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How the Cleveland Indians constructed their roster

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You want details? You’re going to get them.

ALCS - Cleveland Indians v Toronto Blue Jays - Game Five Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

If you’ve been following the Cleveland Indians for any amount of time, you have at least a general idea as to how this club was built. But I think it’s worth it to go into details. Here’s a chronological list of how the Indians acquired both the players who made contributions this year and the players they used to acquire those players (if that makes any sense).

Players in italics were traded for players who contributed this year.


CC Sabathia - June 1998 - Draft (1st Round) - see Michael Brantley


Jake Westbrook - June 2000 - Trade (Yankees - David Justice)


Cliff Lee - June 2002 - Trade (Montreal - Bartolo Colon) - see Carlos Carrasco

Casey Blake - December 2002 - Minor-League Free Agent (see Carlos Santana)


Tony Sipp - June 2004 - Drafted (45th Round) - see Trevor Bauer and Bryan Shaw


Josh Tomlin - June 2006 - Draft (19th Round)

Vinnie Pestano - June 2006 - Draft (20th Round) - see Mike Clevinger

Danny Salazar - July 2006 - Amateur Free Agent (Dominican Republic)

Shin-Soo Choo - July 2006 - Trade (Seattle - Ben Broussard) - see Trevor Bauer and Bryan Shaw


Lonnie Chisenhall - June 2008 - Draft (1st Round)

Roberto Perez - June 2008 - Draft (33rd Round)

Michael Brantley - July 2008 - Trade (Brewers - CC Sabathia)

Carlos Santana - July 2008 - Trade (Dodgers - Casey Blake)

Erik Gonzalez - August 2008 - Amateur Free Agent (Dominican Republic)


Jason Kipnis - June 2009 - Draft (2nd Round)

Austin Adams - June 2009 - Draft (5th Round)

Joseph Colon - June 2009 - Draft (12th Round)

Carlos Carrasco - July 2009 - Trade (Phillies - Cliff Lee/Ben Francisco)

Jose Ramirez - November 2009 - Amateur Free Agent (Dominican Republic)


Corey Kluber - July 2010 - Trade (Padres/Cardinals - Jake Westbrook)

Zach McAllister - August 2010 - Trade (Yankees - Austin Kearns)

Austin Kearns - December 2010 - Free Agent


Francisco Lindor - June 2011 - Draft (1st Round)

Cody Anderson - June 2011 (14th Round)

Ryan Merritt - June 2011 (16th Round)

Shawn Armstrong - June 2011 (18th Round)

Cody Allen - June 2011 - Draft (23rd Round)


Tyler Naquin - June 2012 - Draft (1st Round)

Esmil Rogers - June 2012 - Purchased (Rockies) - see Yan Gomes

Yan Gomes - November 2012 - Trade (Blue Jays - Esmil Rogers)

Bryan Shaw - December 2012 - Trade (Reds/Diamondbacks - Shin-Soo Choo/Tony Sipp)

Trevor Bauer - December 2012 - Trade (Reds/Diamondbacks - Shin-Soo Choo/Tony Sipp)


Clint Frazier - June 2013 - Draft (1st Round) - see Andrew Miller

Kyle Crockett - June 2013 - Draft (4th Round)

Ben Heller - June 2013 - Draft (22nd Round) - see Andrew Miller

Marc Rzepcynski - July 2013 - Trade (Cardinals - June Herera)


Justus Sheffield - June 2014 - Draft (1st Round) - see Andrew Miller

JP Feyereisen - June 2014 - Draft (16th Round) - see Andrew Miller

Mike Clevinger - August 2014 - Trade (Angels - Vinnie Pestano)

Jeff Manship - December 2014 - Minor-League Free Agent


Perci Garner - April 2015 - Minor-League Free Agent

Nathan Lukes - June 2015 - Draft (7th Round)

Abraham Almonte - July 2015 - Trade (Padres - Scrabble)

Dan Otero - December 2015 - Purchased (Phillies)

Rajai Davis - December 2015 - Free Agent (1 year, $5.25M)

