The Indians went into the All-Star break sitting atop the American League Central with a healthy six and a half game lead. It was a sizeable advantage, but it was just too early in the season to feel that that lead was a safe one. Cleveland had held the number one spot in the division for five weeks, but it seemed a reasonable fear that one of Detroit or Kansas City would find a way to make things a little interesting as the season headed into its final two and a half months.
The city, fresh off of the unfamiliar sight of a championship trophy it could keep, had also enjoyed an Indians franchise record 14-game winning streak, which concluded at the start of July when the Tribe visited Toronto for four games. They sputtered some into the break after that stretch, going 3-6 to end the first half with a 52-36 record. Fans had taken some notice of the club, with the high of the NBA Championship still present, but the distraction of Cavaliers playoff games no longer an issue.
There were those among the Indians viewing audience throughout the first half who were not surprised by Cleveland’s performance in the unofficial first half of the Major League season. But even the most steadfast and positive members of the fan base felt that the roster needed a little something more if it was going to hold off the charges of the division rivals while maintaining the strong first half put up despite a steady flow of adversity.
Instead of sitting idle, or just dipping a toe into the trade pool, the Indians dove in head first.
After quite a bit of speculation and rumors, the Indians pulled off a trade that went against its normal organizational direction when they acquired veteran left-handed reliever Andrew Miller from the New York Yankees for four players.
Miller’s cost was significant. In addition to the two top prospects, Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield, and two other hard throwing right-handed relief options for the future, Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen, the Indians were taking on several more years of salary at what appeared at the time like a lot of money to pay for an arm not even guaranteed a closer’s role in the bullpen and certainly a luxury not generally afforded to a team operating consistently under the umbrella of small market financial constraints.
Miller, however, had evolved into something much greater than a matchup lefty. He was a hot commodity on the trade market just a few seasons ago and had signed a significant multi-year deal with the Yankees to bulk up their bullpen. He had teamed up with Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances to create a frightening back end to the bullpen in the Bronx, but the Yankees were in a bit of a rebuild and had already shipped Chapman to Chicago.
The eleven-year vet was off to another ridiculous start with the Yankees at the time of the trade. He made his first All-Star team earlier in the month and was 6-1 with a 1.39 ERA in 44 appearances, including nine saves. He was averaging a career-best 15.3 strikeouts per nine innings and was immaculate with his control, walking just seven in 45 1/3 innings.
While his Indians career did not get off to the start he might have hoped, giving up a homer to the first batter he faced while in a Cleveland uniform to Minnesota’s Joe Mauer, he was everything the club could have asked for and so much more. He earned holds in nine games, saves in three, and vultured four wins in relief to go 4-0 with a 1.55 ERA in 26 games with the Indians.
What he has done in the postseason thus far only continued to show that he is one of the more efficient shutdown relievers in the game. His presence has allowed manager Terry Francona to lengthen the bullpen and maximize the abilities of three of his other relief arms on the staff – Dan Otero, Bryan Shaw, and Cody Allen.
That atypical bullpen usage from Francona saw Miller used twice in the three ALDS games against Boston, working two innings in both outings. He gave up doubles in both games, and uncharacteristically walked a batter in each appearance, but racked up seven strikeouts in the four innings of work while allowing just one inherited runner to score in his efforts on the mound.
His arrival at the deadline revamped the Tribe relief corps instantly and thrust it into position as one of the top ‘pens in the league.
Lost in the hype surrounding Miller’s addition was a very quiet, underrated trade that brought Brandon Guyer to town in exchange for a pair of low level minor leaguers. Likely an unknown name for most Tribe fans at the time, his impressive platoon work in the outfield has made him an important piece for their postseason plans.
The Indians outfield was already down Michael Brantley for the season and the team was looking to part ways with third baseman Juan Uribe. Guyer’s addition gave Cleveland the extra outfielder it needed to move Jose Ramirez into a regular role as the team’s man at the hot corner instead of running him out in left field as often as he had been utilized throughout the first half of the year.
