One right move, one wrong move
The future-is-now mantra that could have been espoused by the Indians after Saturday night’s attempt to increase their chances of advancing far into the playoffs this season was torpedoed by an unwise decision.
In securing the services of relief pitcher Andrew Miller from the New York Yankees for what amounted to a king’s ransom of highly-touted prospects, Chris Antonetti definitely healed a wound in a bullpen that has performed somewhat unevenly at times.
But in being stubborn with Jonathan Lucroy after conditionally acquiring the Milwaukee Brewers catcher prior to the Miller deal, the Indians’ president played fast and loose with the immediate future of this team.
One of the conditions was Lucroy accepting the deal despite listing the Indians as one of the teams in a no-trade clause in his contract. He reportedly initially told the Tribe he would waive that clause if the club voided his option for next year.
Instead, again reportedly, the Indians declined and furthermore would not guarantee Lucroy he would be the No. 1 catcher next season. And for those reasons, he declined to accept the trade and went back to work with the Brewers.
So instead of securing the services of one of the best catchers in all of baseball for reasons that baffle, the Indians are still stuck with Chris Gimenez and Roberto Perez in the wake of a bad shoulder injury to Yan Gomes. Taking nothing away from Gimenez, Perez or even Gomes, but they are not in the same league talent-wise with Lucroy.
Gomes, while serviceable defensively, has become a zero with a bat in his hands; an out waiting to happen. Lucroy is clearly the much better receiver and definitely a much scarier threat at the plate.
Why the devotion to Gomes? He had one good season in 2014 and hasn’t come even close to duplicating. Sure, he is signed to a favorable contract, but bringing in Lucroy would have been an immediate and sizable upgrade. The Tribe could have peddled Gomes’ contract.
Lucroy is less than a year older than Gomes, so age is not a factor. And Lucroy has a sterling reputation at handling pitching staffs. His 13-homer, 50-RBI season this year is merely a bonus. So are his .284 lifetime batting average and .342 on-base percentage.
Antonetti should have told Lucroy, “Look, don’t worry, we’ll take care of you. We want you here in Cleveland. We’ll tear up that last year and work on a multi-year deal.”
The seven-year veteran could have stepped right in with the terrific Cleveland starting staff, not missed a beat and added another big right-handed bat. Now the Indians have an uncertain future behind the plate.
When a quality catcher like Lucroy becomes available, you make every effort to get him and make sure he sticks around for a long time. Why Antonetti did not assure him he would be taken care of financially beyond next season is another head-scratcher.
And preferring Gomes over him behind the plate on a regular basis? Really? That's taking loyalty a little too far. Losing Lucroy was clearly a blown opportunity to strengthen a position that impacts the entire team.
Miller, meanwhile, is one of the best relief pitchers in all baseball. Great get. No question he will help. He’ll start as one of the setup men for the not-always-reliable Cody Allen, but it won’t be long before manager Terry Francona makes the new acquisition his closer.
Antonetti got it half right with his dealings in the last 24 hours. The opportunity to acquire one of the best catchers in baseball doesn’t come along often. To take a pass is regrettable. It was a missed opportunity to solidify the immediate future and beyond.
And now that the Detroit Tigers are showing signs of life after playing mediocre baseball for most of the season, it appears they are not going away in what could turn out to be a two-team race for the American League Central Division title.
If the Indians somehow manage to blow this, pointing at the deal they failed to pull the trigger on the final weekend of July will be the reason.