After every championship, much is written and read about the winners' pathway to that title. How did they build their team, and will this be a referendum on how baseball takes shape?
Whether the Chicago Cubs and their hard reset and signing the best baseball executive since Branch Rickey, the Kansas City Royals and their insane outfield defense and relief pitching, or the New York Yankees and their 2009 money bomb, each team is judged on their merits and how they got there. The hope is to find a way to replicate it, if possible.
The Cleveland Indians haven't won a title yet, but it's beginning to look like their own path is on the verge of working out. The best I can figure, their method has been too seek out something called Good Players, and fill as much of the roster with them as possible.
It's not easy being a revolutionary in baseball. It can be a stodgy game, too tied in the old ways of doing things. For many years, lots of teams have won championships without actually getting a lot of Good Players. David Eckstein won a World Series MVP somehow. The 1975 Cincinnati Reds had only had two or three good pitchers, and only one to crack 100 strikeouts. The ‘87 Twins had one starter with an ERA under four. The Indians, though, with this method of theirs to try for Good Players all over the diamond, just may pay off against all odds.
The Indians have never been shy about seeking out these Good Players in the most unlikely of places. In 2016, they signed Mike Napoli to a one year deal to fill their first base void. For about two-thirds of a season, he was famously very Good, being the home run threat amid a lineup of doubles hitters. But some time in mid-August he became very Not Good, which aided the Cubs in their own championship. So what did the Indians do? They identified a Good Player in Edwin Encarnacion and signed him. He is better than Napoli has ever been. Sheer brilliance.
As a side note, perhaps the Indians should find ways to get Not Good players on their opponents’ rosters. Just something to think about.
Perhaps their best Good Player move was to draft and keep Francisco Lindor. If ever there was a Good Player, this is it. Another excellent move. I'm not sure why they don't draft more players like Lindor and get a forever pipeline of Good Players, but there's a reason I'm not a general manager.
One step towards this goal of good players that must not be ignored is the dismantling of the so-called Bullpen Mafia that was so infamous in 2013. Besides supporting organized crime, whose corrupting influence is a threat to our very way of life, after about a year they just weren't that good. Bad, even. Chris Perez in particular fell off a cliff pretty hard. He was a two time All-Star, but really only had one really good season and that was before he was an All Star. Those two All Star years he had a combined 3.45 ERA and struck out 7.5 batters per nine innings, owning a 1.16 WHIP. Dumping him and Vinnie Pestano (who was pretty good but became bad shortly before being traded for potentially Good player Mike Clevinger) allowed Cody Allen to truly flourish, and demonstrate exactly what he is. Yes, that's right. A Good Player.
I do miss Joe Smith though. He was pretty good.
Speaking of pitching, the Indians certainly found some Good starting pitchers, didn't they? Much better than many teams have, especially for the price point. Their mysterious wizardry has led to various forms of Cy Young candidate, has really been a boon to the team in terms of winning. The Cubs showed a hint of this "Good Pitching" thing, so did the Royals. In fact, it seems to be a bit of a connecting string among many champion teams. Perhaps there's something to that. Most great ideas, from hamburger pizza to the Empire State Building, are collections of past brilliances, put together. Even the wheel was probably based on a really round rock. The Indians front office is synthesizing these ideas into a single focus though. That's a sign of true genius.
Even just moving players around they already had has allowed the Indians to maximize their Good Player Rate. Former top prospect Lonnie Chisenhall was a bad player at third. A bat-first third baseman that couldn't hit, he was sent elsewhere in hopes of finding some Goodness. This not only led to the evolution of Jose Ramirez as a Good Player, it also let Lonnie become somewhat alright in right field. Part of filling your team with Good Players is really just negating the impact of bad players. Somewhat alright is a nice thing to have, as long as most players are Good.
Speaking of Jose Ramirez, he was ushered into Goodness through off-field moves by the Indians. The signing of Juan Uribe was, on paper, a bit of a departure from the Good Player Method. But it was vital in other future GP's including Ramirez and Lindor finding their way to Goodness. Because Uribe is just a really good guy. He and Napoli made Jose Ramirez feel comfortable, and the Indians reaped the GP benefits with incredibly well timed hitting and runs being batted in.
It's hard to understand why other teams don't do this Good Player method of team building. Like the San Diego Padres. They have one possibly Good Player in Wil Myers, yet they try to find bad players. The Cincinnati Reds are rife with bad players. They should get Good Players. The Colorado Rockies seem hell-bent on ignoring the pitching part of Good Players. It's probably because the Indians haven't won a title yet. People simply haven't taken notice and are stuck in the old ways of doing things.
Time will, of course, tell if this is the right method. The Indians front office is heralded, even if it hasn't always acquired Good Players, instead getting the Casey Kotchmans and Old Derek Lowes of the world. But this here, what they're doing, it seems like a good idea. We'll see how it pans out.