2011 Organizational Rankings: #26 – Cleveland

It was a rough year by the lake, and as a result, the Indians have dropped from 13th in our rankings a year ago, to 26th this season, one of the largest drops in our rankings (Arizona also dropped 13 spots). Heck, they couldn’t even turn a profit during their ingenious Snow Days event.

Present Talent – 67.50 (27th)

Indians Season Preview

Future Talent – 80.00 (19th)

Indians Top 10 Prospects

Financial Resources – 71.15 (24th)
Baseball Operations – 80.00 (13th)

Overall Rating – 73.60 (26th)

The perceived financial strength of the Indians may be lower than its actual financial strength. There are a few legitimate reasons for that. Right off the bat, perception is always going to drop when you trade world-class pitchers two seasons in a row, and then they square off in the World Series shortly thereafter. Second, the team’s three highest paid players the past two seasons – Travis Hafner, Jake Westbrook and Grady Sizemore – combined to miss significant time. Westbrook and Sizemore missed whole seasons, and Hafner didn’t play in more than 118 in either season. And while their payroll did – according to BizofBaseball.com – rank 24th last season, their average Opening Day payroll the past four seasons ranks a bit higher, at 20th.

Looking a little deeper, we can see that the reason for the shrunken payroll in 2010 and 2011 likely has more to do with the makeup of the team than any shortage of cash. The Tribe is very clearly in rebuilding mode, and while, as Matt Klaasen noted yesterday, some of their decisions may look better on paper than in reality, they have necessarily stocked the roster with young players who need to permanently play their way on to or off of the roster. The payroll won’t approach Red Sox and Yankees levels, but the Indians have shown that it can be higher.

For Cleveland, the key will be determining who they should be going year-to-year with, and who should be getting the early win-win extensions that have become de rigueur for today’s promising young players. It’s here where general manager Chris Antonetti is going to earn his money. While the majority of the Indians past extensions for their own have panned out, they haven’t been infallible. Since signing his extension in July of 2007, Hafner has been worth only 3.2 WAR. With so many players on the roster in the zero-three years of eligibility range, the importance of identifying the right players is currently higher than normal.

It’s a challenge for which the Indians should be well equipped. Mark Shapiro, now serving as team president, has talked this spring about getting back to the business of winning, and if there’s a reason to distract the locals from their burning hatred for LeBron James, it’s the Indians front office. Moving Shapiro to president in order to accommodate Antonetti was a master stroke. In the months leading up to that shift, Antonetti’s name was linked to every team with a GM opening. In addition, VP of Scouting Operations John Mirabelli has been a trusted lieutenant for Shapiro since he hired him back in 1999, and in Jason Pare and Keith Woolner, the Indians have a pair from the sabremetric set on staff as well. It’s a strong group overall, and if you need a reminder of that prowess, you need only to recall the Carlos Santana highjacking. Finally, field manager Manny Acta carries with him an enlightened reputation, and he deserves credit for helping keep the Indians out of the cellar last season.

As mentioned, the present talent is still very green, and most not named Shin-Soo Choo underperformed last season. As a result, players like Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley are no longer looked upon as impact players. The hope now is that they can merely be solid contributors, and those lowered expectations are a big part of why they now rank 27th in present talent. Still, LaPorta, Brantley and Asdrubal Cabrera are all projected for rebounds this year, and by season’s end, Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis could join Cabrera, LaPorta and Santana to form an entire infield that costs less than $4 million (the rotation is similar, as only Fausto Carmona will make more than the minimum).

While this low-cost infield won’t necessarily signal a 2012 free agent splurge for the Tribe, it does mean that they will have the luxury of pumping more money into the draft and international market in an effort to create the kind of talent cycle that Tampa Bay has and Kansas City looks to have. The talent on hand still needs to make the jump from paper champions to producing on the field – something evidenced by the fact that they felt compelled to sign Orlando Cabrera to man second base this season – but you can see how the pieces of the puzzle should fit. The best way to compete long-term is to have a core group of players that mature at the same time, and this group of Indians fits that profile as well as you possibly can.

