With 2010 now under way and the 2nd decade of the 2000’s starting, I got to thinking after seeing all these lists of the best moments of the decade and the best of the year, that we should look at compiling a list of the best Indians players of the decade. I love the Indians more then anything else in the world, even more then the Browns and Cavs, I was raised to be much more of a baseball fan then the other sports and have always dreamed to one day be the Tribe’s shortstop, but since that dream will not be fulfilled, all I can do is sit here at the computer and make a list of the Tribe’s best this decade. This is also a little bit a product of the book I am currently reading, “Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Baseball?” by Elliott Kalb, who is known as “Mr. Stats.” and has worked as a statistician for ESPN, HBO, ABC, NBC, etc for the last 20 odd years or so. In this book he runs down the best 75 players, in his opinion, to ever play baseball. It is a very good analysis of many players, and surprisingly, it was written in 2005, it has Barry Bonds as the best player ever. This is not the forum for such a discussion, but I would like to compile my Indians Roster of the decade. It will be a 25 man roster, with who I think is best at each position, a couple bench guys and a pitching staff. Feel free to send in recommendations or talk to us about who you think should or should not be included. I will attempt to not include guys who were 1 and done with the Tribe unless their impact was truly great, and there might be some controversial picks if you don’t agree with my reasoning. We’ll start with the Starters.
Catcher: Victor Martinez. Vic the Stick. The easy and obvious choice for the catcher of the decade for the Indians, as he was the Catcher for the Tribe this decade. He debuted 2002 and played loyally for the team until we shipped him to Boston in 2009. He was the leader of the team both in many statistics and in terms of emotional leadership and being the team captain. He had 102 Homeruns and over 500 RBI in his time here and he will always be remembered as one of the best to put on a Tribe jersey, and I’m not saying that he is as good as Sandy Alomar Jr, but he is up there.
1st Base: Jim Thome. Yeah, I know he was only here until 2002, but if you look at the rosters for years after he left, there really is no other choice. Ben Broussard, Casey Blake for a year or 2, Ryan Garko and Eduardo Perez. Garko was almost my choice here, but he never really got a chance to play full time. He was always splitting time or not fulfilling the high ceiling there seemed to be for him. Thome’s 334 HR’s as an Indian is a team record and from 2000-2002 he hit 138 of those bombs. His 927 rbi as the Indians 1st baseman is 2nd all time behind only Earl Averill. His entire time with the Indians was amazing and the beginning of this decade he was in his prime and he was keeping this team alive.
2nd Base: Another guy who was not here for long this decade, just 2000 and 2001, 1999 as well but that doesn’t count. Roberto Alomar. I was really leaning towards picking Ronnie Belliard, but the future hall of famer edged Belliard out on the numbers he put up in Cleveland. He finished 4th in MVP voting in 2001 before he left and his career turned downhill. He put up a .310 average in 2000, and a .334 average in 2001. For all the Belliard fans out there, don’t get too upset, he holds a very special place in all of our hearts for his time wearing the Tribe uni.
Shortstop: This one is hard to choose. Whoever is not picked here is definitely on the Decade team bench. Jhonny Peralta. Just kidding. Omar Vizquel. I know he wasn’t putting up the numbers he used to when the 2000’s started, but he still won 2 gold gloves and made an all star team in 2000-2003 and was the Tribe’s every day short stop until he became a free agent after the 2004 season. I know everything that he did for this franchise and he is arguably the best defensive SS to ever play baseball, but I almost picked Peralta. Peralta is a good offensive force at SS, well 3B now, and you can’t argue with his good production through the later years of this decade. When the offense was in full force in 2007, Peralta was one of the guys at the middle of that production, and he did put up 80+ last year in a bad year and has been over 70 4 of the last 5 years, missing it by 2 the year he didn’t get over it. None the less, Vizquel is the man of the decade at SS for the Tribe.
3rd Base: I really have a hard time deciding this one. There was a constant revolving door at 3rd base for the last 10 years, and there might be in the future if Andy Marte or Jhonny Peralta does not lock down the position. It has to be Casey Blake. He had the most games there of any other Indians player in the decade and he played the best there both defensively, at times, and offensively at times. Not much to argue for or against Blake, I think he is the only one that can really be considered the 3rd baseman of the decade for the Tribe.
