I recently read fellow TTFB writer Mark Moran’s article about his take on an All-Star team compiled of former Florida Marlins players. It made me think of the past Cleveland Indians players who left because of salary cap concerns. Cliff Lee and Jim Thome are just a few of those players. Over the past 15 years of Indians baseball, many talented ball players have put on the Indians uniform. During this time span, the Indians have appeared in seven postseasons, two World Series and yet have not won a single ring. With a limited salary cap per the owners’ request, General Managers John Hart, Mark Shapiro and now Chris Antonetti, have done a marvelous job keeping the Tribe in contention, while also building a quality team loaded with talent. Besides having those players on the field, the Indians have had quality managers including Mike Hargrove and Charlie Manuel. Now, let’s take a look at the gaudy roster of former stars.
The switch hitting catcher is now with the division rival Detroit Tigers and producing at a high level. Since leaving in 2007 for the Boston Red Sox, Martinez has consistently been productive in the middle of the lineup for a contending ball club.
Jim Thome, 1B
Thome recently hit his 600th home run, assuring himself a spot in Cooperstown. After leaving the Indians for more money with the Phillies and then the White Sox, Thome was hitting 40 home runs and driving in 100 RBIs regularly. A sure-fire Hall of Famer is surely missed by Cleveland fans who adored him.
Brandon Phillips, 2B
Although Phillips left because of arguments with then-manager Eric Wedge, he has been hard to replace up until this point with the arrival of Jason Kipnis. Phillips has played six seasons in Cincinnati and has been productive and reliable each time by bringing Cincy to the playoffs.
Omar Vizquel, SS
The sure-handed shortstop was a fan favorite in Cleveland when he abruptly left in 2005. He has gone on to win two more Gold Gloves and consistently hits near .300 for a contending ball club.
Matt Williams, 3B
A blast from the past, but man could he hit. Williams hit over 30 home runs and 100 RBIs for the Indians in 1997. Williams went on to Arizona to help them claim their first World Series title in 2001.
Manny Ramirez, LF
What isn’t there to say about Manny? This man did it all. Through all the drama of Manny being Manny, he consistently put the bat on the ball and carried an entire ball club on his back. He helped the Red Sox to their first World Series win since 1918. Although his career came to an abrupt and sad end this season, Manny is a Hall of Famer. Ramirez is also considered by many to be the best hitter of the past 15 years.
Kenny Lofton, CF
Another fan-favorite in Cleveland, Lofton was known for his speed, defense and clutch hitting. After leaving the Indians, Lofton went on the help the Braves, Cubs, Yankees and Dodgers to the postseason.
David Justice, RF
Justice was acquired by the Indians a year after he helped the Braves defeat the Tribe in the World Series. He was instrumental to the Tribe while he was there. Once Justice left the Indians, he played for the New York Yankees’ pennant-winning team in 2001, followed by a playoff run with the Oakland A’s.
Eddie Murray, DH
This 3000-hit, 500-home-run member is deservedly in bronze at the Hall of Fame. Retiring shortly after leaving the Tribe, Murray played one more season for his original team the Baltimore Orioles. Murray helped the Orioles to the postseason and ended up defeating the Cleveland Indians in the first round.
This is just the beginning of what the Tribe has put on the field. The bench would be just as dynamic, and we haven’t even discussed the starting rotation that, combined, has several Cy Young awards. The rotation looks like this:
Cliff Lee, P
Since leaving the Indians in 2009, Lee has gone on to be the starter of Game 1 of the World Series every year. Little more needs to be said.
Traded at the deadline in 2008, Sabathia went 11-2 with a 1.86 ERA for the Milwaukee Brewers and led them to the postseason. He left the following year for the Yankees, and has been their ace since. In his first two years with the Yankees, he has led the AL in wins and is on pace to do so again this year. This also includes a World Series victory in 2009.
For all the expectations given the big right hander, he has never gotten the credit he deserves. Colon has had 6 seasons with a three point ERA, and has won a CY Young award for the Los Angeles Angels in 2005.
After leaving the Indians in 2006, Millwood has gone on to win 10 or more games in every season, but one. He has been a staple on the Texas Rangers rotation, and in 2009, Millwood posted a 13-10 record with a 3.86 ERA and close to 200 IP.
Carl Pavano, P
Last season, Pavano was 17-11, with a 3.75 ERA and helped the Minnesota Twins to a division title.
All of these players have a few things in common: They played for the Indians, they have all been in an All-Star game and they have played in the postseason (many of whom have played for teams other than the Tribe). This collection of players will likely produce eight to 10 Hall of Famers. However, like previously mentioned, there are others who wouldn’t crack the starting lineup — players like Sandy Alomar Jr., Travis Fryman, Marquis Grissom, Brian Giles, Juan Gonzalez and Ellis Burke. Pitchers would include Kerry Wood, Orel Hershiser, Kevin Millwood and Chuck Finley.
The players the Indians fans have seen over the past 15 years are as good as any seen by fans anywhere, even in New York. To say the Indians haven’t tried is silly and foolish. The Tribe continues to add talent and stay within budget. This year’s team has many young players who could potentially follow similar paths of Thome, Ramirez and Sabathia. However, they are on the Tribe now and Cleveland fans will root for them, but only as long as they wear an Indians uniform.