More than a month into the season, the Cleveland Indians have the best record in baseball. A big reason for the surprising start is that they had a plan, and they stuck to it.
Team President Mark Shapiro (formerly the general manager) and first-year GM Chris Antonetti (a Georgetown alum) worked together to acquire talent when the small-market franchise had to decide whether to start over or stand pat.
A series of trades followed. Eventually, Manager Manny Acta was hired. In his second season in Cleveland, Acta deserves credit for being patient with a bunch that went 69-93 last season as the youngest team in the major leagues. Now the second-youngest to Kansas City, the Indians are 19-8 (a .704 winning percentage) with a roster laden with players who came over in trades.
Here’s a look at the deals that supplied major league talent, from best to worst (as of now):
1. 1B Ben Broussard to the Mariners for RF Shin-Soo Choo and LHP Shawn Nottingham
Choo hasn’t done much yet this year, but he’s coming off back-to-back 20-homer, 20-steal seasons and has an excellent arm in right field.
2. 3B Casey Blake to the Dodgers for C Carlos Santana and RHP John Meloan
Santana gives Cleveland a younger version of Victor Martinez, a switch hitter who wears No. 41 and is a premier offensive threat for the position.
3. 1B Eduardo Perez to the Mariners for SS Asdrubal Cabrera
After fracturing his forearm last year, Cabrera is slugging .459.
4. C Victor Martinez to the Red Sox for RHP Justin Masterson, LHP Nick Hagadone and RHP Bryan Price
The sinkerballing Masterson is off to a 5-0 start with a 2.25 ERA after going 6-13, 4.70 last season. Hagadone has a 0.00 ERA in 14 2/3 innings at Class AA Akron.
5. IF Mark DeRosa to the Cardinals for RHP Chris Perez and RHP Jess Todd
Perez is 7 for 8 in save opportunities. Dealing for DeRosa in the first place, though, could cost the Indians as right-hander Chris Archer became a top Chicago Cubs prospect before moving to the Tampa Bay system in the Matt Garza deal.
6. C Kelly Shoppach to the Rays for RHP Mitch Talbot
Talbot, out with a right elbow strain after going 1-0, 1.46 in his first two starts this season, has been a rotation find.
7. LHP CC Sabathia to the Brewers for 1B-OF Matt LaPorta, OF Michael Brantley, RHP Rob Bryson and LHP Zach Jackson
LaPorta is slugging .513 as an everyday first baseman. Brantley filled in well in center field before Grady Sizemore rejoined the lineup after missing nearly a year with a knee injury.
8. OF Franklin Gutierrez to the Mariners in a three-team trade that included the Mets and brought in RHP Joe Smith and 2B Luis Valbuena
The Indians’ bullpen has been aided by late-round draft picks and obscure major and minor league free agents. Smith has not helped much, and Gutierrez is a gifted defensive outfielder battling a stomach ailment.
9. LHP Cliff Lee and OF Ben Francisco to the Phillies for RHP Carlos Carrasco, IF Jason Donald, C Lou Marson and RHP Jason Knapp
Carrasco, on the DL with a tight right elnow, had been showing signs of having a breakout year. Donald is in Class AAA after playing with Cleveland much of last year. Knapp is a hard thrower thought to be the key to the trade, but he has not been able to stay healthy.
After Washington fired Acta, he had a chance to become manager with either Houston, a franchise for which he had worked, or Cleveland. He said he liked what he saw from the Indians’ young players, and they have shown why.
The farm system is also pitching in after a dry period. Right-hander Alex White, a 2009 first-round pick, allowed two runs in six innings Saturday in his major league debut. Left-hander Drew Pomeranz, a 2010 first-rounder, has a 1.54 ERA with 34 strikeouts and seven walks in 23 1/3 Class AA innings. Third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall and second baseman Jason Kipnis, both at Class AAA Columbus, could add pop to the lineup as soon as this season.
The Indians are 4 1/2 games up on Kansas City, 7 1/2 on Detroit and 10 on the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota. At this rate, they may even be a buyer instead of a seller this summer.