The Windians Aren’t Going Away

There’s sufficient cause for optimism in Cleveland. (Photo: Keith Allison)

After the Cubs ended their curse and title drought last fall, there was talk about a potential dynasty having arrived. There’s been less talk of that this season after the Cubs stumbled for much of the first half. While Chicago has one of the oldest pitching staffs (average age of 30.9 years) in the game, they’ve played at a higher level in the second half.

Elsewhere, a prominent magazine recently devoted its cover to the Dodgers, wondering if this year’s version of the club might be the “Best. Team. Ever?” And it’s a team, despite its recent skid, that remains six games ahead of its closest NL competitor, a team with a number of young, cornerstone stars.

Finally, it wouldn’t be surprising to observe the Yankees transform into a hegemonic power in the AL East. Their impressive young core has begun to arrive — and arrive ahead of schedule. And just about everyone expects them to be big players, and winners, in the historic 2018-19 free-agency class.

We’re in an age when the big-market clubs have begun to operate more efficiently, using strategies adopted by smaller-market teams just looking to compete. In each of the last two years, Craig Edwards has found an increasingly strong relationship between payroll and wins, one that could very well be exacerbated by the 2018-19 free-agency class, as well as the prospect of better training and nutrition (thereby leading to more productive, more expensive free-agent seasons).

So when we think about the next possible dynasties in the game, it’s necessary to think of the Cubs, the Dodgers, and the Yankees and as logical candidates. Big-payroll, big-market teams.

But perhaps there’s another potential dynasty — or at least potential for sustained excellence — ready to emerge elsewhere. Not in a big market, but in Cleveland.

There’s been a lot of Indians-related content published at FanGraphs recently and rightly so, as only the 1935 Cubs and 2017 Indians have won 21 straight games. The Indians will try to make it 22 on Thursday evening for the outright record. (Sorry, 1916 Giants.)

Cleveland nearly won a World Series title last October, of course, with a starting rotation depleted by injury, down their second and third arms. They’ve emerged as the favorite to return there this season with what is perhaps the best rotation of all time, as Jeff noted last week. They lead baseball in run differential. The Indians have few weaknesses.

It’s not just the present, however, but also the future that should have the Cleveland fanbase excited.

Staff ace and perhaps the new AL Cy Young favorite Corey Kluber is under contract through 2021. Over the next four years, assuming the two club options are exercised, Kluber will make $51.4 million. He’s a good bet to produce nine-digit surplus value over the life of the deal.

Indians No. 2 starter Carlos Carrasco is under contract through 2020. Over the next three years, including two club options, he’s owed $27.5 million.

Trevor Bauer has reached another level of performance, pitching like another top-of-rotation arm since June. He will be arbitration eligible for the first time this winter. Another Indians starting pitcher shoving like an ace recently, Mike Clevinger, isn’t eligible for arbitration until 2020.

All four were acquired via trade.

Danny Salazar had made a performance leap before hitting the DL for a second time last month. He’s not eligible for free agency until 2021. He’s another high-upside arm.

No rotation has ever been better for a single season, and it’s a group entirely under club control through 2020.

In the pipeline is Triston McKenzie, a lanky right-hander who emerged as one of the best pitching prospects in the game this summer as he led the minor leagues in strikeouts.

The Indians not only have an elite rotation in place, but — barring a series of injuries — also an enviable position-player group.

Before the season, Jose Ramirez signed a four-year, $26 million extension that will keep him with the club through 2023 if both club options are exercised. Given that Ramirez would be an MVP favorite in a world without Mike Trout and Jose Altuve, it’s a steal of a contract for the club.

While the club would like to lock up Francisco Lindor to an extension, he reportedly turned down a $100 million extension last offseason. Still, he’s not eligible to hit the open market until 2022 at the earliest.

While Bradley Zimmer had an uneven offensive performance as rookie, his defense and baserunning give him a floor as an up-the-middle regular in center field. A broken hand will likely keep him out of the rest of the season. Catchers Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez are signed to multi-year deals, with the bat of top position prospect Francisco Mejia ready for ML action.

What it all means is the Indians have a young, up-the-middle core under control through the early 2020s.

The window for the Windians is open now and appears like it’s going to be open for a while, particularly in a division where the Tigers and White Sox are committed to rebuilding, the Royals’ core will likely be broken up this winter, and the surprising Twins’ run differential of plus-eight is not suggestive of dominant force.

