Chris Antonetti and the Cleveland front office have taken a lot of heat, particularly from the hometown fans, over the past few years, yet they continue to make brilliant moves
The 2015-16 offseason, with the exception of some rumors revolving around their starting rotation, was fairly quiet for the Cleveland Indians. While Cleveland made several smaller additions like Rajai Davis, Mike Napoli, and Juan Uribe, Cleveland managed to stay out of the offseason headlines. Many thought that their uneventful offseason would hurt them in the regular season, their aditions wouldn't have that much of an impact, and that they would definitely need a big bat to contend in the tough AL Central; with the end of July coming near, Cleveland is sitting pretty with a 4.5 game lead in the AL Central and their small additions have gone a long way. While they have come out of the gate slow in the second half and their lead in the Central has gotten smaller, Cleveland has proved just who they are this season.
.262 AVG/ 49 R/ 9 HR/ 35 RBI/ 24 SB
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
When Cleveland signed 35 year old outfielder Rajai Davis nobody expected him to make that big of an impact, except Cleveland. The Indians signed him because they needed a platoon outfielder and had seen what he could do on a regular basis over his last two seasons in Detroit, but after Brantley was out longer than expected, Almonte was suspended, and Chisenhall began the year hurt, he became a starter. Davis has not disappointed, and has impacted the Indians season in a huge way, including his .317/25 RBI showing with runners in scoring position.
.242 AVG/ 22 HR/ 61 R/ 68 RBI/ 3 SB
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
The Indians signing of Mike Napoli was perhaps more criticized than them not making a trade for a bat involving one of their starters, but it has again gone Cleveland's way. What the Indians knew when they signed Napoli is that he has been in several winning environments and was exactly the kind of leader that they wanted in the clubhouse. While the rest of baseball viewed 2014-15 down years for Mike that signaled the end of his career, Cleveland took them as what they were, injury riddled seasons. Napoli has repaid the Indians faith in him by being the biggest middle of the order bat they have had in years, and is threatening some of his career highs (30 HR in 2011, 22 already in 2016/ 92 RBI in 2013, 68 so far in 2016)
The failed contracts given to Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn are still fresh in people's minds, while the brilliant moves in recent memory remain forgotten
The city of Cleveland has been relentless towards the Dolans in recent years, constantly complaining that they won't spend the money to bring in the big names for Cleveland. Prior to the 2013 season, whether it was pressure to spend money, hopeful contention, or the fact that they had a new skipper in Terry Francona, Cleveland bit the bullet and signed two big name free agents to sizable contracts. We all know how those contracts turned out, and once again the Cleveland front office was at the wrong end of gun with the Cleveland fans. The reality is that the contracts given to Bourn and Swisher were actually great contracts that just didn't pan out. Swisher was coming off a 24 HR/93 RBI season and represented exactly what Cleveland had been lacking for so long, a big presence in the middle of the lineup. Michael Bourn was a 30 year old speedster that was coveted by many teams, and was coming off a 42 steal season. Both Swisher and Bourn under-performed, had injury problems, and were traded for next to nothing during the 2015 season, but they did help Cleveland reach the postseason in 2013. Whether the fan base will admit it or not, the Swisher and Bourn contracts were good contracts with a bad result.
Esmil Rogers traded to Toronto for Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes, another forgotten move
During the 2012 season Cleveland acquired right handed reliever Esmil Rogers for cash; after Rogers pitched well out of their bullpen the remainder of the year (3-1, 3.06 ERA in 44 games) they traded him to Toronto in the offseason. Rogers pitched in 44 games the following season, posting a 4.77 ERA, and since then has bounced around between the minor leagues and less than impressive major league stints. In return, Cleveland got Yan Gomes and Mike Aviles, which can now be looked at as one of the most lop-sided trades in all of baseball over the last few season. Aviles was a key bench player over the next three seasons in Cleveland, and Yan Gomes is now one of the best young defensive catchers in baseball (Not to mention the Silver Slugger he now has sitting on his shelf). While it was one of the quieter moves of that Winter, credit great scouting by Cleveland to pull off a trade that have the longest impact from that offseason.
Joe Smith - the denied contract
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From 2009-2013, Joe Smith was one of the most dominant relievers in baseball out of the Cleveland bullpen. When Smith became a free agent, it seemed absolutely absurd that Cleveland declined to give him the three year contract that he wanted. After all, he was coming off a season where he posted a 2.29 ERA, and Cleveland was trying to return to the playoffs and actually make a deep run. However, Cleveland decided to offer him the one year deal, and let him walk for more years and money elsewhere. In the first year of his three year contract with the Los Angeles Angels, Smith continued on the path he had been on with a 7-2 record to go along with a career low 1.81 ERA. Since then the veteran submarine pitcher has fallen apart, as he finished 2015 with a 3.58 ERA and currently owns a 4.08 ERA in 2016. While the chances that he will return to form before the end of his career are high, and he is even a possible trade target before the trade deadline, the contract that Cleveland wouldn't give him has not worked out for the Angels.
Matt Garza - the trade that almost was
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At the 2013 trade deadline Cleveland was in the thick of a postseason push, and many thought they needed to add a starting pitcher. The number one mentioned named, was Matt Garza of the Chicago Cubs. Cleveland came extremely close to acquiring the righty, but balked when the Cubs wanted third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall. Garza would eventually be traded to Texas, where he went just 4-5 with a 4.38 ERA, as Texas missed the postseason. Cleveland reached the postseason without Garza, where Chisenhall went 3-4 in a AL Wild Card loss. Since then Chisenhall has moved to the outfield, and become a vital platoon piece on their 2016 first place club.
Marc Rzepczynski - small trade, big payoff
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
People were shocked when the only 2013 deadline addition made by Cleveland was what seemed to be a washed up left handed reliever. Cleveland sent minor leaguer Juan Herrera to St. Louis for Marc Rzepczynski, who would post a .89 ERA for them out of the 'pen the rest of the year, helping them reach October. "Zep" made 73 appearances the following season, and had a 2.73 ERA as Cleveland's late inning matchup lefty. He was eventually traded to San Diego for outfielder Abraham Almonte.
CC Sabathia - the trade the scouts made
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If I were to tell you that the CC Sabathia trade in 2008 was still impacting Cleveland in a huge way you would probably say, "How? That was eight years ago and the biggest piece we got out of that was a failed First Base prospect in Matt LaPorta." Well along with LaPorta, we Zach Jackson, Rob Bryson, and a player to be named later. While none of those three panned out, the "player to be named later" the scouts grabbed was none other than Michael Brantley. Since being a very minor unheard of piece of a huge trade, Brantley has become one of the games best Outfielders both at the plate and in the field. While Cleveland has yet to see his impact in 2016, the impact he has already made with this team has made the trade more than worth it.
Corey Kluber - The Ace acquired for a back-end starter
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In 2010, the Indians were a part of a three team trade in which they traded Jake Westbrook and got Corey Kluber in return. While Westbrook was a solid pitcher, what Corey Kluber has done for Cleveland over the past few seasons was undeniably worth it. After the trade, Westbrook only had one more season in which he kept his ERA below 4.00, and three well above 4.00. Westbrook did help the Cardinals win the 2011 World Series, but just imagine the thing St. Louis could have done the past few years if they hadn't traded Kluber.
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While this certainly does not include all of the great moves by Cleveland in recent memory, and I'm sure you could find some bad moves by them recently, it does go to show you that their front office knows what it's doing. As the chances of them adding a piece or two before the deadline increase, you can almost guarantee whatever they wind up doing will pay off in some way in the end.