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Creating the best Indians roster from the last 25 years

No repeating years or players and it must make sense as a roster

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MLB: SEP 10 Indians at Angels Photo by Carrie Giordano/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A lot of baseball news has gone down in the last few weeks. Some real important, others real sketchy. But one bit of under-the-radar news is that Russell A. Carleton parted ways with the Mets.

Carleton was a front office guy with the Mets, and the only reason I really know this is because I loved his work with Baseball Prospectus and in his book, The Shift, which is up there with The MVP Machine for my favorite baseball book from the last decade.

But the reason Carleton’s unemployment is noteworthy to you fine readers is that it means he’s back on Twitter, sharing fun stuff like this:

At first I contemplated just quote tweeting my Indians roster for this, but it’s way too fun to limit to 240 characters. So, I dug in and came up with this roster.

Some of the decisions were easy, at least at first. Once I got deeper and tried to balance the roster, I realized how my recency bias was coloring my judgment and how hard it would be to fill out a solid 25-man roster. I did my best, though I might be a bit short on relievers. I explained my picks below. See if you can come up with a better 25 in the comments.

2019: This one was pretty easy as Shane Bieber was the best Tribe player by any WAR metric and, in fact, turned in the sixth best performance from an Indians starting pitcher in the last 25 years by FanGraphs’ metric (my preferred for pitchers).

2018: A second consecutive season in which the GOAT finished third in MVP voting made him a lock for this slot. José Ramírez’s 8.0 fWAR and 7.9 bWAR still beggar belief, and the fact that he could play second or third in my hypothetical lineup helps, too.

2017: Truth be told, I had to pick a lesser year of Lindor’s because José was too damn good in 2018 (when Lindor had 7.6 fWAR and 6.3 bWAR). But there’s really no wrong year to pick Frankie, because he’s the best and he has to be in this lineup.

2016: Though not the most outstanding in terms of total wins above replacement, the 2016 version of Andrew Miller had to be the pick. I don’t think it’s too hyperbolic to think history might regard Miller at his peak (2016) as the most dominant a reliever has ever been.

2015: As with Lindor, this was kind of a spot to shoehorn Carlos Carrasco into the rotation because, even prior to his coming back from leukemia, he has been vitally important to the Indians. Anyway, his 4.8 fWAR and 10.58 K/9 were something to behold that year as well.

2014: Win a Cy Young and you’ve made this roster. Pretty simple really. Corey Kluber had the temerity to give us two to choose from, though, which made things difficult. But, seeing as Lindor’s stats were better in 2017 than 2014, I went with this 7.2 fWAR season from Kluber over the 7.2 fWAR he put up in his second Cy campaign.

2013: Had Jason Kipnis continued to play at his 2013 level, he most certainly would not be lingering on the free agent market today. Unfortunately, his 5.1 fWAR/5.7 bWAR wasn’t sustainable, but it was enough to get him in this roster.

2012: Perhaps the oddest fit of all, odder than picking non-peak Lindor or Carrasco years, is taking this version of Carlos Santana. Both Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs rated him as an atrocious defensive catcher in 2012, but his offense (120 wRC+, 119 DRC+) was right at his career average. Since I have to have a backup catcher (and Victor Martinez’s best years came during other folks’ best years), this is where the man who loves Cleveland as much as it loves him fits in.

2011: Maybe you forgot about Vinnie Pestano. Maybe he’s just been the footnote in the story of how Mike Clevinger came to Cleveland. But in 2011, Pestano was good. His FIP- was 67; his K/BB+ was 155; his SIERA was 2.22 (eighth among relievers); and his fWAR was 1.6 (12th). He was good.

2010: Perhaps like Pestano, Perez has been shuffled off to a footnote about a dog getting weed delivery for many folks. But certainly like Pestano, Perez showed real quality for the Tribe. In 2010 he racked 2.45 wins probability added thanks to a 43 ERA-, which was just behind Mariano Rivera’s 42.

2009: This was Shin-Soo Choo’s second best season with the Tribe, a win fewer than his 6.1 fWAR from 2010, but both of these teams pretty much stunk, so taking Perez for 2010 helped the bullpen without sacrificing much. Having Choo also gives some outfield flexibility, as he played all three spots while in Cleveland.

