“Success” is a strange term in the world of sports. If you ask 10 different fans, you might get 10 different answers as to what actually constitutes a successful season.
For some, simply having a competitive and entertaining team is enough. For others, a playoff birth reflects a greatly successful campaign. After all, only a select few teams make the playoffs in a given season (unless it’s the NBA, where in the Eastern Conference a team has to actively try not to make the playoffs). Maybe winning a playoff series (or a Wild Card play-in game) is the standard for success. Making the playoffs is one thing, but winning a playoff series proves the team was something special.
Me? I’m a championship-or-bust guy. I don’t turn on the television or drive to the ballpark hoping to see my team do almost good enough. My hope for every team that I root for at the beginning of its respective seasons is that it wins the championship. Not be entertaining. Not make the playoffs. Not win a playoff game or series. I’m looking for a championship.
I understand how outlandish that might sound. There are 30 teams in Major League Baseball. According to the criteria listed above, there can only be one team that had a successful season, and 29 other teams that were unsuccessful.
And in a way, I do believe that to be the case. But viewed solely through that lens, sports fandom would be a soul-crushing exercise in futility. I know my team won’t win the championship every time it embarks on a new campaign, and to expect as much is ludicrous.
So there’s a caveat. When I’m evaluating whether or not a team had a successful season, or whether the transactions made were good ones or bad ones, I do it by asking this question:
Did the team get any closer to winning a championship?
That question leaves much more room for success than the did-they-or-didn’t-they championship dichotomy. If the team made reasonable progress, if it got closer to a championship today than it was yesterday, I can consider the team success.
Notice: I didn’t say winning a championship this season. Oftentimes, efforts to increase a team’s odds of winning a title in the current season actually decrease the overall odds of it ever winning a title.
With this in mind, the Cleveland Indians had a few options at the trade deadline. Let’s start with what the team didn’t do.
Cleveland didn’t trade Francisco Lindor, Clint Frazier, or any other prospects in an effort to get immediate help. The team decided whatever upgrade it could get to boost its title odds for the duration of 2014, and perhaps 2015, was not worth the gamble of losing these prospects – prospects whose talent could potentially help increase the team’s odds of winning a title in the future.
But the Indians didn’t just stand pat. Cleveland dealt away two guys who had important roles on the 2014 big league roster, even if they haven’t been performing very well. If the Indians were to win the World Series, not just make the playoffs but actually win the 11 games (12 if they were a Wild Card) necessary to lift the trophy this year, it probably would have needed Asdrubal Cabrera to hit like he did in 2011-12 and Justin Masterson to not be terrible. So losing them is a blow to the team’s 2014 odds.
But how big of a blow are these losses? And do these trades really even matter for the 2014 team? It’s not as if Masterson and Cabrera have been any good this season, and hoping that they would miraculously turn their seasons around is likely just wishful thinking. Yes, Masterson to T.J. House and Cabrera to Mike Aviles/Jose Ramirez/maybe Lindor is a downgrade, but the gap probably isn’t all that big.
I’ll just go ahead and say it: The Indians were not beating the Detroit Tigers in a seven-game series. The Indians were not beating the Oakland A’s in a seven-game series. The Indians probably were not beating the Los Angeles Angels in a seven-game series, either. The Indians were not winning the 2014 World Series, and losing Justin Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera does not change this outcome.
Finally, there are the players the Indians received in the two trades. I’m not a prospect guru, so you’ll have to go elsewhere for truly enlightened takes on outfielder James Ramsey and shortstop Zach Walters. (Editor’s note: By “elsewhere,” Jeremy clearly means Wahoo’s on First writer Michael Chaney’s profile on Ramsey.) But I can say one thing with certainty: Whatever Ramsey and Walters provide the team from 2015 and on, it will be more than Masterson and Cabrera would have provided, also known as nothing.
Yes, the Indians slightly lowered the chances of winning the 2014 title, odds that were poor from the start. Cleveland also boosted its odds at winning in 2015 and beyond. How much those odds improved, I’m not sure, but those odds are greater today than they were a few days ago.
So back to the original question: Did the Indians’ moves at the trade deadline get the team any closer to winning a championship? Maybe not for 2014. But in the long run, there’s no doubt the Indians boosted its overall odds of winning a title. That sounds like a successful trade deadline to me.