Organizational Rankings: Future Talent – Cleveland

Part of me wants to criticize the Indians process for procuring prospects, if only because they were so dogmatic in the 2009 draft: their first 10 picks were four-year college players. While process has been a clear aspect of each organization’s analysis in this series, I struggle to put a lot of weight in it here, if only because the Indians’ young talent is so bountiful. And as a proponent of college baseball, and a backer of many players in the Indians system, I just don’t have a lot of criticism. But even if you want to ascribe some penalty for the amateur scouting department’s obvious leaning, give credit where it’s due: the Indians scout the minor leagues better than any team in baseball.

Mark Shapiro makes a lot of trades. He realizes when they can’t compete that trading veterans for something, anything, is worth it. And, given their market share, the Indians often aren’t able to keep their stars, so before losing them in free agency, Shapiro adds much by flipping them. He does this because they are the right moves, but also because of a faith that the people his team tell him to acquire are very good at their job. It’s a trust that has been earned. Recognize (I’m cherry-picking off the top, but I think that’s excusable given how one-sided these are):

June 30, 2006: Indians trade Eduardo Perez to Mariners for Asdrubal Cabrera.
July 26, 2006: Indians trade Ben Broussard to Mariners for Shin-Soo Choo, Shawn Nottingham.
July 26, 2008: Indians trade Casey Blake to Dodgers for Carlos Santana, Jon Meloan.

The insignificance the Indians traded away here isn’t worth the increase of my word count, but the ability to recognize Cabrera, Choo and Santana is such a credit to this organization. Yes, Cabrera needs to find the plus defense of his minor league days, and Choo might be a platoon player, but who cares? There’s also Santana, a converted catcher, who wasn’t a top 20 Pioneer League prospect for me in 2006, but is now a consensus top 20 prospect in all of baseball. It was the heist of all heists, and it sure makes you wonder about Connor Graham, Scott Barnes, and Yohan Pino, the three pitchers Shapiro acquired last year for Rafael Betancourt, Ryan Garko and Carl Pavano, respectively.

Then, there’s the big trades. The Sabathia trade, where I could point out the team chose Michael Brantley as the player to be named later, who could lead off for this team down the line. That’s if the prize of the trade, Matt LaPorta, isn’t in his way. You have the Cliff Lee trade, which should net four Major Leaguers, including one of the team’s better pitching prospects in Jason Knapp. And I can’t say enough about getting value for Victor Martinez, because you all probably know about my long-standing affinity for Justin Masterson. To add Nick Hagadone on top, another highly rated pitching prospect, is icing on the cake. I haven’t even mentioned the Mark DeRosa haul, if only to spare myself from Erik Manning’s groans.

This is all to say nothing of the team’s homegrown talent, which is impressive itself. I see the best of this amateur scouting department in the 2008 draft, when the team found Lonnie Chisenhall at a junior college (after he was kicked off the South Carolina college team), took a chance on high school arms Trey Haley and T.J. House, and paid decent dollars to college guys like Zach Putnam, Cord Phelps and Tim Fedroff. The team left no stone unturned, and snagged quite a bit, as I think Chisenhall is their future third baseman. Putnam and House, meanwhile, are among an embarrassment of pitching prospect riches. The quality minor league arms include the names I’ve mentioned here, but also: Alex White, T.J. McFarland, Jess Todd, Clayton Cook, Hector Rondon, Chris Jones, Steven Wright and others.

All in all, Cleveland has put themselves in a really good position to succeed starting in a year or two. This isn’t a division where they’ll be drastically outspent, so as you see, good scouting helps a team rise to the top. While the Indians don’t do things in the traditional sense, the way they do it is working. And, ultimately, that’s what this whole series is about.




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47 Responses to “Organizational Rankings: Future Talent – Cleveland”

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  1. Hot Dog says:

    Choo’s a platoon player?!? He had the 10th highest wOBA in the AL last year. He sports a solid .275/.361/.450 career line against lefties (262 AB) and an outstanding .315/.408/.528 career line against righties (655 AB). Overall a nice piece, but Choo’s an all-star talent not a platoon player.

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    • Bryan Smith says:

      I might be guilty of reverting to minor league scouting reports, there. It was an off-hand comment, though, to prove the point that acquiring him was a great move.

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      • rotofan says:

        Nice piece, Bryan, I found a link to an article when the Choo trade went down and the belief, then, was that he could pound right-handers but was not proven against lefties. Choo was acquired to be platooned. He has obviously shown since that he hits lefties too.

