in the game, as recently as 2009, but with his free agency eminent, Cleveland shipped him off to the Boston Red Sox in return for three prospects, including Justin Masterson.
The Indians currently have youngster Carlos Santana behind the plate, and he has generated just as much excitement as Martinez did so many years ago, at a fraction of Martinez's current $12 million salary.
First Base: Jim Thome, Minnesota Twins
Jim Thome last toiled for the Indians in 2002, as the Indians dynasty of the 1990s was closing up shop. Thome has since played for the Phillies, White Sox and Twins and has been to the playoffs less than he would have if he had stayed put.
Meanwhile, current Indians first baseman Matt LaPorta has shown promise, but is not quite where Thome was with the Tribe (an understatement).
Second Base: Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds
To be fair to the Indians, Brandon Phillips spent four seasons trying to get it going, and he never showed any indication that he had All-Star appearances and Gold Gloves in his future, though he has accomplished each of those things in Cincinnati.
The Indians, meanwhile, have shipped second baseman Orlando Cabrera away at the deadline and are rolling with Jason Kipnis, their second-round pick in 2009, who is off to a splashy start so far.
Third Base: Omar Vizquel, Chicago White Sox
At the age of 44, Omar Vizquel is hardly an everyday player any longer, but his strangely still-good defense has made him a valuable utility player, most at third base, for the White Sox in 2011.
Ironically, the 2011 Indians have employed Jack Hannahan at third base for most of this season, and despite the 13-year age gap, Hannahan is not hitting much better than Vizquel on the year.
Shortstop: Jhonny Peralta, Detroit Tigers
Frustrated by their five-year wait for "Jah-Honny" to return to his 2005 form, the Indians shipped Jhonny Peralta to the Tigers last season for a minor prospect.
And, of course, Jhonny is having a career year in Detroit, with a .316 average, .882 OPS and 16 homeruns.
The Indians, of course, are getting a breakout season from Asdrubal Cabrera (on offense anyway) and probably don't miss Peralta's mug.
At this point, by the way, one cannot help but be struck by how many former Indians are currently competing against their former team in the AL Central.
Outfield: Coco Crisp, Oakland Athletics
In an odd development, Coco Crisp has struggled with injuries and other threats to playing time since 2008, his last full season.
But last season, in just 75 games with the A's, Crisp set a career-high with 32 stolen bases, and in 2011 Crisp is currently tied for the AL lead in stolen bases with 33.
It is a strange turn of events.
Outfield: Franklin Gutierrez, Seattle Mariners
Franklin Gutierrez missed the first six weeks of the 2011 season and simply has not gotten on track for the Mariners this year, which can be difficult to do in such a hitting-adverse park as Safeco Field.
On the other hand, Gutierrez remains on the absolutely elite defensive centerfielders in all of baseball, and if his bat ever develops, he will be one of the best players in the league.
Outfield: Ben Francisco, Philadelphia Phillies
Given the chance to shine in Philadelphia after the departure of Jayson Werth, Ben Francisco fizzled. His role is now, and likely forever will be, the role of defensive replacement and righty platoon outfielder.
Which is fine, really.
And while Francisco is no Franklin Gutierrez, he is a fine defender in his own right, which makes one wonder about a Francisco/Gutierrez/Shin-Soo Choo outfield as potentially one of the best defensive outfields in baseball.
Starting Pitcher: C.C. Sabathia, New York Yankees
C.C. Sabathia is currently on pace to lead the American League in wins for the third straight year (which is amazing, right?) and with 173 wins at the age of 30 would appear to be the leading candidate for the next 300-game winner amongst active pitchers.
He also makes enough pitching for the Yankees to start his own small market team.
Starting Pitcher: Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies
Cliff Lee, of course, has established himself as one of the elite starters in all of baseball and is currently making more than the Cleveland Indians ever could have imagined paying him.
Would the Indians like to still have him? Of course, but so would 29 other teams.
Starting Pitcher: Bartolo Colon, New York Yankees
It has been so long since Bartolo Colon was a Cleveland Indian that the players he was traded for have been traded away (two out of three, anyway, in Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips).
Colon, of course, was all but out of baseball before getting stem cell injections and reviving his career with the New York Yankees.
Inject 'em if you got'em, I guess.
Starting Pitcher: Jake Westbrook, St. Louis Cardinals
In his first full year with the Cardinals after being traded to St. Louis last season by the Indians, Jake Westbrook has been the same durable, clunky, low-skilled practioner for the Cardinals that he always was with the Indians.
Starting Pitcher: Jeremy Guthrie, Baltimore Orioles
Jeremey Guthrie is currently en route to leading the American League in losses for the second time in three years, which is par for the course of a guy at the front of the Baltimore Orioles' rotation.
Interesting, Guthrie's name comes up every year as a potential trading piece including, this year, to the Indians.
Relief Pitcher: Aaron Laffey, Seattle Mariners
After never putting it all together in four years as a highly touted Indians starting pitching prospect, Laffey has reinvented himself as a mediocre lefty reliever in Seattle.
If the Indians didn't have 12 pitchers better than Laffey right now, this might be an issue.
Relief Pitcher: Rafael Betancourt, Colorado Rockies
Rafael Betancourt was always a blur in Cleveland, and has remained a blur now that he has moved on to the Colorado Rockies.
He has averaged well over a strikeout per inning in two-and-a-half seasons with the Rockies and has kept the damage to a minimum while pitching at Coors Field.
The Indians, though, have one of the best bullpens in the American League and do not likely miss Betancourt.