2008: Cliff Lee’s last full season in Cleveland was ridiculous: 6.8 fWAR, 1.37 BB/9, 0.48 HR/9, 2.83 FIP. Of course he’s in my rotation.

2007: Not quite as good as Lee’s Cy Young season, CC Sabathia still dominated in 2007 and earned his spot in this rotation. Besides, he seemed like a much nicer guy/teammate and retained some goodwill for Cleveland even after he left.

2006: There’s no greater “what could have been” story in recent memory than Grady Sizemore. His five-tool talent was obvious to all and in 2006 he put it all together for a beautiful 162-game effort that was better by fWAR (7.9) than everyone else playing baseball except some dude named Pujols.

2005: Although I prefer FanGraphs WAR for pitchers, sometimes it really confounds. Wickman, who is second in saves all time for Cleveland with 139, had 45 saves in 2005, a career high. Despite that, his fWAR is -0.3 for 2005, but his bWAR is 1.9 and his WARP (Baseball Prospectus) is 1.2. Go figure. He earned a spot in this bullpen regardless of what the advanced metrics say.

2004: Although better in subsequent years, 2004 was a coming-out party for the man we called Pronk. That year, Travis Hafner had his first of four straight seasons with at least 20 home runs and finished tenth in wRC+ with an eye-watering 158. No better player for the DH slot, in my opinion.

2003: Casey Blake was one of those jack of all trades who was a master at none, playing everywhere but centerfield and catcher during his career. Despite not really mastering one position, he is the best utility guy Cleveland has had in the last 25 years and I don’t think there’s much debate to be had about that.

2002: With Omar Vizquel topping 50% in Hall of Fame voting this year, it might not be long before another ‘90s Indian is enshrined in Cooperstown. But Vizquel did not make this roster because played with so much talent around him that overshadowed his consistency with individual seasons of greatness. Jim Thome, however, does make this roster because 2002 was just about the best he ever was as a baseball player. His 189 wRC+ and 52 home runs were career highs, and his 7.3 fWAR was just one point off his 7.4 1996 season.

2001: Roberto Alomar might be wearing a Jays cap on his plaque, but his best seasons came in Cleveland. Like Thome in ‘02, Alomar set a career high for wRC+ (151) with the Tribe in ‘01. His 6.6 fWAR from ‘01 was second best in his career, trailing only his 7.3 fWAR season in 1999 with the Indians.

2000: When you can’t repeat players and you have to create a coherent 25-man roster, some great efforts might get overlooked. A number of good players did not make the cut, such as Bartolo Colon and David Justice, but Steve Karsay was a very good bullpen arm for a couple years, and his 1.9 fWAR in 2000 was seventh among all qualified relievers.

1999: Unlike Vizquel, I have doubt that Manny Ramirez will ever get to 75% on his Hall of Fame ballot because of his failed drug tests after the league cracked down. But that doesn’t mean the best year of his career should be excluded from this exercise. I’d be an idiot to leave out his 44 home runs, 165 RBI, 172 wRC+, and 7.5 fWAR.

1998: There was no player I loved more growing up than Kenny Lofton. When he was traded to the Braves in 1997, I cried. When he came back in 1998, I was over the moon. Although 1998 wasn’t one of his best seasons , and not enough to give him a starting nod over Sizemore’s 2006, there was no leaving Lofton off this roster.

1997: Maybe some team is finally going to give Sandy Alomar Jr. a chance to manage one day (maybe that team is the Indians), and maybe that’s how he gets a plaque in Cooperstown like his brother. But even if his entire playing career wasn’t quite as spectacular, his 1997 season surely was. On top of winning the All-Star Game MVP, he also had a 131 wRC+ and his only 20-home run season, which on top of his great defense gives him the starting job.

1996: On top of having one of the goofiest looking Baseball-Reference pictures, Eric Plunk was also seventh in bWAR (3.0) in 1996. Perhaps a guy like Albert Belle might have been better overall, but in terms of building a full 25-man roster, Plunk is a solid choice.