        The other interesting about the linked article was the Broussard was raking at the time, hitting hit .321 with 13 homers and 46 RBIs in 88 games, while Choo was the 7th ranked prospect in Seattle by BA and was hitting well in AAA. So it’s not as if Shapiro and his scouts found Choo before his talent was appreciated; it seems instead that Shapiro took advantage of a hot start by Broussard to peddle him for a good prospect.

        The same might be said of the Santana trade. While Santana may have been unknown in 2006, he as a top prospect when the Dodgers traded him (the Dodgers were roundly criticized for the trade). This time Shapiro took advantage of the Dodger’s desperation to land Blake.

        Two examples don’t make a trend but it’s interesting to me that taken alone they show Shapiro not so much as a master judge of talent but instead a master of exploiting market inefficiencies — GM who over-values the talent they got from the Indians.

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      • Bryan Smith says:

        rotofan: Thanks for the Choo validation. I do see the point you’re making. And yes, Santana was a better prospect at the time of the trade than I let on here.

        But while Shapiro’s ability to exploit fellow GM’s into bad trades is clearly at work here (a point I make in the article), there is still a choice to be made for the Indians: what player to pick. And this is what I think the Indians do such a great job at. The M’s had better players to give away than Asdrubal, probably, but the Indians made the right choice.

        Or a better example is Michael Brantley. I believe the PTBNL part of that deal leaked to the press, and we knew it was either Brantley or Taylor Green (might have been one more, too). But, ultimately, the Indians chose the guy that is bound for the most success. This is the value added I see this scouting department bringing over their competitors.

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      • rotofan says:

        Brantley will be an interesting case. I suspect many were down on him as a prospect because he is a below average fielder who can’t play center and who has no power and teams are reluctant to commit to such a player in a corner outfielder. The Indians have above-average power in center, decent power in right, and potential power at first (and when Santana comes up) at catcher, so perhaps they can live with his weaknesses in exchange for a good table setter in the lineup.

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  2. Kyle says:

    ^Beat me to it.

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  3. Bill says:

    A minor side point, but Choo is not a platoon player just because he hits left handed. Looking over 2007 to 2009 Choo hit .275/.361/.450 against lefties, so he’s hardly a slouch against southpaws.

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  4. Bill says:

    Looks like I was too slow too. Can’t get anything past FanGraphs’ readers.

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  5. Bryan Smith says:

    Yeah, he was a disaster vs. LHP’s in 2005 and 2006 in the minors, which is what I was thinking about. I’ll give him credits for making strides, but I also ask that you guys remember the sample size, and also just move past it.

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  6. Todd says:

    Jess Todd isn’t homegrown talent, he was part of the DeRosa deal.

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  7. Basil Ganglia says:

    It’s certainly got tougher for GMs like Shapiro to do their jobs now that Bill Bavasi isn’t a GM anymore.

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  8. I ran Choo’s platoon splits through my spreadsheet, and he has a slightly-larger than average platoon split, but as other people have pointed and Bryan has acknowledged out given his overall quality as a hitter, he’s not a platoon player.

    Given CHONE’s projected .367 wOBA, I estimate his platoon skill vs. LHP to be .341 wOBA (solidly above average) and .376 vs. RHP.

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  9. Marver says:

    You can’t entirely criticize the Blake deal, just yet. He was a 4.2 WAR (and $19 million) player last season on a team that won the division by three games. Until Santana significantly pans out, that can’t be called a steal.

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    • Bryan Smith says:

      Blake was a free agent after the season. The Dodgers gave up Santana for a small portion of his 2.6 WAR 2008 season. They still could have signed Blake in December, 2008, and had his 4.2 WAR, with Santana still in tow.

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      • Marver says:

        Right, but Cleveland would have received compensation for Blake anyway. Los Angeles essentially gave up a prospect for an upgrade at 3B down the stretch and compensation, or multi years of Blake.

        Either way isn’t as big of a stretch, especially since Santana is still a prospect (albeit a good one).

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      • Marver says:

        Perhaps the supplemental doesn’t justify the Dodgers’ side quite as much (since signing a type B doesn’t cost you a pick), but it certainly hinders the deal from the Indians standpoint, which is the focus of the article.

        The Indians were guaranteed a supplemental so long as Blake didn’t sign arbitration (likely wasn’t going to sign), so the deal really was: Blake, first-round supplemental for Santana, Meloan. Given Blake’s production since then and the fact the other two haven’t produced at the MLB level, this trade really cannot be called a steal, yet.