The Indians payroll has regressed to 2005 levels, and the ballpark might not be chock full of Tribe fanatics like it used to be, but there is promise there. The team on the field this year may not be good, but it is largely cost controlled, has more reinforcements that should arrive in the near-term, and the front office is smart enough to determine who among this group of players should be there long-term. In addition, they still have Choo, a manager well versed in managing young talent, and the dream that Sizemore can return to glory. They’re more 1990 Atlanta Braves than 1991 Atlanta Braves, but if the talent isn’t necessarily there, the plan is, and in a city where the football team goes through GM’s like Charlie Sheen runs through adult film stars and the basketball team’s strategy amounts to a roll of the dice, having a concrete plan counts as something to be proud of.

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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for the Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.

31 Responses to “2011 Organizational Rankings: #26 – Cleveland”

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  1. Rob says:

    Can anyone explain to me why Brantley was ever considered an impact talent? His glove was always marginal for CF and he never had any power.

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    • JR says:

      Brantley was always a good on-base guy (near .400 OBP) with good contact skills (more walks than K’s) throughout his minor league career, with good speed, and was in the bigs at the age of 22; always projected to be a pretty prototypical leadoff hitter.

      He’s still only 23 years old, and has played less than one full season in the majors

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    • Adam says:

      As a Tribe fan, I’m hoping that a few of the guys on the ML roster turn out to be more than average “solid contributors.” Asdrubal Cabrera has suffered some injuries the past few years but he should hit somewhere around .280-.290 with a little pop and play above average defense. LaPorta was recovering from two surgeries between 09 and 10. Hopefully this is the year that the injuries are behind him and the elite power that he showed all through the minors comes out.

      Not much hope for Brantley to be a star due to his total lack of power, but he was driving the ball more toward the end of last season, so hopefully he can at least become a leadoff hitter with doubles power and a high OBP.

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  2. Mark Shapiro says:

    While this article is glowing and very optimistic, every hard-core fan in Cleveland doesn’t have the rosy of an outlook.

    We’re realists and understand that as long as Dolan owns the team, we’ll never compete. At this point, we’d just settle for more one dollar hot dog days at the stadium.


    Everyone in Cleveland

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    • PGS says:

      This is a tired argument. The Indians nearly made the WS just a few years ago.

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    • Jason B says:

      “While this article is glowing and very optimistic”

      Is it? Can an article about something rating in the bottom five of anything (be it baseball teams, dog breeds, or flavors of ice cream) be described as glowing and very optimistic?

      I guess it can…if there are only six things being ranked. No shame being ranked in the bottom five of Star Wars movies, for instance.

      (As long as you don’t get that “Attack of the Clones” stank on you, it’s HARD to get out!)

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    • JR says:

      Please don’t speak for me. Some Indians fans aren’t so simple-minded. Sabathia was gone regardless. Keeping Lee and Martinez was going to hinder a rebuild, which was much needed. The team maintained a substantial payroll for their market through the mid 2000’s when they were competing, and the crappy fans only show up if the team’s in first place in mid-August.

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    • Jay Levin says:

      This is either parody or idiotic. Dolan’s ownership has not held and is not holding the club back. The market is revenue limited, and only one or two owners spend their way into big losses in order to help their club win. One such man owns the Tigers, but profligate spending and a market twice the size of Cleveland nonetheless have yielded about the same results on the field, going back to the Pudge signing.

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  3. Nick says:

    So the Indians “future” talent gets a rating of 80 and the Marlins got a 75. Hilarious.

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  4. hans says:

    “Heck, they couldn’t even turn a profit during their ingenious Snow Days event.”

    Little unfair there Mr. Swydan, the organization never set out to “make a profit” on the first year of the event, and it is typical in most business ventures of this sort to not make a profit the first year or few years as the cost of creating the event will leave them initially in the red.

    An easy slap at the organization, but in reality this is a little lazy on the authors part.

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    • Paul Swydan says:

      hans, I really didn’t mean the comment to come across as a slap at the organization, so apologies if that’s how it sounded. I do really think it was a great idea, and I wish more teams were willing to think outside the box during the months that there is no baseball being played. I am aware that many new ventures are not profitable the first time around, but I was excited for Snow Days when I heard about back in the fall, because it was so unique. I was a little shocked that it wasn’t profitable. The link I inserted later in the story says the Indians are still looking forward to holding it in 2011, and I hope that remains the case.

