Cleveland Connections in the Championship Series
Bob Toth | On 18, Oct 2015
Things didn’t quite go as hoped this season for Tribe fans. Instead of celebrating another “October to remember”, fans of the Indians instead get to jump on to another bandwagon to wrap up the month, or indiscriminately root for anybody but the Royals. Yeah, I said it.
If you are in need of knowing which team to throw your support behind, maybe knowing some of the Cleveland connections to the four remaining playoff contenders will help.
The only player on the Cubs roster with a connection to Cleveland is closer Hector Rondon. Rondon was signed by the Indians as an amateur free agent out of Venezuela in 2004. After dealing with Tommy John surgery, the Cubs selected him from the Indians in the Rule 5 draft on December 6th, 2012, and stashed him in their bullpen for the 2013 season. He went 2-1 in 45 appearances that season before getting more regular looks in 2014, saving 29 of 33 opportunities while going 4-4 with a 2.42 ERA. This season, despite losing his closer title briefly, he finished the year with a 6-4 record in 72 games. He saved 30 of 34 chances and finished the year with a 1.67 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP.
In the front office, former Tribe closer Kerry Wood acts as a special assistant to the President and General Manager. After spending parts of 14 seasons in the Chicago organization, he signed a two-year, $20.5 million deal and joined the Tribe on December 10th, 2008. He spent all of 2009 and part of 2010 in the Tribe bullpen, earning 28 saves in those two seasons before he was traded to the New York Yankees with cash for a pair of players to be named later, Andrew Shive and Matt Cusick. Neither would play in the Indians organization.
Former Indians minor league outfielder Darnell McDonald works for the organization as their Mental Skills Coordinator. McDonald was a first round draft pick by the Baltimore Orioles in 1997 and signed with Cleveland in 2005. He played 26 games at the Triple-A level for the Indians before he was released.
The Mets may have the most memorable of the former Indians players to be affiliated with one of the World Series hopeful clubs. Former Tribe righty Bartolo Colon, now 42 years old, is a member of the Mets bullpen after spending the season as one of their options in the starting rotation. He signed with the Indians as an amateur free agent in 1993 and remained with the club until June 27th, 2002, when he was memorably dealt to the Montreal Expos with pitcher Tim Drew for first baseman Lee Stevens and a trio of prospects – Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips, and Grady Sizemore.
Keith Hernandez may be better remembered for his unique commentary calling games for SNY as a sports analyst and for his Just for Men commercials with former basketballer Walt “Clyde” Frazier on TV than for his time with the Indians. He signed with the Indians on December 7th, 1989, on a two-year, $3.5 million deal and spent a less-than-memorable season on the field in his first season, hitting .200 with a homer and eight runs batted in in 43 games. He missed all of the following season on the disabled list. He has worked on the Mets’ telecasts for the last ten seasons.
Kansas City has a pair of direct ties to the Indians organization, but neither are on their playoff roster.
Jeremy Guthrie was a former first round pick of the Tribe in the 2002 amateur draft out of Stanford University. He debuted just over two year later with minimal success for the Tribe, not registering a decision in 16 outings over three seasons, including one start. He posted a 6.08 ERA and a WHIP of 1.76 in that span and was placed on waivers, only to be claimed by Baltimore. He spent five years with the Orioles and a partial season in Colorado with the Rockies before joining the Royals for the last four seasons.
Luis Medina works in the Royals front office as a special assistant to the general manager and player personnel. He was drafted by the Indians in 1985 in the ninth round of the amateur draft and made his debut late in the 1988 season. He hit ten homers in 51 career games scattered between 1988, 1989, and 1991 for the Tribe before spending the 1992 season with the Royals Triple-A Omaha club. He went overseas for the final three years of his playing days, joining the Hiroshima Toyo Carp.
Ryan Lefebvre is an announcer for the club on Fox Sports Kansas City. The son of former MLB manager and player Jim Lefebvre, he was a 27th round pick of the Indians in the 1993 draft out of the University of Minnesota. He played just six games for Watertown of the New York-Penn League in his professional career.
The son of KC bench coach Don Wakamatsu, Luke Wakamatsu, was selected by the Indians in the 20th round of the most recent draft. The just-turned 19-year-old shortstop hit .267 in 27 games in the Arizona Rookie League.
The Blue Jays host two former friends of the feather on their playoff roster and two more on their 40-man whom fans may not be as familiar with.
Outfielder Ezequiel Carrera landed in Toronto after spending last season in the Detroit Tigers organization. He spent the majority of 2015 with the Blue Jays, but was shuttled to the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons for a portion of the year. He established career-highs in a multitude of stats for the Jays – he logged 91 games, batted .273 with 47 hits, homered three times, and drove in 26 runs. He matched career-highs with eight doubles and 27 runs scored, done while playing all three outfield spots. He was originally signed by the Mets and acquired by the Indians five years later from Seattle with Juan Diaz for Russell Branyan.
Mark Lowe may be slightly less known, because his time in the city was relatively short. In his ninth MLB season, he had two stints with the club in the 2014 season, appearing in seven total games, posting a 0-1 record and a 3.86 ERA. The rest of his season was spent in Columbus.
In addition to the two members of the playoff roster, the Blue Jays have two more players on their 40-man with previous ties to Cleveland.
Infielder Matt Hague was drafted by the Indians in the eleventh round of the 2007 draft but did not sign with the club. He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the ninth round of the 2008 draft and was selected off of waivers by the Blue Jays from the Pirates last August.
Maicer Izturis, unlike Hague, was signed by the Indians and spent time in the farm system before being dealt to the Montreal Expos with outfielder Ryan Church for reliever Scott Stewart in January of 2004. He signed with the Jays following the 2012 season, but has only appeared in 118 games for the club over the last three seasons. He missed the entire 2015 campaign with injuries, as a strained right groin sidelined him from the jump and a tear in his right shoulder required surgery that ended his season.
Brook Jacoby works as the hitting coach on manager John Gibbons’ coaching staff. He was a third and first baseman and two-time All-Star for the Tribe from 1984 to 1992, minus a 56-game trip to Oakland at the end of the 1991 season. He is joined by Luis Rivera, who spent six seasons as a coach and manager in the Indians minor league system from 2000 to 2005 and first base coach and infield coach in Cleveland through the 2009 season.
Former Indians catcher Sal Fasano, best remembered for his famed mustache, is the team’s pitching coordinator. He played his final 15 MLB games in an Indians uniform in 2008.
Former Cleveland first baseman/DH Pat Tabler has a link to all four teams remaining in this postseason. After being drafted by the New York Yankees in 1976, he was traded to the Cubs in 1981 and spent parts of two seasons there a trade across town to the White Sox that kept him on the southside for just over two months before joining the Indians from 1983 to 1988. He was traded by the Indians to the Royals in 1988 and traded from the Royals to the Mets in 1990. He signed with Toronto following that season and was a member of the Blue Jays’ World Series team in 1992. He currently works as a color commentator on Rogers Sportsnet. “Mr. Clutch” was a bases loaded machine for the Tribe during his stay and was rewarded with his lone career All-Star appearance as an Indian in 1987.
Former Indians second baseman and Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar works as a special assistant to the Blue Jays organization within their front office. His father, Sandy Alomar Sr., works as a player development consultant.
And these nine, of course, do not include new Toronto Team President Mark Shapiro.
Photo: AP Photo/Paul Sancya