(Originally posted on July 18, 2003 at this address)
In creating the Cleveland Indians Compendium, I strived to give Indians fans a resource that had been sorely lacking – a clear, concise record of the Cleveland Indians organization. Nothing more, and nothing less. To that end, there is very little editorial influence at work in this site; mundane transactions and rosters don’t show any bias at all. However, I still wanted to create some sort of way of communicating to the readers of this site, some sort of “owner’s manual” to the Compendium, as I realize that not everybody who comes upon this site understands all the arcane symbols and procedures of professional baseball. To that end, I’ve decided to add a weekly column to supplement the “hard content.” It’s going to be a fairly eclectic effort; included will be commentary on current Indians issues, transaction guides, baseball philosophy, as well as news that I can’t communicate through the site itself. If you’re hungry for daily Tribe news, I heartily suggest perusing the outstanding Cleveland Indians Report.
Part I: Baseball Objectivity
I started following the Cleveland Indians when they were probably at their worst point – the middle to late 1980s. The Hank Peters/John Hart plan hadn’t yet started to take shape, and the talk about the Indians moving elsewhere was getting louder. But I was 6 years old, so none of it mattered to me. All I cared about were wins and losses. If they somehow won, I was elated, and if they lost… When Joe Carter, my favorite Indian, was traded, I felt betrayed. Little did I know that two of the players the Indians received from the Padres, Carlos Baerga and Sandy Alomar, would help lead the Indians to the World Series.
Short-term thinking plagues us all from time to time, and especially in sports. We want our teams to win now, no matter what the long-term effects. But in order to truly understand what’s best for a team, you have to consider the long-term ramifications of an action. When John Hart traded Brian Giles to the Pittsburgh Pirates to get LOOGY Ricardo Rincon, few questioned the move. The Indians were still in the midst of winning division titles, fans were hungry to get back to the World Series, and getting a left-handed reliever was a step towards that goal. Instant gratification won out over long-term success. Today most lament that fateful trade, and some compare it to the infamous Rocky Colavito deal. Last June, when Mark Shapiro effectively ended the Indians’ 9-year contending run by trading ace Bartolo Colon to the Montreal Expos, the media and fan backlash was stinging. Yet one year later, most in Tribe Nation consider the Colon trade one of Shapiro’s better moves. Time blurs opinions and perceptions, so how can you separate the competing short-term and long-term goals?
This is where what I term “Baseball Objectivity” comes in. Whenever the Indians make a move, I ask two questions: How does this help (or hurt) the Indians this season? and How does this help (or hurt) the Indians in three to five years? However, these two questions will not carry the same weight. In the mid-‘90s, the short-term help would outweigh any long-term hurt inflicted on the organization. Likewise, any move made this year is almost exclusively applied to a long-term standard. Now let’s apply the Bartolo Colon trade to this test. First, some background:
Contract Particulars: Colon was signed through the 2003 season. The salary was not an issue. Re-signing him was doubtful
Trade Value: Montreal was willing to give up three of their top prospects, two of which were within a year of the majors
Team Outlook (Short-term): Out of contention in 2002
Team Outlook (Long-term): Poor farm system. High payroll for their market size. Much of the core past its prime.
How does this affect the Indians in the short-term? Cleveland loses a 20-game winner, so of course it hurt the Indians.
How does this affect the Indians in the long-term? The Indians infuse three blue-chip prospects into their system, and have two of them contribute right away. The full impact of the trade won’t be felt until a 2004 or 2005, when all three are in Cleveland and beginning to reach their potential.
If you make the assumption that Colon would not have signed with the Indians after the 2003 season, Cleveland received 6 years of Brandon Phillips, Cliff Lee, and Grady Sizemore for 1.5 years of Bartolo Colon. Now of course the big question will be how productive those 18 combined years will be, but from all accounts, the players in question haven’t given me any reason to doubt that they will be major contributors to the next good Indians team.
Had the Indians had a decent farm system, or had their payroll been significantly lower, I don’t think Shapiro would have made the trade. But something had to have been done, or else the Indians would have resembled a frame-by-frame train wreck, with pieces slowly coming off until nothing remained but spare parts and a rusted-out chasis. The Detroit Tigers and Baltimore Orioles are good examples of teams that tried to keep it together too long.
By balancing the short-term and long-term goals, and keeping in mind what’s the most important at that particular time, you can get a better feel of what the Front Office of the Indians are thinking, because they have to do the use the same criteria when make financial and personnel decisions. This column will reflect this when examining player decisions the Indians have made and will make, so hopefully this can give you some understanding of where I’m coming from in future analyses.
Part II: A Beginner’s Guide to the Rule 5 Draft, Options, Arbitration, and Free Agency
Why those four aspects of baseball language? Because they represent the main reason why 40-man rosters exist, why 25-man rosters exist, and why Scott Boras is a very rich man. The easiest way to explain all of these is to create a fictitious ballplayer.
