I try not to stay bitter about baseball moves that I don’t like. You may hate a move (or several moves), but once it’s done there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. Sometimes though, I can’t help thinking about how one bad move can continue to hurt a team years after the fact. With the Indians starting their second series with Tampa Bay, it got me thinking about Chris Archer (who the Tribe will somehow miraculously miss again in a four-game series). Archer is having a phenomenal season so far, and is in the top 5 in MLB in ERA, strikeouts, and WAR at the moment. Could you imagine what an Indians rotation containing Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, and Chris Archer would look like? The Indians definitely could have avoided holding open tryouts for the fifth spot in the rotation this year, that’s for sure.
If you’re not too familiar with Archer’s backstory, you may be wondering why I’d even bother to think this? Most people would love to see one of the top pitchers in baseball in their rotation…it’s kind of a no-brainer. That’s because Archer was actually drafted by the Indians in the fifth round of the 2006 draft. For all of my constant wailing and complaining about how the Indians tanked in the draft from 2000-2007, here’s the one time they were absolutely successful. And then they traded him. You can place all of the blame upon the Brandon Phillips deal.
No, Archer was not involved in the deal that sent Phillips to Cincinnati in April of 2006. The Indians received RHP Jeff Stevens in the deal as a player-to-be-named. They basically just dumped Phillips off at that point for whatever anyone would give them…they probably would’ve taken some magic beans. Losing a player of Phillips’s caliber for basically nothing is still a pretty painful move itself. Eric Wedge couldn’t get along with him (and for whatever reason) the Indians essentially did what he wanted and sent Phillips packing. This was the man who was basically considered the centerpiece of the Bartolo Colon deal. Cliff Lee and Grady Sizemore received high praise, but the hype was centered around the “five-tooled” Phillips and the promise he held both offensively and defensively. Heck, I even still have a mouse pad with Omar Vizquel and Phillips that brags about their amazing defense up the middle (I believe it was a 2003 giveaway). I know that Phillips got off to a slow start in Cleveland, but the Indians wasted much more time on guys with much less talent. I just don’t buy that as the reason they sent him packing.
The problem is, after the Indians unloaded Phillips they really struggled to find a permanent, everyday second baseman. They used Ronnie Belliard for a while, and had Asdrubal Cabrera manning second when he first came to the majors. You could say that the Indians really didn’t have a long-term solution until they brought Jason Kipnis to the majors. In 2007, the Indians came within one win of the World Series and then ended up having a very disappointing 2008 season – they were supposed to return to the playoffs, but instead finished the season at .500 and traded their reigning Cy Young mid-season. In December of 2008, they made an attempt to finally fill the hole at second base – they traded Archer, Stevens, and John Gaub to the Chicago Cubs in order to acquire Mark DeRosa.
The loss of Phillips created a hole the Indians struggled to fill for several years, essentially pushing them into the DeRosa trade that lost them Archer. To be fair, the Cubs eventually flipped Archer as well; he went to the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2011 deal that brought Matt Garza to Chicago. That shouldn’t be a good enough defense for the Indians though. Just because another team made a fairly dumb move, doesn’t mean that you get a pass on your own dumb move.
If you want to go a little bit further down the rabbit hole, Mark DeRosa was eventually traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in June of 2009 for closer Chris Perez. The Indians are probably lucky they got that much, because DeRosa was promptly injured and missed much of the remainder of the 2009 season. Perez’s time in Cleveland wasn’t all bad, but he didn’t necessarily get them into the playoffs, or offer any kind of very meaningful contribution. He was pushed to the margins by the time they made their 2013 Wild Card berth.
One point of solace – there’s almost no chance that Phillips would still be with the Indians, and he probably still would’ve left a number of years ago. He signed a 6-year, $72.5 million deal in April of 2012; probably far too rich for the Indians’ blood. (They only like to offer big contracts to guys past their prime anyway). With the ascendance of Kipnis in the minors, the Indians would’ve viewed him as expendable and tried to flip him for prospects anyway. But it would’ve filled their gap at second base for several years, and created a bridge until you got to Kipnis.
So even though we won’t see Archer over the next couple of days, take a minute to stop and think about what their rotation would’ve looked like with the addition of Archer. (Although you’d likely have to picture him with a slightly higher ERA, thanks to the Indians shoddy defense).