Cleveland Indians Still Hurting From Bad Luck

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From 2009 to 2012, the Cleveland Indians endured four consecutive losing seasons, signaling the death of the hope that the 2007 playoff run would bring the glory of the former Indians dynasty back to life.  2009 also marked the lowest attendance total in 16 years, drawing fewer than 1.8 million fans for the first time since 1992.  Things were pretty bleak during those years, without much for the fans to root for besides the perpetual mantra that there’s always next year.  The Tribe is still working on a recovery from those years.

But what caused the fall of the franchise to such a dramatic failure for four straight years?  One obvious answer is that the Indians were (and to an extent still are) paying for some of the bad drafting and development in the early to mid 2000’s.  That’s been obvious for some time.  But there’s one more factor that we haven’t considered.  In addition to the poor drafts, the Indians were the victims of a much less controllable element to baseball operations:  plain old bad luck.

Small market teams like the Indians rely heavily on young, cost-controlled players developing into superstars, since their budget doesn’t allow them to pluck many established players off the free agent market (and the ones they do are closer to mid-tier free agents than superstars).  Because of this factor, it is vitally important for the Indians to succeed in two areas:  drafting and trading for prospects.

Of the Tribe’s whopping 17 first-round draft picks between 2000 and 2007, only Jeremy Guthrie has thus far managed to produce a career WAR value greater than 2.  Meanwhile, the Tigers drafted Justin Verlander, Andrew Miller, Cameron Maybin and Rick Porcello.  The Twins drafted Matt Garza, Joe Mauer, Trevor Plouffe, Glen Perkins, Ben Revere and Denard Span.  The Royals drafted Zack Greinke, J.P. Howell, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Luke Hochevar and Mike Moustakas.  Even the White Sox, who didn’t do well during that time, managed to strike gold with Gio Gonzalez while getting limited value from Brian Anderson for a few years.  And they had six fewer first-round picks during that time span.

To further illustrate my point, let’s look at how the on-field product was impacted.  If players like Jeremy Sowers (2004), Trevor Crowe (2005) and Beau Mills (2007) had been major contributors during the 2009-2012 era, the Indians might have had a fighting chance during the 2009-2012 seasons.  On the same side of the coin, you can make the argument that the Indians would have been a better team if they had drafted other players instead.  Jered Weaver (2004), Jacoby Ellsbury (2005) and Jason Heyward (2007) each went later in the round than the players mentioned above in his respective draft, and each produced at least 21 WAR before his seventh full season in the big leagues.  This argument holds less weight due to differences in player development for each franchise, but regardless, the point stands that the Indians did not draft and develop high quality MLB talent during that time, severely damaging the on-field product.

So the drafting really hurt the team.  But it stands to reason that teams can still be competitive even if they draft poorly.  After all, the Tribe had major success in many of their trades executed by then-GM Mark Shapiro.  Let’s look at a few…

2002:  Indians trade Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew for Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips

2002:  Indians trade Chuck Finley for Coco Crisp

2002:  Indians trade Ryan Drese and Einar Diaz for Travis Hafner

2006:  Indians trade Eduardo Perez for Asdrubal Cabrera

2006:  Indians trade Ben Broussard for Shin-Soo Choo

2008:  Indians trade Casey Blake for Carlos Santana

So, it stands to reason that the Indians franchise could have sustained itself solely on the fruits of its talent for ripping off other teams in trades.  Sadly, things didn’t work out that way:  this is the part of the story where bad luck takes the Cleveland Indians victim.

Next: Small Market Struggles