Who We Root for, and Initial Thoughts on the Cookie Trade

As I am sure every Cleveland fan who is either on social media, has family or friends on social media, or has friends who has friends on social media: the Indians traded franchise icon Francisco Lindor and the soul of the team Carlos Carrasco to the Mets for prospects. There will be smarter voices than I to tell you whether Amed Rosario can recapture the sheen which made him a top 10 prospect in all of baseball (I am betting against this), or how much we can anticipate from Andres Gimenez, and how good the lottery tickets Josh Wolfe and Isaiah Greene are in the long run. Today I want to ask a simple question: do we root for the (as is popular to say on Let's Go Tribe!) the name on the front of the jersey, i.e. the team name, or the name on the back? The answer is not simple, let's consider the two players traded today.

When Francisco Lindor debuted in Cleveland in 2015 it was exciting. Lindor was a high draft pick several years prior, and spent extensive time as the consensus best prospect in the Cleveland system, and ranked among the top prospects in all of baseball. Lindor debuted and immediately impacted the roster. He won the Rookie of the Month Award in September,and finished second to Carlos Correa in the AL Rookie of the Year voting (an award which I think was improperly awarded to the Houston shortstop).

In 2016 Lindor remained quite impressive, batting .301/.358/.435 (OPS+ 106) winning his first Gold Glove, and stealing 19 bases (79% success rate). When the Indians returned to the playoffs after a few year hiatus I earnestly rooted for Lindor to succeed against Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello (he smacked a home run in the 3rd against him). I yearned for Lindor to make the difference in the ALCS against Toronto (he hit the go ahead home run against Estrada in Game 1). And in the World Series? I counted on Lindor to be the hero as the face of the franchise (he batted a solid .296 but with only one extra base hit against Chicago).

Lindor rewarded Tribe fans in 2017 with one of the best seasons by a Tribe shortstop in decades, and posted an MVP quality season. In the ALDS against the Yankees he hit a crucial Grand Slam to neary tie Game 2, a game we eventually won, to give us a 2-0 lead over New York in the series. Lindor's joy was obvious and palpable, and made me 100% confident the Indians would win that game. Lindor also proved one of the few sparks of offense against Houston the next year batting a robust .364 in the 3 game series.

I was also thoroughly disappointed this past postseason when Lindor was largely absent in our two games against New York, producing one measly double when we needed him most; in his last two games in Cleveland.

My experience of Carlos Carrasco began inauspiciously. To put it bluntly, Carrasco sucked when he debuted. The Indians acquired Cookie in 2009, promptly gave him five opportunities that year, and he proceeded to surrender 23 runs in 22 innings. It took four seasons for Carrasco to produce good results for Cleveland, and he really blossomed in his fifth season (intriguingly 2015, the same year Lindor debuted). Since then, Cookie proved among the most reliable arms in all of baseball. Before the 2015 season Cookie signed a deal with the Indians to keep him an Indian until at least 2018, before the 2019 season he signed an extension with Cleveland to pre-empt trade rumors (the Indians traded Corey Kluber instead).

That summer Carlos revealed his diagnosis of Leukemia. Carrasco recovered from the disease, and returned to the team as a reliever. The stirring moment endeared the right hander to Indians fans, probably for the remainder of his life. Carrasco earned AL Comeback Player of the Year honors that season. To be a Carlos Carrasco fan, in 2019, meant being a Cleveland Indians fan.

Some of my favorite memories as a Tribe fan are embroiled in the two players Cleveland chose to trade today. Carlos Carrasco's return from a cancer diagnosis was moving and inspiring. Nobody could avoid feeling strongly for both Carrasco and the Indians when Cookie returned to the mound (this includes Francisco Lindor). I don't care what anyone says: Lindor leading the comeback against New York in Game 2 of the 2017 ALDS was as inspiring a moment I have ever experienced as an Indians fan.

In other words for me: to be a Cleveland Indians fan also means I am a Carlos Carrasco fan, that I am a Francisco Lindor fan.

This is transferable to other players as well. How can anyone forget Rajai Davis miraculously turning on that Aroldis Chapman fastball in 2016? Or when Travis Hafner walked off New York in 2007? Or when Shane Bieber struck out the side at the 2019 All Star Game? Or when Tony Fernandez gave the Indians the lead against the O's in 1997? Or when Carlos Santana sent the Indians to the World Series in 2016? All of those moments were proud Cleveland Indians fandom moments. But guess what? There also Rajai Davis fan moments, and Travis Hafner fan moments, and Shane Bieber fan moments, and Tony Fernandez fan moments and Carlos Santana fan moments. Saying you root for the name on the front of the jersey is all well and good, but guess what: the name on the front of the jersey relies on the names on the back of the jersey to provide its fans with the entertainment and excitement we sign up for as baseball fans. To be a Cleveland Indians fan since 2015 has meant being a Francisco Lindor fan and a Carlos Carrasco fan.

Now, you can say that we should let them go. You can fairly point out now those players play with a different name on the front of their jerseys, and that's certainly true. But my Indians memories the past six seasons are all tinged with Lindor and Carrasco, as they were with Kluber, Santana, Bauer and Clevinger. Watching them play for other teams will hurt, and there is no guarantee the players we receive for Lindor and Carrasco will come close to replicating their success, or generate the same excitement.

So who do we root for? The obvious answer is both, and pretending you can separate the two is absurd.

Well What about the Trade Itself?

What about it? From a FV perspective I am sure the Indians did fine, in fact this math has already been done and the Indians got fair value in return for Lindor and Carrasco. Personally this is a fine return, they got two players who can fill in immediately and basically let the Indians rebuild their roster and start NOW instead of players who might start next year. That's not nothing. My issue is why they're bothering to keep Jose Ramirez (who I frankly would not be surprised if they traded within the next year or so) and Shane Bieber (who will find himself in Carlos Carrasco salary territory, with the same amount of control remaining as soon as next year) on this roster. If the Dolans want to rebuild: rebuild, I don't think trying to be an 85 win team every year is a recipe for a World Series championship.

Do I think Gimenez and Rosario will be as good as Lindor and Carrasco? Probably not, especially not in the short run. This trade makes the team immediately worse and although Chris Antonetti said the Indians would reinvest the savings, he did not specify how he would do so, and given the team's behavior after the Kluber, Clevinger and Bauer trades: I see no reason to expect them to sign a significant free agent this offseason.

Which overall leaves me feeling emotionally pretty awful about the near future. I do not like the Carrasco trade at all. It reminds me of how Miami treated their recent free agent additions when they traded Jose Reyes and Mark Beuhrle the year after signing both of them to significant deals (and refused to offer either a no-trade clause due to 'team policy'). Carrasco committed himself to Cleveland twice and the Indians spat in his face by trading him before he could block a deal, which was clearly his preference. I expected the Indians to trade Lindor, but given the fact they had to package Carrasco in the deal to even get a solid return for him, I question whether it was a smart move to trade him this offseason at all. They made the team better in the long run while pissing off every fan of the team, and potentially torpedoing the 2021 season. Trading current contending seasons for potential future seasons sounds like a bad bargain to me.

In the end the message is clear: sentimentality does not matter to this franchise. Which likely means we'll never experience a Hall of Fame player in a Cleveland uniform again, and certainly will never see one enter Cooperstown with a Cleveland hat on.

Here's to a better start to 2022.

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