Outfield: Yet another long, long, long list of guys to sift through. The starting outfield of the decade for the Indians is… Grady Sizemore, Coco Crisp and Shin Soo Choo. Grady Sizemore and Coco Crisp are the easy choices. If you ask me, the team made a mistake of trading Crisp because he would have provided the outfield with a more then solid option for those years when we relied on the likes of Jason Michaels and Trot Nixon and this whole thing this year of Ryan Garko, among others playing in a corner spot. He was a great leadoff hitter in his time in Cleveland. Coco Crisp played 4 full seasons as the Indians CF and leadoff man, traded after the ’05 season to allow Sizemore to be the everyday man and make room for prospects such as Franklin Gutierrez, Shin Soo Choo, etc etc. Sizemore is one of the best players in the league at CF, defensively and offensively most of the time and thus he is a shoe in for the list. Shin Soo Choo is becoming the offensive star of the team, putting up great numbers in ’08 and ’09, and is poised for another big year in 2010. Sizemore, if healthy, could potentially grow into a 40-40 guy. Choo had his first full season last year and blasted 20 homers with a .300 average and 78 rbis. In ’08 in 90 games he put up similar numbers with a higher average. His sample size is a little smaller, but the Indians have had a revolving door at each outfield position that isn’t CF, where it was primarily 2 guys for the entire decade. Crisp should have been much more then a fill-in while the team waited for Grady, but he has moved on to bigger and better things in his career. We have yet to see the best from Choo and Sizemore, and that means only good things for this franchise.
Designated Hitter: Travis Hafner. Hands down. Prior to his arrival there really was not any production from the DH position. Ellis Burkes gave us a good year and a half, but he was over 40 upon his arrival and not much was expected from him. Sure, the last 2 years have not been good for Pronk, but he had 5 big years where he was over 20 bombs with at least 100 RBI in each of those 5 years. He was one of the keys to our success in the big and dissapointing 2007 season and is still a very feared hitter, despite his injuries. In ’09 in limited time with that gimp shoulder he still had 16 HR’s and 50 RBI’s with an average not much worse then .300. Even if he doesn’t have much time left with the franchise or if his shoulder never allows him to return to the 40 HR, 120 RBI, form he will still go down as one of the better DH’s to play for the Tribe.
Ronnie Belliard. For obvious reasons. He may not have had the biggest stats, but he was always making big plays on both sides of the ball when the team needed him to. He surprised everyone when he played as good as he did, and he was so much fun to watch. “Little Ronnie” as me and my brother referred to him, was a joy to watch in his brief Indians tenure.
Jhonny Peralta. He is one of the core guys now, and has had a few very productive years. He will never, most likely, attain the type of fame that Omar Vizquel did, and with the position switch to 3rd base, it is yet to play out if he will get his game figured out or not. It is impressive that last year, in a down year for him, he still mashed 80+ RBI to lead the team.
Kenny Lofton. His time with the Tribe in the 2000’s was very limited. He moved on to greener pastures early in the decade and was brought back for that ’07 playoff run, in which he energized and helped the team greatly. He didn’t quite earn a spot in the all-decade starting 9, but he will most likely go down as one of the best to play in Cleveland ever.
Asdrubal Cabrera. This is because, lets face it, he is becoming the best player on the team. He is like Omar Vizquel in so many ways defensively but better offensively. There really is just not many other options either.
Manny Ramirez. He makes the list for his 1 year in Cleveland before he went on to dominate the AL for years and lead Boston to 2 World Series titles. I refuse to put him in the starting outfield because he was only here 1 year in the decade, and it wasn’t his best. Plus, that could have been us he won rings for. 😦
CC Sabathia: Starting with the obvious. The big Ace of the staff, he was so good for so many years for the Tribe. He was a dominating force at the front of the rotation during the 2007, his Cy Young season. He won 106 games in his time with the Indians, good for 13th on the all-time list for the club. There is no doubt that had we kept him, he would have broken Bob Feller’s club record.
Cliff Lee: This has a lot to do with his Cy Young award and dominant seasons in both ’08 and ’09. But don’t forget, he was one of the best starters we had for a few years prior to that as well, except for that 2007 season from hell that he had. He was solid, he won 83 games for the Tribe, 14 in ’04, 18 in ’05, 14 again in ’06 and then he went off in 2008 with 22 wins, he added 7 more before we traded him.