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      • Bryan Smith says:

        “Perhaps the supplemental doesn’t justify the Dodgers’ side quite as much (since signing a type B doesn’t cost you a pick), but it certainly hinders the deal from the Indians standpoint, which is the focus of the article.”

        I actually think the opposite. The compensation available if they didn’t re-sign Blake is absolutely necessary for the Dodgers to make that trade. For the Indians, I think this supports what I wrote, perhaps even more. The Indians made the choice — Carlos Santana over a first-round compensatory pick. They knew those were the options, and they gambled on Santana. They were right on, and that’s just good scouting.

        Maybe a heist is a little strong right now, but I can tell you this: Santana would be worth a lot more on the trade market than Blake at this very moment.

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      • Marver says:

        That’s backwards logic. If the Indians scouting is so good, then wouldn’t they also be able to pick a quality player with their supplemental pick? Take a look at the supplemental picks taken in the most recent draft, where the Indians would have gotten this compensation: there are some solid prospects there. The upgrade from Santana at the time of the trade compared to drafting one of those guys isn’t all that significant…at least not remotely close enough to call it a ‘heist’. Andy Sheets for Phil Nevin is a heist.

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      • Jay says:

        Marver, you’re not really taking a realistic view of what those compensation picks are worth — and that’s even assuming Blake doesn’t accept arbitration, and assuming he can come to terms with a club that’s willing to give up those picks.

        More often than not, a player like Blake is going to give you two second-rounders. It takes not just great skill but considerable luck to score a prospect of Santana’s caliber in the second round and the Indians generally haven’t had much luck or skill in the draft.

        Even if you do pick the right guys (and sign them), they’d be entering their first full seasons in the minors THIS YEAR, having been drafted in June 2009, and you’d be lucky to see them in the majors by 2013. Santana is essentially a major league player right now. There’s a substantial value difference in having a guy arrive three years sooner.

        In short … no. Neither the Indians nor any other organization can consider compensation picks to be even close to the same value as acquiring a prospect like Santana, 11 months before the relevant draft.

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      • Marver says:

        Jay,

        You don’t lose a draft pick by signing a type B free agent (what Blake was), so the signing team wouldn’t have that in their thought process.

        I agree that the Indians are likely to get some value out of the deal, but to decree it a heist before Santana steps onto a major league field, following the output Blake has put up since the deal, and the relative unknown of how the players turn out that would have been on the Indians draft board for compensation (end of supplemental round/guys picked early second round), is pretty premature/an overstatement.

        I also see no mention of dealing Kevin Kouzmanoff for Josh Barfield, which turned out to be a terrible deal for the Indians.

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      • Jay says:

        I agree with Bryan’s view that Blake’s 2009 production simply is not relevant. I agree with it militantly, in fact. You can’t acquire in a trade what the other side doesn’t have, and in this case, the other side (Cleveland) didn’t have control over Blake for the 2009 season. This is Business 101.

        See also the old GM axiom: Teams don’t trade players; they trade contracts.

        See also: http://www.letsgotribe.com/2006/8/5/201444/9636

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      • Jay says:

        Forgot to mention, I assume Barfield was not mentioned because he was not acquired as a prospect.

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      • indiansfan says:

        Marver,

        I agree – the Kouzmanoff for Barfield deal turned out to be a bad deal for the Indians, though the logic behind the deal was understandable – the Indians needed a 2B, Kouzmanoff was behind Marte, who was still highly thought of (mostly because Kouzmanoff was only average defensively at best at 3B, and because Marte had more projected power than Kouzmanoff).

        It’s true that most don’t bring that up, but then again, virtually every GM who is considered a good GM makes bad trades every now and then. Even noted GM John Schulerholz made this trade that was really a poor deal for Atlanta:

        OF Jermaine Dye to Kansas City

        OF Michael Tucker
        2B Keith Lockhart to Atlanta

        Yes, Schulerholz had his reasons, and Tucker and Lockhart were okay in their roles, but Dye turned into a well above-average player at a relatively cheap cost, at a time when Atlanta was starting to trim back on payroll when Time Warner acquired the Braves (I believe in the same year – 1997 – as when Dye was traded to KC).

        Yet, few, if any, mentioned that poor trade; most talk about how good Schulerholz was at making trades, yet that was hardly a good trade for Atlanta.

        It’s virtually the same scenario here – yes, Shapiro made this trade that turned out to be relatively poor, but by and large, Shapiro has been much more successful at trades than not, much like Schulerholz was. As a result, the few poor trades are rarely talked about.

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    • Jay says:

      It’s a heist. A ridiculous heist. Arguably the biggest heist pulled by a GM who has pulled many. Bryan is dead-on here.

