Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 30
Bob Toth | On 27, Feb 2018
While the offseason has been historically slow and the winter has crawled along at an even slower pace, our countdown has reached the 30-day mark to the start of the 2018 Major League Baseball regular season schedule. We at Did The Tribe Win Last Night continue to look ahead to the warmer days of the year by remembering Tribe players past and present.
Countdown to Opening Day – 30 days
The Indians’ current number 30 is once again in spring camp for Cleveland, hoping to latch on to a spot in an outfield mix that has a few question marks heading into the 2018 season.
Tyler Naquin has had opportunities in each of the last two seasons to make a lasting impression on the coaching staff of the Indians, but he instead played his way back to Triple-A Columbus and watched other men fill the outfield void.
Now, with Michael Brantley recovering from offseason ankle surgery and Brandon Guyer limited by a bum wrist, the team is in need of some depth on the roster, but Naquin’s name is not as high on the list as other options getting in work in Goodyear, Arizona.
The Indians gave their 2012 first rounder a heavy look during the 2016 season, when he surprised the league with a .296/.372/.514 showing in 116 games, hitting 18 doubles, five triples, and 14 homers (including one incredibly memorable inside-the-park walk-off homer against Toronto) while driving in 43 runs to finish third in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. Despite a strong showing, there were concerns about elements of his game, including his defensive work (and in particular his route running) and an elevated strikeout rate for a player who could make a difference on the bases with his legs.
Naquin started 2017 on the Indians roster, but that chance may have been more due to the injuries that had cut into the outfield options present at the start of the campaign. After getting four hits in six games, he was optioned to Columbus. He responded with a vengeance, getting hits in each of his first 14 games to start his Triple-A season, while hitting .396 before landing on the disabled list in early May. He missed more than five weeks with a back injury and returned in the middle of June, getting a quick three-game promotion to Cleveland to start the club’s second half before wrapping up the final two and a half months with the Clippers.
He rejoined the Indians in September, playing sparingly after the addition of Jay Bruce and the call-up of Greg Allen cut into his chances to see the field. In just 19 games with the Tribe, he slashed .216/.250/.270.
Can Naquin find his way onto the Indians roster again in 2018? Chances are, he will begin the year in Columbus, waiting for the call to return if and when an emergency strikes. He may still hold value to the club, but he would seem to be buried behind a large number of players, including Brantley and Guyer, Bradley Zimmer, Lonnie Chisenhall, and maybe even switch-hitter Abraham Almonte, who has looked more comfortable in the outfield while showing an ability to play all three spots. Add in two veteran non-roster invitees in Rajai Davis and Melvin Upton Jr. and the speedy Allen and it would look that Naquin is farther down the depth chart than he may prefer. His power stroke has been surprising in recent years, giving him a leg up on some of the other camp candidates, but his speed has not been a key element to his contributions while his defense still has proven suspect. The next three weeks will be telling, as Naquin will have to impress quite a bit to find his name among the 25 men starting the season in Seattle when the Indians open the 2018 schedule.
A pair of former first round picks by the Tribe, like Naquin, helped link the outfielder to one of the more highly touted players in the city over the last few decades to wear the number 30, Ubaldo Jimenez.
Jimenez had spent more than ten years with the Colorado Rockies and was coming off of his best big league season when the Indians added him to the club in 2011 in a surprising midseason move.
The right-hander wrapped up his sixth Major League campaign with unheard of numbers at Coors Field in 2010, making the only All-Star appearance of his career. He finished the season with a 19-8 record while posting a 2.88 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP over 33 starts. He logged four complete games and twice threw shutouts. It earned him a third place finish in the National League Cy Young race.
He was off to a shaky start in 2011, earning a 6-9 record with a 4.46 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP in 21 starts before the deadline when the Indians made the call to acquire the 27-year-old. It came at a perceived high cost at the time, as the team sent 2009 first rounder Alex White and 2010 fifth overall pick Drew Pomeranz to Denver, along with a third pitcher, Joe Gardner, and catcher/first baseman/outfielder Matt McBride for two and a half years of Jimenez.
He struggled a bit in his first American League action, going 4-4 with a 5.10 ERA in eleven starts as the Indians succumbed to injuries down the stretch. The following season was even worse, as he went 9-17 with a 5.40 ERA and a 1.61 WHIP (the worst still of his 12-year career), but under new coaching leadership in manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway, he put together a 13-9 showing in 2013 with a 3.30 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP while averaging a career-best 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings for the Indians’ AL Wild Card contending team.
He cashed in on the turnaround, signing a four-year, $50 million deal with the Baltimore Orioles. That hefty price tag bought the O’s 117 games of Jimenez, who went 32-42 with a 5.22 ERA while several times spending stretches out of the team’s rotation. He remains a free agent after his contract ended following the 2017 season.
Unlike Jimenez, who cost the Indians a significant prospect haul, one of the best to wear number 30 for the Indians instead provided the Tribe with a notable return when he was sent out of town ahead of the final year of his contract in town.
Joe Carter hit the pro circuit in 1981 when the Chicago Cubs took him with the second overall pick in the June draft out of Wichita State University. But, despite reaching the Majors in 1983, the Cubs packaged him up just three months and one day after the ink dried on his first pro contract to acquire pitchers Rick Sutcliffe and George Frazier and battery mate Ron Hassey. The Indians, in return, rebuilt their outfield. Joining Carter in the trade was pitcher Don Schulze and outfielder Mel Hall, who would team with Carter for much of the rest of the decade in the outfield at Cleveland Municipal Stadium.
Carter blossomed into a dangerous threat in the lineup for the Tribe. After hitting 13 homers in 1984 and 15 homers in 1985, he exceeded that combined production in 1986, when he became a 20-20 man for the first time in his career. He hit .302, stolen 29 bases, and recorded 200 hits (including 36 doubles, a career-best nine triples, and 29 homers). His 121 RBI were tops in baseball.
He followed it up with a 30-30 season, hitting 32 homers and stealing 31 bases in 1987 to become the first player in franchise history to accomplish the feat. He had 36 doubles, 27 homers, and 98 RBI in 1988 and appeared in all 162 games in 1989, giving the club 32 doubles, 35 homers, and 105 RBI.
Set to become a free agent after the 1990 season and appearing ready to explore the free agent market for top dollars, the Indians sent him to San Diego in December of 1989 for a three-player package that included veteran Chris James, top catching prospect Sandy Alomar Jr., and Carlos Baerga.
Carter would go on to play nine more seasons (spending just one in San Diego) and would be a five-time All-Star and a World Series hero for the Toronto Blue Jays along the way before splitting his final big league season in 1998 with Baltimore and San Francisco. The move paid off in its own ways for the Indians, however, as Alomar would spend eleven years behind the plate for the club, winning the AL Rookie of the Year award in 1990 and being named to six All-Star teams. The Tribe also got the best years of Baerga’s career, which included back-to-back 200-hit seasons in 1992 and 1993 (the first two of three career All-Star appearances for the second baseman).
Other notable 30s in Tribe history (50 in total): Thornton Lee (the first in 1933), Jim Hegan (1941), Red Embree (1944-45), Pat Seerey (1947-48), Gene Bearden (1948-50), Hoot Evers (1955-56), Dick Donovan (1963-65), Wil Cordero (2001-02), Brian Tallet (2003-05), Andy Marte (2007), Lou Marson (2009-10).
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images