Updated: May 27
2019 feels like an eternity ago. Three years ago, nobody had Zoom downloaded on their device, working from home was more fantasy than reality, Elon Musk wasn’t trying to buy Twitter, and Paramount+ and Discovery+ didn’t exist. In some ways, 2019 was the last year of society as we knew it.
During the summer of 2019, I was working as the Web Director for my college radio station, Black Squirrel Radio. Around this time, the then-Indians were struggling, going 10-13 through May 26 of that year. The starting rotation, featuring the likes of Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, Carlos Carrasco and future All-Star Game MVP Shane Bieber, had mostly fallen apart by then due to injury, and the club relied on Beiber, Adam Plutko and highly touted prospects in Zac Plesac and Aaron Civale to get the job done.
The result wasn’t pretty. The team posted a .500 record at 26-26, but they trailed the division-leading Twins by 10 games in the AL Central.
A .500 record doesn’t seem like all is lost on the surface, but for a team that had made the playoffs three straight seasons and was three years removed from coming up one game shy of a World Series championship, it felt like the window of contention had been bolted shut for the then-Tribe. I made a decision to sit down, hit keys on the keyboard, put letters and words onto the screen of a Word document and type out my true feelings on the Cleveland baseball team. I titled the article, “The Glory Days At Progressive Field Are Over For Now”.
The premise of the opinion piece was making the case President of Baseball Operations Chris Antonetti and General Manager Mike Chernoff needed to face facts and unfortunately admit it was time for the current iteration of the team to be torn down to the studs. I called for the duo to trade the likes of Fransico Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Kluber, Bauer, Clevinger and Carrasco, so they could get a head start on their rebuild. I made the argument there was no sense in trying to stay in contention while repacking at the same time. It’s the hardest task to complete in sports.
The architect’s of the team did take most of my advice. By the trade deadline, after throwing the ball over the wall in Kansas City, Bauer was shipped out of town to Cincinnati for outfielder Yasiel Puig and lefty Scott Moss. The Padres were also involved in the trade. They sent outfielder Franmill Reyes, infielder Victor Nova and lefty Logan Allen to Cleveland. Cincinnati sent outfielder Taylor Trammell to San Diego. The then-Tribe did right the ship throughout the remainder of the season, finishing with 93 wins, but the hole they dug themselves into at the beginning of the season cost them, as they finished three games back of the Yankees for the second Wild Card spot in the American League.
Before a certain virus called the coronavirus 2019 hit the world in March 2020, the two-time Cy Young Award winner in Kluber, coming off of a broken forearm, was dealt to the Texas Rangers in exchange for reliever Emmanuel Clase and outfielder Delino DeShields. At the 2020 trade deadline, the team sat at 21-14 through 35 games. With only 25 games left to go (thanks to the 60-game shortened season due to COVID), on Aug. 31, Antonetti and Chernoff packaged Clevinger to San Diego, along with outfielder Greg Allen in exchange for outfielder/first baseman Josh Naylor, right-hander Cal Quantrill, left-hander Joey Cantillo, catcher Austin Hedges and infielders Owen Miller and Gabriel Arias. The 2020 version of the Cleveland baseball club would finish as the No. 4 seed in the restructured playoff format due to the pandemic with 35 wins before being swept by the Yankees in a three-game series (both games being in Cleveland) in the postseason.
Before the 2021 campaign, the front office decided to finally let go of All-Star shortstop Lindor. With Lindor struggling in the 2020 campaign and knowing the amount of money he was going to command when he hit free agency after the 2022 season, the team decided to sell high on “Mr. Smile” and send him and “Cookie” Carrassco to the New York Mets for infielders Amed Rosario, Andres Gimenez, right-hander Josh Wolfe and outfielder Isaiah Greene. The last iteration of the Cleveland Indians had promise early in the season, scoring a record of 41-33 through June 27, but after all five starters went on the shelf prior to the All-Star break and manager Terry Francona had to miss the remaining of the season due to health concerns, the team could not overcome all the adversity thrown at them and finished the season 80-82, their first sub .500 season since 2012.
Overall, since the article I published on Black Squirrel Radio went live on May 27, 2019, the Cleveland Indians/Guardians have a record of 200-173, including the two postseason losses, which equals to about a 54% win total (.536) as of May 26. The numbers will tell you the team has stayed competitive and relevant throughout the last three seasons, but with only one postseason appearance (in a shortened season) and zero October victories, was I right about the glory days being over at Progressive Field?
Without trying to back away from my take, I honestly believe the answer can be both “yes” and “no”.
Yes, the team has won over 50% of their games over the last three seasons. That’s no small feet over a 350+ game sample size. The front office did what I asked them to do and trade away big pieces off the team to reload (outside of Ramirez, who redefined the definition of “loyalty” as my colleague Mel Kerby wrote for taking way less money than he could have to stay in the CLE). Antonetti and Chernoff made four trades in the last three seasons/offseasons:
Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrassco, Mike Clevinger, Trevor Bauer, Greg Allen, Francisco Lindor
Starting pitcher: Cal Quantrill
Everyday players: Franmil Reyes, Josh Naylor, Amed Rosario, Andres Gimenez, Owen Miller, Austin Hedges
Relievers: Emmanuel Clase
Prospects: Gabriel Arias, Josh Wolf, Isaiah Greene, Victor Nova, Joey Cantillo
No longer on the team: Scott Moss, Logan Allen, Delino DeShields, Yasiel Puig,
That is a ton in return for starting pitchers who were either in decline due to injury or had personality issues in the clubhouse, a utility player who will not be an every day starter on a championship team and a superstar shortstop who the team could not afford to pay. Six out of the nine everyday players on the 2022 Guardians have come from one of those trades. Quantrill is a bonafide stud in the rotation, Clase is the closer of the future, Arias is seen as a generational prospect, and we’ll see how the rest of the prospects turn out.
However, the Guardians haven’t made progress towards competing for a championship. The last team that truly felt like a legitimate championship contender was the team that won 22 straight games in 2017, a feat that likely will never be broken. The team that calls Progressive Field their home currently holds the longest drought in the city of winning a playoff game. Their last playoff victory was Game 2 of the ALDS in 2017 against the Yankees, a game that still resonates in the mind of most Cleveland natives and fans.
The point of the article back in 2019 was the then-Tribe needed to unload their old core quickly, so they could be back to championship contending form by this time. Instead of unloading all the talent at once, they slowly shipped each piece out, making it harder to compete for a championship in both the short and long term.
Their chance to win the World Series was in 2016. The team unfortunately didn’t get the job done. The 2017 ballclub had more talent than the 2016 AL Champions in my opinion. They choked in the ALDS and blew a 2-0 lead to the Bronx Bombers. Since, it’s been a competitive team that has failed to reach true contending status. They have stayed in neutral, and now with the 2022 season quickly going sideways (the team is 18-22 as of May 26), instead of 2023 looking like a championship window, it now looks like it could be 2024 or 2025.
The team is still fun to watch, and the kids are growing, but my family is only getting older. I want some of my older family members to experience a World Series title before they move on to greater pastures.
The window may not be bolted shut like I predicted three years ago, but the window isn’t wide open either.
In a way, I was right.