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      • Marver says:

        Lets not get carried away with Santana here. He’s a nice prospect, yes, but he’ll be 24 before the end of the first week of the 2010 season, and he still hasn’t played above AA.

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      • indiansfan says:

        Marver,

        Actually, Santana had this line at AA Akron (of the Eastern League, and the Akron Aeros were the 2009 Champions of the Eastern League as well):

        130 G/428 AB/91 R/124 H/30 2B/2 3B/23 HR/97 RBIS/2 SB/2 CS/90 BB/83 K/7 HBP/7 IBB/10 SF/10 DP/ .290 BA/.413 OBP/.530 SLG/.943 OPS

        He was age 23, which is about an average age for AA. Being 24-YO at AAA is actually about a year younger than average, so this is partly why Santana is such a notable prospect.

        Perhaps you meant to say “AAA,” but if I understand correctly, the league average at AAA is actually around 25-YO; Santana will only be 24, and by most accounts, his bat is already ML-ready – only his defense needs to be tightened and honed a bit more, though it is showing improvement. Therefore, Santana is ahead of the age curve, which is all the more reason why most are very high on him (“nice prospect” is likely an understatement in most people’s eyes; there’s probably 29 other organizations that would like to have him in their system, including the Dodgers who traded him away, especially with the declining production and constant injuries of current catcher Russell Martin, and from what I know of the Dodgers’ system, no one remotely comparable to Santana in their system now).

        And why many think that the Indians won the Santana-Blake trade is because Blake was no longer in his prime, was not even an average offensive producer at 3B in his prime, and was probably only average to slightly above defensively at 3B. Combine that with Blake being 34 to 35-YO at the time of the trade, and the fact that Blake would have been a FA at that season’s end, and this is why the Indians are viewed as having won this trade by a good margin.

        Santana, barring injury, can probably be Cleveland’s starting catcher for most of the rest of this upcoming decade, at likely an above-average to outstanding level, and at relatively little cost. Blake will be making more than that, be playing an average-at-best 3B offensively and defensively, and probably will be out of baseball by the middle of this decade at the latest (he’ll be in his early 40s by then).

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      • Marver says:

        No prospect, barring the absolute cream of the crop (Heyward, Strasburg, Montero), can be”probabl”istically pencilled in for a “decade” as an “above-average to outstanding level”.

        And no, my statement was correct. He will be 24 before the end of the first week of the 2010 statement, and he has never played above AA. Yes, that is above the age-curve of ALL minor league players, but not amongst top prospects. Most legitimate prospects, or at least ones that have to surpass the value that Blake has brought the Dodgers already and make up for a supplemental pick, are in the major leagues by the time they’re 24. Occasionally you get a 24/25 year old splash like Jason Bay in 2003, but typical stars reach the major leagues before turning 24.

        Look at the list of guys that were considered top prospects that made debuts (at least in the regular playing time sense) last season: Elvis Andrus (20/21), Andrew McCutchen (22/23), Dexter Fowler (23), Colby Rasmus (22/23), Kyle Blanks (22/23), Gordon Beckham (22/23), Matt Wieters (22/23), Travis Snider (21), Jordan Schafer (22), Cameron Maybin (22), Julio Borbon (23), Matt LaPorta (24). The only guys ever mentioned in top prospect lists (but far below where Santana is currently listed) that were older than Santana when making their debut were Chris Coghlan, Taylor Teagarden, and Brett Gardner.

        History isn’t really on Santana’s side when it comes to “probably” being an “above-average to outstanding” player for a “decade”. He’s still a nice prospect, though, and no organization can ever have too many of those.

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  10. Omar says:

    I guess Bryan Smith likes righties who are unable to get left handed hitters out. Knapp’s eighteen years old and already has elbow problems and there’s plenty of scouts that hate his mechanics, Marston is a good back up catcher really (not that that’s a bad thing), Carassco and Donald I like quite a bit. I feel you’re too high on the organization.

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    • Mick says:

      Still, the Indians did better for Cliff Lee than the Phillies did. Knapp’s ceiling is so high he was worth the risk and I think it’s a little early to label Marson as a back-up catcher. Carrasco is starting to look like the pitcher that many thought he would be (at least in spring training) and he is, oh, so young. There’s reason to be very, very high on the Indians system.