Guyer came to town and only hit .333 with a .438 on-base percentage in 38 games, working in time at both corner outfield spots while seeing the bulk of his playing time against left-handed pitching. And why not – the 30-year-old right-handed hitter was a .272 hitter against lefties coming into the season and would hit .336 with a .464 OBP against them in 2016.
He also brought with him the unique ability to get on base in unconventional and uncomfortable means – he led all of baseball after getting hit with 31 pitches this season, one year after leading the American League with 24. During his time in Cleveland in the regular season, he was hit by pitches more frequently than he drew walks, but getting on base by any means necessary was important to the Indians ability to manufacture runs at a high level.
Guyer gives the Tribe outfield flexibility and allows Francona to exploit the splits favorably, getting Guyer and Rajai Davis into the lineup for the left-handed hitting Lonnie Chisenhall and Tyler Naquin when opposed by a left-hander on the mound.
That advantage was seen in Game 2 of the ALDS in Cleveland against Boston, when Guyer got the start against his former teammate in Tampa, left-hander David Price. He went 3-for-4 in the contest with three singles and two runs scored. He drove in the first run of the game in the second inning as the Indians put up four to continue the playoff woes of the former Cy Young winner.
The Indians’ deal for Coco Crisp at the end of August may have seemed curious to some at the time, as the aging 36-year-old outfielder had been slowed in recent years by injuries and some decline at the plate. Not exactly the best of defenders in the field at this juncture of his career, Crisp still gave the Indians an outfielder with comfort and familiarity in left and center field, providing the Indians with additional outfield depth with the pending loss of Abraham Almonte for the postseason.
After working in 102 games for Oakland with a .234 average and .299 OBP prior to the trade, he appeared in 20 games over the final month of the season in his warm up for the playoffs, hitting .208 with a .323 OBP while stealing three bases for the run-happy Tribe.
The postseason-tested Crisp, who had spent time in the AL playoffs in five different seasons, including 2007 and 2008 on Francona’s Red Sox club, also brought in some of the experience that the team lost in parting ways with Uribe.
The switch-hitter got a pair of starts in left field for the Indians in their series against the Red Sox. While he was quiet in his first game in a hitless effort, he delivered what proved to be the deciding runs with a two-run homer off of lefty Drew Pomeranz in the sixth inning in the Indians’ 4-3 win in Game 3 to complete the sweep.
Sometimes, the moves not made can have significant impact on a club as well.
There were plenty of rumors circulating in the days leading to the non-waivers deadline on August 1, but one came to fruition as the Indians acquired All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy from the Milwaukee Brewers for four prospects to shore up a devastatingly bad effort offensively from the backstops on the Tribe roster.
Or did they?
Instead of receiving the seven-year vet to plug the hole created by the ineffectiveness and injury to Yan Gomes, Lucroy vetoed the deal. His 17 doubles, 13 homers, 50 RBI, and .299 average preferred to play elsewhere, and he landed in Texas with teammate Jeremy Jeffress on August 1 for three minor leaguers.
Lucroy appeared in 47 games for Texas, putting up a .276/.345/.539 slash with seven doubles, eleven homers, and 31 RBI as the Rangers made their push for the AL West crown and not only claimed it, but earned the top seed in the AL playoff picture to secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the catchers on the Cleveland roster stepped up. Roberto Perez was hitting .080 at the time and was just two weeks back from the disabled list, returning early after the injury to Gomes. He hit .203 the rest of the season with a .275 on-base percentage, hitting six doubles, a triple, three homers, and driving in 14 runs in 49 games while also throwing out half of would-be base stealers. Chris Gimenez, who was hitting .202 at the time of the proposed trade, hit .250 with a .348 OBP down the stretch in reduced action, hitting three doubles and two homers while driving in five in 24 games.
Perez had two hits in Game 1, driving in the first run of the Indians’ 2016 postseason with a solo homer. He added a pair of walks and reached on an error in Game 2. In his first appearance in meaningful October baseball since 2011 with the Brewers, Lucroy was 1-for-12 with a single and two strikeouts, while his preferred option was swept by the Blue Jays.
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