Confession time: I'm pretty sure I spent less time on the Indians' Baseball-Reference.com page this season than any other team's page.
The Twins? They had all those pitchers without any strikeouts. The Mariners? Wanted to check in with the Smoak-Montero-Ackley core. I can make up similar stories about the other 27 teams. But the Indians? Can't explain what it is, but I didn't pay them any attention until it was too late, when they were plowing through September. It wasn't just the team, but the individual players, too. Every time I'd run a WAR search, there would be Jason Kipnis, quietly awesome, waving at me from near the top. It always surprised me.
It's not like the Indians were supposed to be bad, either. They were a good sleeper pick if you believed the pitching could be average instead of wretched. But where you'll hear about Pirates this and Pirates that, and how the Pirates are America's Cinderella darlings, you aren't going to get as much with the Indians. They're a sleeper team that has to give you a wet Willie to get you up.
Scott Kazmir's on the team, you know. Scott Kazmir. How were the Indians not the most compelling team of the season? We blew it, everyone. They even have a guy named C.C. Lee, who is some sort of Frankenstein monster created to remind them of bad deadline deals.
But I've figured something out. Made me do one of these:
Before I reveal what it is, let's do a brief recap of the Indians' last 365 days. The Indians …
- finished in fourth place with a miserable record
- suffered through a miserable pitching season
- had a number of underachieving hitters
- offered little immediate hope by standing still
But the Indians most certainly did not stand still. They …
- spent a lot more money in their offseason wheelings and dealings than anyone expected
- after that, they committed even more money
- made a huge offseason trade to help in the short- and long-term fortunes of the franchise
- counted an awful lot on disappointing pitchers reclaiming their past success
And what happened? The Indians …
- got those surprising rebound seasons from their starters
- enjoyed breakout seasons from young players
- got production from young pitchers
- got a little lucky with some unheralded acquisitions
- won a bunch of games
From the bottom of the league to a playoff spot in one offseason. And all it took was a bunch of moves, a huge trade, some elbow grease, serious praying, internal developments, and more money than anyone expected. Here's where we get to the revelation.
The Blue Jays.
The Indians were what the Blue Jays were supposed to be. The Indians stole a package from the Blue Jays' front porch. They opened it up, and it was like a beautiful, forgiving Ark of the Covenant. This was everything we were supposed to see from the Blue Jays. The Blue Jays were the sexy pick in the American League. Predictions for the Indians were loaded up with weasel words to hedge bets. But what was so different?
The three-year (2010-2012) WAR average for the big acquisitions for the Blue Jays:
Jose Reyes: 3
Mark Buehrle: 4
R.A. Dickey: 4
Josh Johnson: 4
And for the Indians:
Nick Swisher: 3
Michael Bourn: 5
Drew Stubbs: 2
Brett Myers: 2
That's a three-win difference between the four-player averages. Considering that the Blue Jays lost 89 games in 2012 and the Indians lost 94, that three-win difference looked a little bigger before the season started. Still, it shouldn't have seemed like one team was the '27 Yankees and the other was the '91 Yankees, even if that's what almost everyone fell into.
It was Ubaldo Jimenez who rebounded, not Ricky Romero. It was Jason Kipnis who busted out, not Brett Lawrie. It was Nick Swisher who stayed healthy, not Jose Reyes. It was Justin Masterson who broke through, not Brandon Morrow.
And it was the Indians instead of the Blue Jays. There's a bad-to-playoffs story every year, and I wasn't alone when I pegged the Blue Jays to be that story. But the Indians snuck in when we weren't looking. Maybe it should have been a bit more obvious. Or maybe we should have seen that the Blue Jays were still going to need the internal development, comeback seasons, and good fortune the Indians enjoyed.
"Don't make too much about flashy offseasons," might be the lesson of the Blue Jays. If you think that, though, you might miss that the Indians had a similar story. It worked out for one, not the other. Remember this in December, when the Astros sign Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo, and Mike Napoli.
For more on the Indians, please visit Let's Go Tribe