While watching the game on Wednesday night, I got to thinking whether the front office really believes this team can win a championship. Francisco Lindor would be a clear upgrade over Jose Ramirez at this point, but he hasn’t received the call (yet). Rather than add Marlon Byrd or other options from the waiver wire, they’ve elected to go with a Chris Dickerson/Tyler Holt platoon in right field. Granted, there are perfectly good reasons that support these paths, but there doesn’t seem to be the kind of urgency that we as fans would like to see when the Tigers are in a free fall and the Royals streaky Royals are the leaders by only a handful of games.
So I got to thinking, why do the Dolans refuse to spend money? Is it because they don’t really believe a small-market team can truly compete for a championship? The Indians have had trouble luring big-name free agents to Cleveland in recent years, but mid-tier players like Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn were willing to come here at high points in their careers for the right price. And the Indians have had some really great players over the years. If all those players had been here at the same time, the Indians could have been a baseball juggernaut. Now admittedly that’s a ridiculous notion. But it’s certainly a lot of fun to think about. So I decided to think through the years since was first able to understand baseball at the age of five, 20 years ago. The only “rules” I set for my imagination are that the player must have played for the Indians for at least four years (or be under contract for enough to make up the difference), and taken at least half of their at-bats during the selected season from the position they’re playing for on the dream team. Here’s what I came up with.
C: 1997 Sandy Alomar Jr.- With his legendary 30-game hitting streak as part of 21-homer, .900 OPS season, Alomar had one of the best seasons in the history of Cleveland backstops. He played stellar defense and even took home the All-Star Game MVP award.
1B: 2002 Jim Thome- Thome’s last season with Cleveland was a special one. He had 46 fewer plate appearances than the previous year, and 46 fewer strikeouts. He smacked 52 homers and batted .304/.445/.677, driving 118 runs and finishing 7th in the MVP voting.
2B: 2013 Jason Kipnis- Kipnis started the year off slow, but had a monster June that saw him hit over .400 and take home the AL Player of the Month honors. He finished the year with 17 home runs and 30 steals, finishing the season at nearly six wins above replacement.
SS: 1999 Omar Vizquel- The magical year when Vizquel randomly decided to start taking walks. He finished the year with a .397 OBP, chipping in 36 doubles, 4 triples and 5 homers as part of his best power campaign in his long, illustrious career. He even took home one of his 11 Gold Gloves.
3B: 2004 Casey Blake- The Indians haven’t had many legends at third base while I’ve been around, but Blake had a damn good 2004 campaign. With 28 home runs, 36 doubles and 68 walks, he finished the year with a .836 OPS.
LF: 1995 Albert Belle- This is one of the more obvious picks. This was Belle’s legendary season in which he hit 50 homers and 52 doubles, giving him a league-leading 377 total bases on the year. He may have had a few attitude issues, but damn it if he wasn’t one of the best hitters the Indians ever drafted.
CF: 2006 Grady Sizemore- A year before he won his first Gold Glove, Grady Sizemore led the league with 53 doubles while chipping in 11 triples and 28 homers. He was worth 6.6 WAR on the season. If he hadn’t been so injury prone, it’s scary to imagine the heights to which his career could have leaped.
RF: 1999 Manny Ramirez- His astounding 165 RBI season was partially a result of his 44 home runs and 1.105 OPS. Manny went to the All-Star Game that year, and finished the season third in the MVP voting while taking home the Silver Slugger award.
DH: 2006 Travis Hafner- Hafner at his peak. His doubles were suddenly homers, his walks were almost even with his strikeouts, and he slugged .659. A true designated hitter, he could have had a magnificent career if it hadn’t been marred by injuries.
C: 2007 Victor Martinez- The Indians have had some great catchers over the past 20 years, and Victor Martinez was one of the best. In 2007, he hit 25 homers and appeared in the All-Star Game, finishing 7th in the MVP vote during one of his better defensive years behind the plate.
OF: 2014 Michael Brantley- Brantley has been slumping a bit lately, but he’s still on pace to hit over 20 home runs with a .860 OPS. He made his first All-Star appearance and is among the league leaders with 11 outfield assists, splitting his time between left and center field.
OF: 1996 Kenny Lofton- In ’96, Lofton hit for average (.317), showed some power (14 homers) and got on base (61 walks). This paved the way for his team record 75 stolen bases, scoring 132 runs in the process. If that wasn’t enough, he played fantastic defense and took home his fourth Gold Glove.