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      • hans says:

        My only contention was using the fact that it was in the red in it’s inception year as evidence that things were bad this past season within the Indians organization is misleading, though I do understand why you did it, it’s the kind of thing that helps the writer (choosing a piece that fits the writer’s argument, but ignoring a piece that does not) but in doing so reduces the legitimacy of what is written.

        I too like the idea, I’d say the organization is a little behind on the idea of utilizing the stadium/park they rent out for further money making events during times when the team is not playing there, but this was a very intriguing step toward building another avenue of income apart from the baseball team.

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  5. bflaff says:

    “It’s a strong group overall, and if you need a reminder of that prowess, you need only to recall the Carlos Santana highjacking.”

    It might be worth mentioning that the deals aren’t always this good, and that the Tribe got very little return (so far) for two top shelf aces. No one’s ever as good as they look, or as bad as they seem, but it’s telling that the trading prowess of the team is mentioned as an indication that the FO is very talented. The reality justifies a more measured evaluation, doesn’t it?

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    • PGS says:

      The little “so far” is a big qualifier. Brantly, Donald, LaPorta, and Carrasco are a big part of the future Indians. If they fail then its safe the call the deals bad, but they are far from being failures at this point.

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    • Travis says:

      While the returns aren’t good for the CC and Lee trades, you have to look at what other teams got for premium pitching rentals. It’s better (I think), but it’s certainly not ace quality pitcher translated to prospects.

      Teams are aware that they only got part of a season for a pitcher, and pay in talent accordingly. You can’t expect the talent coming back for a partial season of a guy to be anywhere near equal the talent going out. Look at CC, Lee, Halladay, Lee, even hitters like Adrian Gonzalez.

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  6. RéRé says:

    Any thoughts on the Indians draft vs simply trading for other teams prospects? The Indians starting 9 (well, 10):
    C Santana (Dodgers)
    1B LaPorta (Brewers)
    2B N/A
    SS Cabrera (Mariners)
    3B Valbuena/Donald? (Mariners/Phillies)
    LF Brantley (Brewers)
    CF Sizemore (Indians)
    RF Choo (Mariners)
    DH Hafner (Rangers)

    Those are subject to change, but clearly the Indians are good at trading for other teams prospects and drafting very few of their own.

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    • RéRé says:

      OK, make that 9.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Should read …

      CF Sizemore (Expos).

      They acquired him in one of the most lopsided deals in recent history.

      Sizemore, B.Phillips, C.Lee B. Colon, T. Drew

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Well formatting did not work …. Indians sent Colon & Drew to Montreal for Sizemore, Lee, and Brandon Phillips.

        You could make an All-Star team (literally) with former expos.

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    • sportsnut says:

      The indians Draft is way better the last 2 years than we have seen for a very long time.

      IMo you will see evidence of this over the next 18 months when you see that at least 1/3 of the 25 man roster if not more will be home grown product from the drafting over the last 2-3 years.

      This will be like a step back time to the early 90’s Thome, Belle, Ramirez, Colon, Shuey +.

      In the next 18 months IMo we will see the dawn of a top Central contending team in the Indians will they winn it all then probably not but they will once again be fun to watch and on the right track, where they could go out and spent 20 to 25 mill to get the 2 or 3 fill guys to put them over the top.

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  7. sportsnut says:

    Well, Well, Well It as if Brantley is the stiff I always thought he was as far as LaPorta it is funney how so many players that could hit well prior to being traded for by the Indians forget how to hit under the coaching of hitting coach
    Derek Shelton it is just amazing A guy with the raw talent that LaPorta has could become such a stiff.

    Well now we have to hope for something positive out of Rob Bryson or we gave CC away for nothing.

    And if the Indians Front Office believed their own BS when it comes to Brantley they would not of draft Levon Washington Centerfielder and traded for Carrera.

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  8. Jon Nunnally says:

    (rubbing hand together deviously)

    Yes, yes, blame Derek Shelton……

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