Our sister site, MLB Daily Dish, ran a survey last week asking baseball fans what they thought of their respective teams’ front office. The average Cleveland Indians fan who responded to the survey gave Chris Antonetti, Mike Chernoff, and the rest of the Indians front office a resounding 4.92 out of 5.
That incredible average led all major-league teams in the confidence poll, including last year’s World Series champion Chicago Cubs and “world’s greatest leader” Theo Epstein. The Indians were top dog and it wasn’t particularly close, considering the overall average the poll was in the 4.00s.
In fact, after the Cubs, the drop-off is pretty steep:
The Boston Red Sox — a World Series favorite by many — are near the bottom of the list behind the Minnesota Twins and Oakland Athletics, and barely ahead of the Cincinnati Reds. Maybe it’s just overly high expectations, or maybe they fear for the safety of Red Sox uniforms with Chris Sale on the team. Either way, Boston being so low is the biggest surprise for me.
It’s not hard to see why the confidence level of Indians fans is so high, though.
I wrote about the forward-thinking nature of the Indians front office a couple weeks back, and that hard work by Antonetti and Co. has already showed up in the early goings of 2017. The depth of the Indians is incredible, the lineup is deadly from top-to-bottom, the pitching staff is top-notch, and Edwin Encarnacion already gave us a classic Edwing to drool over for the next week.
Prior to this season, the Indians were nimble in their approach to free agents out of necessity, constantly balancing the need to compete with a budget that wasn’t exactly flush with spending money. It led to some great under-the-radar acquisitions like Mike Napoli, and Rajai Davis, and Dan Otero last season — three overlooked players that were cogs in the Tribe’s World Series run — and it constantly produced winning teams where there was no business being one.
There are the great trades of the past that worked out in the Indians’ favor — the Corey Kluber and Carlos Santana trades come to mind — and more recently there is grabbing Brandon Guyer from the Tampa Bay Rays for basically nothing. I think you know how good Kluber and Santana turned out, while Guyer proved his worth against left-handed pitching last season and continues to be one of the best platoon bats in all of baseball.
Not all the Indians’ trades have been great, though and the Michael Broun and Nick Swisher signings potentially ruined a small window to win they had a couple years ago. But the Indians do one other thing exceptionally well — recover. Kyle Boddy put it well in his survey answer:
Player development, trades, and structure under constrained resources have all been exceptional. Nothing to complain about. They've made some bad trades, but every team has missteps. The Indians recover better than almost any other team with comparable resources.
“With comparable resources,” is the operative term here. The Indians are not the Yankees, Red Sox, or Cubs. They cannot buy their way out of mistakes. Instead, they stay competitive with intelligent roster decisions.
One of the most recent examples of this ability to recover from bad transactions came in 2015 when the Indians traded the failed Bourn and Swisher experiment (plus $10 million) to the Atlanta Braves for Chris Johnson. Johnson never did much in Cleveland on the field, but the trade effectively freed up money for the Tribe to spend in 2016, even if it meant they would owe more down the road. The same money they used to sign Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis to help them reach the World Series for the first time in almost two decades.
And now that the Indians have more money, and more of a target on them, they continue to make moves that (at least so far) look fantastic. They dumped a bunch of prospects into Andrew Miller, exactly one offseason before the reliever market absolutely exploded. In that same free agency, they went out and signed Edwin Encarnacion to a bargain basement deal for the type of production he’ll likely give them over the next several seasons.
It’s almost cheating to ask this question to fans of a winning team, but the Indians are in the rare spot of winning now while also maintaining a clear vision for the future — the perfect formula for fan-to-front office harmony. There’s no animosity about dealing away everything for a new pitcher, or overpaying for a big bat.
What’s happening in Cleveland is special and fans seem to realize that... at least until Bryan Shaw has a bad inning once every month.