Jake Westbrook: Sure, he hasn’t done much lately because of injury. But when he goes, he goes. A class act on the mound who does what he can for the team. His record with the Tribe is only 63-62, but is basically a lock for 15 wins when he is healthy and will get a ton of ground ball outs and keep his ERA pretty decent. Not a glamorous pitcher, he just gets the job done.
Bartolo Colon: I think he finds his way on this list because of what we got for trading him. But he was good for the first 2 years of the decade before he was shipped to Montreal. He was 39-28 from 2000 til mid-season 2002. Not a bad mark, and while he has gained about 500 pounds since he left Cleveland, he will always have a special place in my heart because he brouight us Grady Sizemore and Cliff Lee.
Fausto Carmona: Essentially just for that 2007 season. He is the ace of the staff now that Lee and Sabathia are gone, and he can still be lights out. He hasn’t quite returned to that in the years since and is fighting his split personality disorder that I have talked about before. Give him his props though, since there hasn’t been any consistent or good starters outside of those 4 on this team the last 10 years. Statistically his ’07 year is better then any other by a Tribe hurler this decade not named CC Sabathia or Cliff Lee.
The bullpen! haha
Bob Wickman: Wickman never was a sure-fire easy save kind of pitcher. I had a heart attack every time he was on the mound. He was a low-risk back end of the bullpen acquisition in 2000, and he became the clubs all time leader in saves with 139. He lead the league in 2005 with 45 saves, and although he blew 17 save opportunities in his 5 and some years as the closer, that is less then the team blew last year.
Rafael Betancourt: He was with the team through thick and thin since 2003, until he was sent to the Rockies. He had many amazing years as the team’s set up guy in front of Bob Wickman and others. 2008 was his only year with an ERA that was not under 4, which is great for a reliever. He was always coming in during big spots and getting strikeouts. He is easily one of the best relievers the Tribe had this decade.
Joe Borowski: He caused more heart attacks then Bob Wickman ever did, but he did save 45 games in 2007, despite his plus 5.00 ERA. I will never argue to make a case for him as someone we should have kept, although his ERA was hurt really badly by 2 really bad games early in the year. He’s no Wickman, but he was one of the better “relievers” the Tribe has brought in during the 2000’s.
Bob Howry: He is one of those guys that was never much good anywhere, until he came to Cleveland for 2 years, in ’04 and ’05. He was the team’s most reliable bullpen guy those 2 years posting ERA’s of 2.74 and then 2.47. He was very effective during his time in Cleveland and that earns him a spot on this list.
Kevin Millwood: He didn’t quite make the starting rotation, but he will be the spot starter. He won an ERA title in his one year in Cleveland putting up a 2.86 ERA despite his 9-11 record. He was coming off a few disastrous years in Philly after being one of the best in the game in Atlanta and needed a year to re-start his career. Cleveland gave him an opportunity and he did not disappoint. Making the list as the 6th starter.
Arthur Rhodes: The crafty veteran lefty had a lights out year, with a ERA barely over 2 for the Tribe in 2005. He was gone the next year, but he was part of that dominating bullpen we had in 2005. Too bad we didn’t make the playoffs that year despite that late season resurgence. He was a pivotal piece to that season and was much more then just a lefty specialist that season.
This is what I was able to come up with for the 25 man roster of the decade for the Indians. Coming off of the 1990’s this decade was a big period of sadness for most Tribe fans. There was a constant revolving door at pretty much every position which made it very hard to choose a good crop of guys. The big stars of the 1990’s were all wrapping up their time in Cleveland in the early 2000’s and they all left behind tremendous holes the team struggled to fill. There were countless big-time prospects that came and went without ever sniffing the potential that they had, and there were several guys, Ryan Ludwick and Brandon Phillips and Jeremy Guthrie to name a few, that went on to become very stellar players elsewhere. I am not bitter or anything, every franchise will have down decades, or down 60 years, but who’s counting? Maybe the 2010’s will see the Tribe return to power in the AL Central behind a new coach and this new core group we have with us now, Sizemore, Cabrera, Choo, Valbuena, Santana, Huff, Carmona, Hafner, Peralta, LaPorta and Brantley, only time will tell. Please, feel free to let us know what you think about this roster and maybe you can convince me to make additions and subtractions if I have overlooked anyone. When does Spring Training start!?!?!