INF: 2011 Asdrubal Cabrera- This was the year we all thought was Asdrubal’s breakout, but was actually just a fluke. He clubbed 25 homers (a team record from the shortstop position), and chipped in 32 doubles. He won the Silver Slugger that year and drew some MVP votes as well. He even played defense at over a win above replacement level, something he hasn’t done since.
INF: 1995 Carlos Baerga- In his third all-star campaign, Baerga hit for a .807 OPS while collecting 175 hits and stealing 11 bases. He had one of his better years defensively at second base, too.
SP: 2007 CC Sabathia- His Cy Young Award-winning campaign in which he made 34 starts, pitched 241 innings, and struck out 209 batters. He finished with a 3.21 ERA and garnered a few MVP votes.
SP: 2008 Cliff Lee- His Cy Young Award-winning campaign. His 22-3 record was the best in baseball in both total wins and best win percentage. His 2.54 ERA was no fluke, as his 2.83 FIP wasn’t far behind. He had the lowest walk rate of all qualifiers, and gave up only 0.5 HR/9.
SP: 2014 Corey Kluber- Kluber probably won’t win the Cy Young this year unless Felix Hernandez gets injured or falls off the table, but his campaign is indeed spectacular. His 213 strikeouts rank second in baseball, and are already the most by any Indians pitcher since 1974. His 2.52 ERA ranks 4th in the AL, and unlike Sabathia or Lee, his stellar campaign didn’t come within a year of free agency. He’s not even set to qualify for arbitration this offseason.
SP: 2007 Fausto Carmona/Roberto Hernandez- He went 19-8 with a 3.06 ERA. His FIP and WHIP weren’t that great, but he got the job done and managed to help lead the Tribe to the ALCS. He even finished fourth in Cy Young Award voting.
SP: 2013 Ubaldo Jimenez- Maybe some people are surprised to see Jimenez on this list at all, but it’s hard to argue with his post-April numbers. After getting off to a rough start, he got the ball rolling in mid-May and managed to correct his stat line to a 3.30 ERA. The walks got him into a bit of trouble, but his 9.6 K/9 rate was enough to get him out of it. He won all six of his September starts behind a stellar 1.09 ERA, stepping up to lead the rotation in place of the injured Justin Masterson.
CL: 1995 Jose Mesa- His 2.70 FIP and 1.03 WHIP led to a pristine 1.13 ERA and a league-leading 46 saves across 62 appearances. He finished second in the AL Cy Young voting, and he did it during the Steroid Era. I wouldn’t let him close Game 7 of the World Series, but I’d certainly give him the ball in the ninth inning of any other game.
RP: 2001 Bob Wickman- Five wins and 32 saves were the product of a 2.39 ERA, 2.58 FIP and 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings. He always made it interesting, but he got the job done.
RP: 2011 Vinnie Pestano- Though Chris Perez was closing during Vinnie’s best years, his peripherals were always better. In 2011, he finished with a 2.32 ERA (2.67 FIP), striking out 84 batters in 62 innings. He even got a pair of saves. It seemed like he was always running some kind of insane scoreless streak, and he’s very deserving of a spot in the dream bullpen.
RP: 2014 Cody Allen- Allen has been downright dirty this year. He’s currently saved 17 consecutive games and shows no signs of slowing down. His knuckle curve is filthy and he throws his fastball in the high 90s. His 1.04 WHIP and 11.6 K/9 tell us that he’s a rather formidable young pitcher.
RP: 2014 Nick Hagadone- Every bullpen needs a couple of lefties, and I firmly believe that Nick Hagadone will play a big part in the future of the Tribe’s bullpen. He’s a hard thrower who’s finally figured out his command, as we can see by his 5.50 K/BB ratio. His ERA is down to 1.37, and he’s not likely to run out of gas any time soon.
RP: 1997 Paul Assenmacher- The other lefty in the dream ‘pen. His 5-0 record is the product of a 3.25 FIP and 2.94 ERA across 75 appearances, all done during the height of the Steroid Era. He had nasty stuff, and managed to fan 9.7 batters per nine innings during a year where strikeouts were far less common than they are now.
RP: 2011 Joe Smith- His 2.01 ERA was thanks in large part to his 56.6% ground ball rate. He was spectacular at coming into games and getting a key double-play to get out of an inning. His 1.09 WHIP also tells us that he didn’t put many men on base.
A few notable names that didn’t make the list include Jhonny Peralta, Charles Nagy and David Riske. What do you think? Is there someone you’d rather have on the team than the players listed above? Let us know! Tweet us at @Wahoosonfirst or comment below.