The Indians are out of the playoffs, but their presence is still felt in October.
Michael Brantley, for one, is helping the Astros steamroll their way to a (probably) AL Pennant and World Series title. Giovanny Urshela is helping the Yankees crush the Twins.
On the Rays are a pair of former Indians players with the similar stories in Jesus Aguilar and Yandy Díaz. Neither got much time to audition for the Indians before being DFA’d (in Aguilar’s case) or traded (in Yandy’s). Both have flourished with other teams, at least for a moment, and both are currently in the playoffs.
I still don’t fault the Indians for Aguilar. He did virtually nothing in his limited stint with the Indians, and without Statcast being prevalent in 2014 and 2015, it was hard to know if he was actually hitting the ball hard enough to, say, turn into a 35-home run hitter a few years later. The Indians were also set at first base at the time with Carlos Santana and they signed Edwin Encarnación in the offseason. It’s hard to fault them for moving on with those two as their 1B/DH combo.
Same goes for Urshela, who had ample opportunity to prove himself on offense and just could never do it for the Indians. His advanced numbers weren’t great either, so it’s hard to imagine his outburst with the Yankees happening this season. The Blue Jays missed it too.
Brantley is indefensible for other reasons, such as a billion dollar company not being able to spring the additional $17 million to keep one of their best players. Still, if Paul Dolan gave the front office the ultimatum of making him more money at the expense of winning baseball games, there probably wasn’t much they could do on that front.
Yandy Díaz is a different story entirely, though. The Indians had a need at third base coming into 2019 — assuming José Ramírez could move to second to fill in for an rapidly declining and oft-injured Jason Kipnis. The Indians had to know Yandy hit the ball incredibly hard — he had the 24th highest exit velocity in his limited time in 2018. Yet, while the Indians’ hitting coach admitted he didn’t change a whole lot in seven years, Díaz struggled to get the ball off the ground. His own manager refuse to give him playing time because he wouldn’t “take ground balls.” He became so frustrated that he enlisted the help of Francisco Lindor as a go-between to even talk to Tito.
So, after just 299 PA over two seasons — all of which showed promise as a hard-hitting player who just needed to lift the ball a bit more — the Indians traded him in the offseason. The package, on the surface, looked fine. In return for Edwin Encarnación and Yandy, the Indians brought Carlos Santana back and also added Jake Bauers and $5 million in cash.
Unsurprisingly, in the hands of the Rays and manager Kevin Cash and hitting coach Chad Mottola, Díaz flourished in an injury-shortened season with the Rays. Magically, the Rays were able to convince him to hit the ball in the air, or perhaps teach him how to do it with some new methods that other teams have refused to learn over the last seven years. He hit 14 home runs and slashed .267/.340/.476, all while displaying the patience and hard-hitting prowess that the Indians clearly knew he had.
Now that he’s done the same thing in the postseason, at least in his limited time after returning from the aforementioned injury, the question is starting to come up again: Why the hell isn’t he in Cleveland?
If you ask Paul Hoynes, it’s that big meanie Yandy Díaz that refused to change. The Indians tried their best, darn it!
In response to a question about how Yandy Díaz suddenly learned to the lift ball (as brought up by Alex Rodriguez during the Wild Card Game), Paul — with a large bucket of water in each hand — had this to say:
Not exactly a light-bulb moment for A-Rod. The Indians had been trying to get Díaz to do that for years.
I’m happy for the success Díaz and Urshela have had this year. They’ve worked hard to attain it. But if you’re saying the Indians hitting coaches didn’t work with Díaz and Urshela, you’d be wrong.
They constantly worked with Díaz to try to lift the ball. At least once they sent him to the minors to work exclusively on that. Urshela could always play defense, but he was aggressive at the plate and swung and missed a lot.
That is the most Indians-positive spin you could possibly put on a situation that is nothing short of a major organizational failure. What does it say about the Indians they had been trying to get Yandy to do it for years and couldn’t help him, only to have him instantly do it when he got to another team? It clearly isn’t an inherent problem with Díaz — the problem was fixed when he went to the Rays. It’s a problem with the Indians, somewhere along the line. Plain and simple.
Besides this bizarro world logic where it’s not the Indians’ fault they couldn’t help a major-leauge hitter hit a baseball better, there’s also the ill-informed defense of the trade itself. The notion that it brought back Carlos Santana, so that’s all that should matter. There’s more to it than that, though, and the truth is depressing.
Terry Pluto, a very connected beat writer who probably wouldn’t just make things up, laid out how the trade likely went down by ... talking to himself? I don’t know, the premise is weird, but what he actually says is pretty damning of the Indians yet again.
If you read through his back-and-forth with himself, Pluto eventually comes to a conclusion: The Indians needed extra money to make the Encarnación-for-Santana deal work, and they dumped Yandy to do it. Instead of just ponying up $5 million, table scraps to the team’s billionaire owners and the massive revenue generated by a Major League Baseball team, they decided to throw a promising player with one very fixable issue in the trash to try and save face and make it someone else’s problem.
Now that problem is fixed and he is in the playoffs while the Indians missed the postseason in part because they lacked depth and couldn’t field an MLB-level second baseman for a full season.
But at least Mike Freeman and Ryan Flaherty got plenty of playing time.