Former Indians Finding Varying Degrees of Success in New Digs

Over the winter there was some gnashing of teeth as the Cleveland Indians waived good-bye to Carlos Santana, Bryan Shaw and Jay Bruce. Santana and Shaw had been on the club for multiple years, while Bruce was an August trade addition last summer.

Most of the fret was focused around the offense and what losing power hitters the likes of Santana and Bruce would do to the every day lineup’s run-scoring potential. As for Shaw, some Tribe fans were all too eager to see him leave. He was the player, however, that manager Terry Francona seemed the most distraught over losing.

Indeed Shaw was a workhorse for Tito, coming out of the bullpen more than anyone in the game (378 times) since the player and skipper both showed up to Cleveland in time for the 2013 season. For five seasons, Shaw was Francona’s go-to bullpen arm in the seventh and eighth innings, protecting late leads and getting the game into the typically sure hands of closer Cody Allen and All-Star reliever Andrew Miller.

Francona feared it would take two or more hurlers to replace Shaw, while many of the Tribe faithful were ready to see his nights of blowing late leads go on to Denver with the Colorado Rockies. Yes, Shaw had some memorable meltdowns over the years, but that is bound to happen when you pitch 75+ games per season. For the most part, he got the outs and was typically a sure bullpen arm. Not many relievers are able to go year-to-year without a big hiccup. It earned Shaw a big $27 million contract with the Rockies for the next three years, with an option for another season in 2021.

So far, of the main three departed Indians, he is the one that the team misses the most. The bullpen has already faltered a few times this season. Miller and Allen have remained solid, but the others have had a hard time adjusting to new roles. Going from middle relief or mop-up duty to the high pressure of keeping games close in the latter stages of a contest is a big step up. Not every player has the mental makeup to handle that kind of stress.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, Shaw has been right on par with how he pitched in his five summers on the shores of Lake Erie. On Tuesday, he had one of his meltdown games that caused Indians followers to want to grab pitchforks and descend upon Progressive Field. He allowed three runs, including a home run, in his inning of work, taking the loss.

However, his other eight outings have been scoreless. Yes, the baseball season is not even 20 games old and Shaw had made nine appearances heading into Saturday’s action. He is still able to pitch multiple nights in a row. Eight of nine times he got the job done. That is a pretty sterling record. It is one that only the elite of the elite relievers can claim to top. It was par for the course for Shaw in Cleveland and his ability to take the ball 80 times a season and get the job done more than 70 of those times are missed and will be missed.

However, what some fans seem to really miss the offense provided by the likes of Santana and Bruce. Talking relief pitching around a water cooler or in the stands is not common. Talking about the big walk-off blast or the latest grand slam is much more fan for a lot baseball loyalists, yet those are the two that would not be making a ton of waves if still with their former team.

Santana, who played eight seasons with the Tribe, going from catcher, to third base, to finally finding a home as a first baseman, is off to his typical April abyss of a start. Entering Saturday, he was hitting a paltry .159 with two home runs and nine RBI in his first 12 games with the Phillies. Slow starts were commonplace for Santana, but fans learned to live with it a lot of seasons, especially 2016 when he belted 34 bombs in his best season with the Tribe. He could usually be penciled in for 20-25 homers and around 85 RBI per season – not great, but certainly a good bat in the lineup. His contract with Philadelphia was probably a bit of an overpay and the Indians were wise to not go to crazy heights to keep a 32-year-old who has the propensity for going into prolonged slumps and cold streaks.

Santana was a core player for many years, breaking into the Majors around the same time as Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis and Josh Tomlin – other key players in the Tribe’s turnaround that began in 2013. Being long-tenured and a big part of winning ball clubs are probably the two biggest reasons he will be missed.

As for Bruce, Indians fans really learned to love his mashing ability over the final two months of last season. If Brantley had not hurt his ankle and taken a while to return, the Indians probably would not have even struck the deal that brought him aboard. Cleveland’s offense was fine without him and he was more of a luxury addition to the roster than a necessity. It was pretty obvious he was a short-term rental, despite many fans hoping Cleveland would open the coffers and keep him. He grew on the fan-base.

He, like Santana, however, would not have been a big part of the pulling the Indians out of the offensive malaise they were in for the first 11 games of this season. He went into Saturday making contact with the baseball better than Santana, hitting at a .262 clip. The power numbers have yet to show up for Bruce. He had but one bomb and seven RBI for a Mets team he rejoined. New York dealt Bruce to Cleveland and reports were they were a favorite to get him back from almost the point the transaction went down.

Bruce and Santana are both likely to heat up at some point and both may get to their usually 20 or more homer totals. Bruce is a year younger than Santana. However, giving big money to anyone north of 30 is not too wise. Bruce’s deal was somewhat team-friendly, at just three years and $39 million. He will be 33 in the last season of his deal, with another couple years of good productivity possible after that. He may have been nice for the Indians to keep around, especially with all the questions the team has in the outfield. Santana was signed for a guaranteed three years at $60 million and a fourth team-option year at $17.5 million. That is a lot of money for a guy who has topped 30 homers once and never collect 100 RBI in his career.

As for Shaw, he is only 30. Relievers can pitch a long time. He will make $27 million the next three years (including his $2 million buyout for 2021) and has a team option that year at $9 million more. Like Bruce, if he plays in Colorado all four years, his final season will have him at 33 and he probably will have another couple years in the tank.

One read flag for Shaw while in Cleveland was that he was declining each season. He had a 2.59 ERA in his best season of 2014. Then it was 2.95 in 2015, 3.24 in 2016 and 3.52 in 2017. It was at 3.52 heading into the weekend, though inflated by his one bad outing. There were questions as to whether he was starting to wear due to so much use or declining as he hit his 30s. The Indians also have a lot of money tied up in the bullpen with Miller and Allen. It is crazy to pay three relievers big money, no matter how good they are.

It was sad to see three productive players leave Cleveland, but what was left on the roster is more than enough talent to make another run at a World Series title. Santana, Bruce and Shaw are good players, but not great nor transcendent ones the likes of which Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Francisco Lindor, Miller and Allen could be.

Those players will be missed. Shaw will probably be missed more than the others, even if people do think less of relief pitching than home runs. The bullpen is already not the same without him, while Colorado’s is much better off with him. The lineup showed it still packs plenty of punch with Lindor, Kipnis and Jose Ramirez starting to hit their strides this past week.

It has been an up-and-down start to the season for both the Tribe’s bullpen and offense. It has been that same way for the players lost from those spots over the winter. The departed players are missed to varying degrees, just not how you may think.

Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

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