Let us imagine a high school pitcher named Roy Sanders. He’s 18 years old on June 3rd of this year, the day he was drafted by the Cleveland Indians. Roy now has 4 seasons (including this one) to make it to the 40-man roster, or he’ll be exposed to the Rule 5 Draft. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s see what happened to Roy after he was drafted:
6-3-03: Drafted by the Cleveland Indians (3rd Round)
6-19-03: Signed a minor-league contract (not added to the 40-man roster. Jeremy Guthrie signed a major-league contract, and is currently on the 40-man roster)
6-19-03: Assigned to Burlington (R)
Started 2004 in Lake County (A-)
5-26-04: Placed on the Disabled List (elbow)
(uh-oh. Roy had surgery on that elbow and missed an entire year)
5-26-05: Reinstated from the Disabled List (Lake County)
8-1-05: Promoted to Kinston (A+)
7-31-06: Promoted to Akron (AA)
Now the Indians have a big decision to make. Roy is now eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, since he was younger than 19 when drafted. (players 19 and older have only three years to make the 40-man roster before they’re eligible.) Cleveland decides to risk leaving him off the 40-man roster, since the highest level he’d pitched at was AA, and that was only for a month. They transfer him to AAA Buffalo, making him ineligible for selection in the minor-league part of the Rule 5 Draft. If he’d have been selected in that part, he wouldn’t have to be kept on the major-league roster, and he’d probably be long gone from the Indians. They make this decision in November, when they finalize their 40-man roster. They cannot add any minor-league players to the roster until the Rule 5 Draft has taken place, usually in early December.
11-20-06: Transferred to Buffalo (AAA)
The Winter Meetings are held in Arizona in December, and the Rule 5 Draft is held on December 6th. The Texas Rangers, having a desperate need for pitching, select Sanders in the Rule 5 Draft. They add him to their 40-man roster, and invite him to Spring Training in Arizona. Message board posters go crazy.
12-6-06: Taken by the Texas Rangers in the Rule 5 Draft (1st Round)
12-6-06: Contract Purchased by the Texas (In other words, added to the 40-man Roster)
Sanders enters the Rangers’ camp in February 2007. The Rangers have to keep Sanders on their 25-man roster for the entire 2007 season, or they have to offer him back to the Indians for a nominal fee. With this being his first big-league camp, Sanders struggles, and even the Rangers have no choice but to offer him back to Cleveland. Or so they thought. Tampa Bay was interested in Sanders, and offered to trade a 35-year old AA catcher for him. The Rangers gladly accepted.
3-25-07: Designated for Assignment (Removed him from the 40-man roster. The Rangers have 10 days to trade him, pass him through waivers, or release him)
3-29-07: Traded to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for J.A. Mierzynski
The same rules apply: Tampa Bay still has to keep him on their 25-man roster for the entire season. But, Sanders caused Lou Piniella to lose his last hair during a shellacking, so the Rays finally gave up on him. This time, no one else wanted him, and he passed through waivers. The Indians, eager to get back a former prospect, accepted him back and sent him to Akron so that he could un-learn those crazy mechanics he acquired over the past couple months.
5-1-07: Designated for Assignment
5-11-07: Offered Back to the Cleveland Indians
5-11-07: Returned to the Cleveland Indians; Assigned to Akron (AA) (note: he is no longer on the 40-man roster)
After about a month, he started to dominate the Eastern League, so…
6-19-07: Promoted to Buffalo (AAA)
After the 2007 season, the Indians place Sanders on the 40-man roster, ending his eligibility for the Rule 5 Draft
11-20-07: Contract Purchased by Cleveland
Here’s what happened to Sanders over the next two seasons:
3-31-08: Optioned to Buffalo (AAA) – (Used up 1 of 3 option years)
5-9-08: Recalled by Cleveland
8-5-08: Optioned to Buffalo (AAA)
9-1-08: Recalled by Cleveland
3-30-09: Optioned to Buffalo (AAA) – (Used up 2 of 3 option years)
6-8-09: Recalled by Cleveland
Sanders stayed in Cleveland the remainder of the 2009 season, and the entire 2010 season, using up the third and final option year. So when he fell apart in Spring Training, the Indians couldn’t option him to the minors without passing him through waivers. So they kept him as their 12th pitcher and used him only in blowouts. He found his stuff in August, however, and became an integral part of the Indians’ 7th straight Central Division crown. His agent was happy too, for Roy had finally accumulated enough service time (three seasons) that he was eligible for arbitration. Scott Boras naturally rejected the Indians’ offer of a one-year, $900,000 contract to be the team’s second LOOGY. So they went to arbitration:
12-15-11: Offered Arbitration by Cleveland
1-5-12: Arbitrator set 2012 Contract at $1.1M
Now able to buy that Westlake house, Sanders pitched Orosco-like in 2012. After the season, the Indians offered him a two-year, $3.0M deal to take him through his final two arbitration-eligible years. Even Scott Boras couldn’t say no to that offer.
12-13-13: Signed to a two year, $3.0M extension
After two more seasons of mystifying lefties, Sanders was finally able to become a free agent. The Indians, having already found their next LOOGY, declined to keep him, so Sanders tested the free agent waters:
10-30-14: Declared Free Agency
11-29-14: Signed a 3-year, $9M contract with the Boston Red Sox
Red Sox Nation went crazy over the signing, declaring the now 100-year drought over. However, Sanders lost a couple miles off his fastball, got smacked around a couple times by the Yankees, began getting death threats, and quietly finished his career in Colorado after being traded in a salary dump:
12-7-15: Traded to the Colorado Rockies for Mike Neagle
10-31-17: Retired from baseball
And there you have it, the career of an average major-league player. Hopefully it’s beginning to make sense to you, but if it isn’t, give it some time: the game of baseball is a language unto itself, and learning the transaction lingo is like learning an exotic dialect. Try perusing some of the current profiles on this site, and eventually everything should start to come together.