Lindor (No. 5), Kluber (No. 10), and Ramirez (No. 15) ranked in the top 20 of Dave’s trade value series this summer. Carrasco ranked 28th. There resides a lot, a lot, of surplus value.

While there are perhaps some large-market super teams under construction, or already having been built, the Indians represent a potential small-market power. Dynasties are difficult to build. Winning multiple titles in a short period of time is unlikely. But the Indians are built to have multiple trips to the postseason table.

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A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

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MLBDaddy
Member
MLBDaddy

Can you please just call them Cleveland or Cleveland baseball team. I hate when media members use that racist team name of theirs

ImpliedVol
Member
ImpliedVol

Thanks for the comedy material. I’ll be sure to tell everyone from my tribe (Lumbee) that “Indian” is now a racist term. That’ll surely get lots of laughs.

MLBDaddy
Member
MLBDaddy

Plenty of native americans think the name is racist. Stop using Dan Snyder logic

Baron Samedi
Member
Baron Samedi

As someone who is 1/512th Ojibwe, you don’t speak for us.

killerbees
Member
Member
killerbees

Whether it’s offensive or not, the term is absolutely inaccurate at the very least. You can debate semantics or the merits of bringing it up on fangraphs all you want.

Honestly, your response reminds me of the people that say “I don’t think the n word is racist because I have a black friend and we say it to him all the time.” Getting out of ahead of whoever responds to this, no I’m not equating the two words, I’m equating the logic.

And I’d argue pretty hard that Chief Wahoo is at its core a gross misrepresentation of a group of people that were largely murdered and disenfranchised since before the founding of the USA.

Anyway, the Indians are pretty damn good huh?

v2micca
Member
Member
v2micca

In the case of the Indians and Braves, I always thought it was less racist and more cultural appropriation (though you may consider that racist as well)

Francoeurstein
Member
Francoeurstein

Not gonna weigh on the political side of things, but I’m a Lumbee as well… Pretty cool!

Jetsy Extrano
Member
Jetsy Extrano

What, “R*dsk*ns”?

MLBDaddy
Member
MLBDaddy

Washington Football Team

dave
Member
dave

Change the image on the helmets to a potato and all of a sudden it’s no longer racist! The “Redskin” potatoes. They can keep their name and everyone is happy!

Baron Samedi
Member
Baron Samedi

It’s generally agreed upon that the only acceptable name for the AL Baseball Team with the Racist Mascot is “The Clevelands” (and, in the NL, “The Barves”).

As for that American football team in D.C., I have it on Excellent Authority they’ll soon be known as “The Washington Gun-Takers” — get your gear now!! https://www.teepublic.com/t-shirt/1631289-washington-gun-takers

Baron Samedi
Member
Baron Samedi

I wonder what it’s like to be a pearl-clutching racist.

Weaponized downvotes inc.

Baron Samedi
Member
Baron Samedi

It’s going to be funny when The Clevelands have to call themselves The Clevelands when playing in The Civilized North.

Baron Samedi
Member
Baron Samedi

Revisiting these comments really makes me hope for a bunch of plane crashes.

Baron Samedi
Member
Baron Samedi

or ~32 vasectomies

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

This didn’t deserve so many downvotes.

The name “Indians” might not be offensive in a vacuum, but we don’t live in a vacuum. We live in a world where the team “Indians” is associated with Chief Wahoo. Realistically, as long as people remember Chief Wahoo, the name “Indians” is going to be very offensive.

Just because the Washington football club has a worse name that this issue isn’t a big deal. Chief Wahoo is one of the worst mascots ever, and we’d do well to acknowledge that the team’s name demeans and insults people.

frivoflava29
Member
frivoflava29

It’s getting downvoted mostly because this is a terrible place to bring up this discussion, whichever side you’re on.

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

Sorry to hear many of you don’t want to talk about it. It’s going to be everywhere, whether you like it or not. Get ready.

Baron Samedi
Member
Baron Samedi

Every conversation about The Team with the Racist Mascot should be forced in this direction until they change.

Baron Samedi
Member
Baron Samedi

It’s pretty funny (read: sad) how these downvotes are coming from people who would likely tell critics of The Team with the Racist Mascot to be less sensitive.

KEKEKE

Jetsy Extrano
Member
Jetsy Extrano

I’d suggest amplifying the distinction between the word being demeaning, and this team’s use of it as their name being demeaning.

The word’s not a slur, and it’s too easy to get discussion sidetracked onto that. But the team taking it as their name is a separate question whatever a person thinks of the answer. And the mascot, well, the team’s choice there informs what you’d think about their use of that name.