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      • Omar says:

        Oh I think what they have in the farm is good, but…I think Mr. Smith here takes it a bit too far. I like Carrasco and Rondon and I don’t have a hard time seeing them having productive major league careers somewhere, but I feel as if they’ve traded away good players and gotten weak returns compared to some of their past trades. Furthermore, more than what the Phillies got for Cliff Lee isn’t saying a lot, when the Indians traded Lee they traded him for a Pennant race and a playoff run plus a cost controlled season. The Phillies seemed to want Halladay more than anything and didn’t care what the price was, and the Mariners and Blue Jays took advanage of that.

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      • indiansfan says:

        Omar,

        Keep in mind that the landscape for prospect trades has changed quite a bit over the last 3-5 years, as more teams, including the Yankees and Red Sox value their prospects considerably more than they did back when the Indians were making deals in the early 2000s. Why do you think the Red Sox weren’t willing to give up for Buchholz for Martinez, asking for Santana in addition to Martinez to give up Buchholz? Why do you think the Yankees were unwilling to give up Hughes and Joba for Johan Santana when the Twins came calling? The landscape of trading notable prospects for veterans has changed and isn’t as easy to accomplish as it was 10 years ago.

        Additionally, it’s not fair to use the Colon for Phillips-Lee-Sizemore trade as a barometer; remember, the Expos were facing contraction and were in contention, so they felt they needed to go for it, and were willing to pay almost any price for Colon, so that type of trade probably won’t happen again any time soon, if ever. Therefore, don’t use that as a barometer if that’s what you’re doing – that was a once-in-a-lifetime, once-in-a-generation type of deal that won’t be repeated any time soon, if ever.

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      • Marver says:

        Indiansfan,

        I agree, the landscape has changed, but not THAT much. Teixeira was dealt just a season and a half ago for Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Matt Harrison.

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  11. Omar says:

    Also, as to Jess Todd, never trust a man with two first names.

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  12. Aaron H says:

    I think everything here is covered.

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  13. TK says:

    Thanks for an excellent article, Bryan!!

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  14. Jay says:

    Bryan, thought you might enjoy this, amplifying your main thesis here. It’s a fairly complete list of position players Shapiro has acquired as prospects via trade. (John Hart was still GM in 2001, but Shapiro’s succession had already been announced, and Hart has confirmed that Shapiro had the final call on all deals for prospects that year.)

    Practically all of these players have enjoyed decent careers at least as role players, and a few have become real stars. A few who didn’t pan out with the Indians eventually proved to be major talents elsewhere. It is a pretty stunning list.

    2001
    Milton Bradley
    Josh Bard
    Jody Gerut
    Alex Escobar

    2002
    Ben Broussard
    Brandon Phillips
    Grady Sizemore
    Travis Hafner
    Coco Crisp

    2003
    Ryan Ludwick

    2004
    Franklin Gutierrez

    2005
    Andy Marte
    Kelly Shoppach

    2006
    Asdrubal Cabrera
    Shin-Soo Choo
    Max Ramirez

    2008
    Matt LaPorta
    Michael Brantley
    Carlos Santana
    Luis Valbuena

    2009
    Lou Marson
    Jason Donald

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    • Bryan Smith says:

      Thanks, Jay! Escobar and Marte are probably the worst two flops, and they were probably the two highest ranked prospects acquired. But yeah, that Colon deal was just insane.

      What a list.

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      • Jay Levin says:

        Even as flops, go, they weren’t disasters. Marte has disappointed generally, but he’s a very good defender and was maybe the best hitter in the IL last season. You could argue (and I have) that he’s never really had a shot in the majors. As for Escobar, he broke his leg shortly after the Indians acquired him and still went on to lead the IL in homers. The following year, he nearly led all AL outfielders in assists in just 46 games. (The Indians nearly had Sizemore-Gutierrez-Escobar across the outfield, which would have been crazy.) He just never made the adjustment to big-league pitching.

        So even Shapiro’s busts have been pretty impressive (as busts go).

        What generally is overlooked is how heavily Shapiro leaned on position players in these prospect deals, perhaps calculating that there was significantly worse long-term value in the equivalent pitcher you could pry loose in one of these deals, even if only due to attrition rates.

        He got three pitchers (Cliff Lee, Billy Traber and Ricardo Rodriguez) to go with the nine position players in those first two seasons. I can’t think of a significant pitching prospect Shapiro traded for from 2003 to 2008 (unless we’re counting Jeff Stevens), and then last season, he acquired ten of them. Position players may have better ROI as a rule, but if you lean too heavily on acquiring them, you risk ending up with no pitching. I guess.

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  15. Karma199 says:

    The Indians also have young guys in the minors like Abner Abreu. Abreu is incredibly young and absolutely dripping with talent.

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  16. Joe says:

    That Choo comment was truly awful. Truly.

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