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Chris Antonetti’s post-deadline messaging falls flat

Actions speak louder than words

Divisional Round - New York Yankees v Cleveland Indians - Game One Photo by: 2017 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Chris Antonetti believes in his team.

At least that is the case the Cleveland Guardians’ President of Baseball Operations attempted to make in his press conference Tuesday evening after the MLB trade deadline passed.

“In having a few minutes to reflect, the overwhelming feeling continues to be excitement for the group of players that we have here,” Antonetti said, conceding that the front office did explore “a number of things” ahead of the deadline before opting to sit on their hands.

“Oftentimes we came back to really believing in the individuals we have in the clubhouse and the contributions they’ve made. But as importantly, the way this team has come together and the team dynamic that we have, the way they play the game, the way they care for each other.

“And we wanted to be really mindful [not] to disrupt that.”

Guardians manager Terry Francona did his part to tee up Antonetti’s message ahead of the deadline, championing the importance of team chemistry in his own press conference and even going so far as to state his belief that trades run the risk of “muddying the waters.”

That must have been why Cleveland didn’t win the World Series in 2016. Trading for Andrew Miller clearly upset the clubhouse chemistry. If only they had believed in the players they had in the clubhouse then. The same goes for the August acquisition of Jay Bruce in 2017. I can only assume these are all lessons the front office has learned and is now applying.

We’ll see if the Minnesota Twins, who lead the Guardians by one game in the AL Central, are discouraged by the moves their front office made at the deadline. Looking to bolster their starting rotation and shore up their bullpen, the Twins traded for Cincinnati starting pitcher Tyler Mahle, Detroit reliever Michael Fulmer, and Baltimore closer Jorge Lopez.

Even the New York Yankees, the team with the best record in the American League, apparently lacked confidence in their clubhouse, making five new acquisitions ahead of a postseason run. I have to imagine team morale will crater in the wake of these trades.

If you couldn’t pick up on the sarcasm, I find Antonetti’s rationale to be ludicrous.

If Antonetti actually believed in this team, he would have done what every other contender did at the deadline and rewarded them for scratching and clawing their way to contention. Instead, he gave them a pat on the back and delivered a clear message: You’re on your own.

I have no doubt Francona will encourage his team to take that as a vote of confidence, but to fans, it confirms what most have suspected for a while now: The front office never cared about winning this season. After failing to make meaningful additions to the team in the offseason, Antonetti and co. pivoted towards a youth movement, committing to exploring their internal options with no regard for whether that would be a recipe for success for 2022.

That turned out to be a recipe for at least a degree of success, helped in part by the feeble competition in the AL Central but also due to the emergence of players like Andres Gimenez, Steven Kwan, and Josh Naylor. Few expected this team to be in postseason contention, yet here they are. But rather than lend a helping hand and build on their surprising season, Antonetti seems content to sit and watch, fearful of rattling a team playing .500 ball for the most part.

Clearly the front office is playing the long game, whether we like it or not, evaluating players like Oscar Gonzalez, Nolan Jones, and Will Benson at the big league level while protecting top prospects like Daniel Espino, Gavin Williams, and George Valera. But you can’t convince me there wasn’t a starting pitcher or a reliever available who could have helped the team this season without forcing the Guardians to give up a top prospect, though I’m sure that will be the narrative.

No competitor is ever satisfied with “good enough,” which is why teams like the Yankees and the Astros were aggressive at the trade deadline. Their front offices believe in their teams and want to put them in the best possible position to make a run at the World Series. I understand Antonetti and co. are looking beyond 2022, but no one was expecting them to push in all their chips. All fans wanted was for the front office to give a fun team a fighting chance, but that was asking too much.