Since he was promoted to Cleveland Indians general manager in 2010, Chris Antonetti’s tenure has been anything but boring. He took over a team coming off a 69-93 record that their own closer admitted was bad to watch, and had a long road ahead of him to return to the highs of 2007. Reaching for the glory of the mid-90’s would have been nice too, but having five Hall of Fame-caliber players on one team doesn’t happen every day. And in pursuit of that goal, Antonetti has shown he’s not shy—he’s willing to lay it on the line.
Look at last year’s trade for Ubaldo Jimenez. This could be the move that tells the story of his time as a general manager in Cleveland. Pitching prospects are the lifeblood of a small market team. It’s the only way they can create a sustained winning atmosphere, and Antonetti went and traded the two best guys the Indians had in their system. Alex White and Drew Pomeranz haven’t really shown anything in Colorado, but it’s Colorado—promising arms go there to die. Just look at Jamie Moyer.
But the Ubaldo trade is painful because of what might have been. Imagine if the Indians had gotten the 2010 version of Jimenez. (You can also imagine if a multibillionaire with a spending fetish bought the team, but right now just focus on Ubaldo.) He was straight dirty for most of the season, and if you just watched clips of his pitching since then, an at-bat here or there, you’d wonder what happened. He can still break knees with his curve, stun a moose with his fastball, and do whatever damage a slider would do with his slider, plus he’s in a pitcher-friendly park.
In a way it’s defensible as a big-time move. You have to have a good pitcher or two in the AL Central to run up against Justin Verlander and despite Justin Masterson being a beast last year there needed to be a second piece of that one-two punch. I was psyched about it at first, if only because my team was in the news and doing something. Then it all went downhill. But still, it was nice for a moment, when the future was golden and the Indians looked to be postseason fixtures for several years to come.
Maybe Antonetti’s riskiest (read: least thought-out) move was the Grady Sizemore re-signing, a mistake he admitted to the Washington Post the other day. We look back now, he’s being paid $5 million to go through an unsuccessful rehab. That’s just brutal for an organization whose biggest other offseason signing was Casey Kotchman. If Grady had come back at some level of what he was, The Tribe would have one of the best outfields in the league; alas, it is not. Grady meant so much to this franchise, and his whole fade into irrelevancy has been the most painful one to see. The guy just loves baseball too much, goes too hard too often and it cost him. You can’t fault Antonetti for buying into Grady (that smile, wow). I can only imagine how convincing he is that he can still do it. In the end, though, it just tied up salary that could have gone toward something, well, useful.
It’s been painful to watch this team cave in for a second straight season, and this year has been even worse than 2011. A 5-22 record in August is hard to fathom, but that’s what we just experienced. If your team doesn’t have the consistent cash flow like the Yankees or whoever, you have to make bold moves to have a chance. Unfortunately for Antonetti, it hasn’t worked out every time he’s tried. It stands to reason one of these things will actually help the Indians eventually, it’s just about how, and when. Maybe his breaking with organizational tradition and picking high schoolers in the first two rounds of the draft is what will do it. Francisco Lindor will be a multiple MVP and Dillon Howard will stack Cy Youngs and Antonetti will spend the day smoking Cohibas and laughing.
Even when he can’t get it done, Chris is willing to take half a shot. The ill-fated pursuit of Carlos Beltran would have been awesome if it had worked out. Imagine a real, honest-to-god superstar in Cleveland. Nobody would second-guess that even if Carlos didn’t stick around. The move for Ubaldo, which worked out hideously, or the chase of Josh Willingham that would have changed the face of the Indians for years. That’s the one strange one though—of all the eyebrow raising moves, the one he doesn’t make is to sign an offensively superb left fielder in his prime. It would have put this team over the top in the division even with the struggles on the mound. Luckily, Tribe fans are used to staring off into the distance and sighing wistfully.
For at least the next couple years, this is the guy steering the team. Mark Shapiro is still there and is surely a force in the front office but Antonetti is the obvious decision maker. If he signs Brandon McCarthy (He’ll be fine!) or somehow snatches Zack Greinke (I can dream, can’t I?) or scoops up Adam LaRoche, he’ll have my blessing for all that’s worth. He’ll have money to throw around with that Travis Hafner cash coming free too, so there are moves to be made.
Greatness isn’t found in following the safe path. Wouldn’t it be cool to have a great general manager in Cleveland? Antonetti’s got the guts, we’re just along for the ride.