Jhonleider Salinas - 2015 - Amateur Free Agent (Venezuela)


Mike Napoli - January 2016 - Free Agent (1 year, $7M)

Marlon Byrd - March 2016 - Free Agent (1 year, $1M)

Chris Gimenez - May 2016 - Purchased (Rangers)

Brandon Guyer - July 2016 - Trade (Rays - Nathan Lukes/Jhonleider Salinas)

Andrew Miller - July 2016 - Trade (Yankees - Clint Frazier/Justus Sheffield etc)

Michael Martinez - August 2016 - Waivers (Red Sox)

Coco Crisp - August 2016 - Trade (Athletics - Colt Hynes)

* * *

Whew. So what this all mean? Here’s a tally of the types of transactions:

Players who were traded for players who contributed in 2016:

Drafted: 8 (Sabathia, Sipp, Pestano, Frazier, Heller, Lukes, Sheffield, Feyereisen)

Amateur Free Agent: 1 (Salinas)

Trade: 5 (Westbrook, Lee, Rogers, Choo, Rzepcynski)

Free Agents: 2 (Blake, Kearns)

Players who contributed in 2016

Drafted: 13 (Tomlin, Chisenhall, Perez, Kipnis, Adams, Colon, Lindor, Anderson, Merritt, Armstrong, Allen, Naquin, Crockett)

Amateur Free Agent: 3 (Salazar, Gonzalez, Ramirez)

Trade: 16 (Brantley, Santana, Carrasco, Kluber, McAllister, Gomes, Shaw, Bauer, Clevinger, Almonte, Otero, Gimenez, Martinez, Guyer, Miller)

Free Agents: 5 (Manship, Garner, Davis, Byrd, Napoli)

* * *

If you want this broken down via production (counting only 2016 players):

Drafted: 15.6 bWAR (Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement)

Amateur Free Agent: 9.7 bWAR

Trade: 22.2 bWAR

Free Agents: 2.6 bWAR

So the Indians got roughly 50% of their total 2016 production from homegrown players, 45% from trades, and 5% from free agents. That’s a nice ratio for a medium-market club, allowing them more financial resources to keep the homegrown players they do have.

* * *

The Indians are still getting value from the big sell-off deals of the mid-Aughts, but a lot of their recent acquisitions haven’t come from that type of deal. You wouldn’t count the Gomes trade or the Clevinger trade as an instance where the Indians were waving a white flag for the following season. Even the deal in which the Indians dealt Shin-Soo Choo ended up working out for the Indians, as they would make the playoffs the following season.

The 2004-2007 teams were built largely on the back of astute veteran-for-prospect trades, but because the organization wasn’t developing its own prospects along with them, the team just didn’t have the depth to compete beyond a narrow window of opportunity. Once CC Sabathia (one of the few homegrown players on those clubs) neared free agency, for example, there was a pressing need to get players close to the majors for him because there wasn’t a wave of prospects in AA and AAA poised to replace him in the rotation.

But this time, those prospects brought back from the 2008-2009 sell-off weren’t alone. The Indians, who for years had struck out with high draft picks, started to hit on them. From 2008-2014*, at least one prospect drafted in the first two rounds either is on the postseason roster or was the main piece in a trade for someone on the postseason roster. Of the players on the field when the last out of the ALCS was recorded, six of them were either drafted or signed by the Indians between 2008 and 2012. That developmental productivity allowed the Indians to field a championship contender without having to drop a lot of money into free agents. And it also allowed them to acquire Andrew Miller at the trade deadline; the headliners (Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield) in that deal were top draft picks in 2013-2014.

There are no guarantees that this team is merely the first in a series of championship contenders. Players get hurt, they get expensive, they lose their effectiveness. But there should be no need for the Indians to do a sell-off along the lines of 2008-2009 in the next couple years because the mix of talent is better distributed between players approaching 6 years of service time, pre-arbitration players, and prospects.

*Drew Pomeranz, who was the Indians’ first-round pick in 2010, was traded to the Colorado Rockies for Ubaldo Jimenez, who was one of the main reasons the Indians made the playoffs in 2013.