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Tribe was built through trades

Cleveland Indians Grady Sizemore fails to make a diving catch on a hit by Alex Rodriguez during the ninth inning of the Indians MLB American League baseball game in Cleveland, Ohio July 6, 2011. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

Grantland, the new website from ESPN and Bill Simmons, has an article from Rany Jazayerli about how the current Tribe team was built with great trades. This isn’t news to any of us in Cleveland, but it’s still an interesting read.

In June 2006, the Seattle Mariners were looking for some veteran talent and Indians GM Mark Shapiro was happy to provide it. Shapiro shipped Eduardo Perez to the Emerald City, and the platoon first basemen wound up hitting .195 with one homer for the Mariners before retiring. In exchange, the Indians received a minor league shortstop who was hitting .236/.323/.360. That shortstop was just 20 years old and already in Triple-A. Asdrubal Cabrera debuted with Cleveland the following year, and this season he emerged as perhaps the best-hitting shortstop in the American League and made his first All-Star team.

Shapiro wasn’t done toying with the Mariners and their general manager, Bill Bavasi. Seattle’s thirst for platoon first basemen was apparently unquenchable; a month after acquiring Perez they would ask for Ben Broussard, who hit .238 with 8 homers for the Mariners. At least Broussard managed to hang around another season before hanging up his spikes. In return, Cleveland obtained Shin-Soo Choo, a former top prospect who couldn’t crack the Mariners’ lineup despite hitting .323/.394/.499 in Triple-A. Choo became the Indians’ starting right fielder in 2008 and has been one of the best all-around players in baseball ever since.

Seattle finished 78-84 that year, good for last place in the AL West. Bavasi no longer works for the Mariners, and he never did find the droids he was looking for.

Two years later, the Los Angeles Dodgers needed a third baseman at the trade deadline, and once again Shapiro was ready to deal. The Dodgers received Casey Blake, a competent everyday player in the last year of his contract. Competent players with expiring contracts rarely fetch premium talent, but the Indians offered to pick up the remaining salary on Blake’s contract3, which helped them land Carlos Santana. At the time, Santana was already considered one of the game’s best catching prospects; now, he is considered one of the best young catchers, period. While Santana’s career batting average is just .236, this season he has already drawn 102 walks and hit 21 homers, and most scouts think the best is yet to come.

Cabrera, Choo, and Santana — a third of the Indians’ lineup — were all acquired for pocket lint, in deals so lopsided they would have been vetoed by your fantasy league commissioner. Yet all three trades pale in comparison to the great heist of 2002, when the Montreal Expos found themselves five games back in the wild card race at the end of June. Montreal GM Omar Minaya quite sensibly reasoned that since the Expos might not exist for much longer, he might as well sell his farm before the franchise bought the farm. The Indians sent Bartolo Colon to Montreal for Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips, and a toolsy teenage outfielder named Grady Sizemore.

The last one was brilliant, but it also hurts, as Shapiro was dumb enough to listen to Eric Wedge and let Brandon Phillips go for nothing. That move alone may have cost them a championship.

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Cliff Lee vs. C.C. Sabathia in the World Series

It’s hard to imagine a bigger nightmare scenario for Mark Shapiro and the Cleveland Indians. The collapse of the Indians as a contender led Shapiro to trade back-to-back Cy Young Award winners, and now they will be facing each other in game one of the World Series.

Mark Shapiro has done some very good things as the GM of the Indians. He got Cliff Lee in an incredible trade years ago when he traded Bartolo Colon in a salary dump and got back Lee, Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips (Shapiro and Eric Wedge managed to let Phillips go for nothing).

However, seeing these two pitchers facing each other in the World Series represents an epic fail for Shapiro and the Indians organization. Having Charlie Manuel managing the Phillies for a chance at his second-straight World Series makes it even worse.

Victor traded

After dumping Cliff Lee, it made sense for the Tribe to trade Victor Martinez. If you’re going to blow up the team and give up on 2010, this was the only logical move.

That said, it still sucks to watch them trade a player like Victor. He reportedly cried when told the news. It also sucks to see him go to Boston. It’s hard enough watching Cliff Lee pitch a complete game in his first outing for the Phillies, but at least he’s in the NL and not playing for a team Tribe fans hate.

The whole thing sucks. The Dolans should just give up and sell the team.

Of course, the Indians now have a ton of young players, mostly pitchers, added to their farm system. Given Mark Shapiro’s track record, these guys have a shot to contribute over the next several years. But does it really matter? Won’t the Dolans eventually give up on the players who do pan out?

Victor Martinez has to be next

I don’t want the Indians to trade Victor because I didn’t want them to trade Cliff Lee (at least not for a group of prospects).

That said, if you’re going to blow up this team, then go all the way! If they don’t have the stones (or the money) to try to compete in 2010, then load up the team and the farm system with young players and start over.

If you’re going to piss off the entire fan base, then at least start the process of competing in 2010. In that sense, trading Ryan Garko made sense, because now you can take another look at Andy Marte who is only 24 and has shocked everyone by playing well at AAA.

Victor is just taking up space now. There’s no way the Dolans are going to spend the money to extend him beyond 2010, and they’ve already given up on 2010, so they better be planning to trade him as well. I don’t care who they get. Have Mark Shapiro do waht he does best – go out and get good prospects from other organizations. WE know that Shapiro has done a terrible job at drafting and developing our own talent, so this is the best way to restock the talent pipeline.

If the Indians get lucky, some of these kids will develop quickly and they’ll have a respectable team next year. But that doesn’t matter now. The only thing that matters is getting good prospects who can help them in the future, as they’ve flushed 2010 down the toilet.

The Tribe’s salary dump

Texas Rangers starting pitcher Cliff Lee pitches against the Boston Red Sox during the first inning of their MLB American League baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts July 17, 2010. REUTERS/Adam Hunger (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

The trading of Cliff Lee is an embarrassment for the Dolan family and the Cleveland Indians, because they are giving up on 2010 along with this season for purely financial reasons. That’s the only explanation for this trade, and it feeds the long-standing criticisms of the Dolan family – that they don’t have the financial means to be playing in the big leagues.

The Dolans will counter that they have stepped up in the past and that the current payroll was substantial. In that respect they have a point, and Mark Shapiro and Eric Wedge need to answer for the team’s performance. But that criticism will be left for another day. The point here is that they are not willing to spend money when the inevitable adversity faces a franchise. Even good front office people make mistakes, and teams need to adjust a retool. In that respect the Sabathia trade last season was much more defensible. The season was lost, and there wwas no way they were going to be able to sign C.C., who despite his bullshit expressions of love for Cleveland and Milwaukee ended up taking the highest offer on the market from the Yankees.

That deal makes sense, but this deal makes no sense. The Indians do have a solid core group of players, and they could contend if they had Cliff Lee at the front of their rotation if they made some key moves on the pitching staff and got rid of Wedge. But now we’ll never know because the Dolans cried “uncle.”

Trading Cliff Lee, a Cy Young Award winner, for a bunch of prospects when you have another FULL SEASON left on his contract is a disgrace. No amount of spinning from Shapiro can save this one. Sure, Shapiro might strike gold again with this deal, he does fairly well evaluating other teams’ prospects, but that doesn’t really matter. The Indians are giving up for now.

I’ve shared a season-ticket package with friends for 15 years. I will not be joining the group next season.

UPDATED with more recent photo of Cliff Lee.

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