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The quest to repeat: An AL Central Champions story

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Think back to the latter half of 2012. Even after losing Shin-Soo Choo, the Tribes best offensive weapon, for the season, the Indians finally managed to put some space between them and the ever-resilient Twins after dropping only six games in all of August. Now comes September and the Tribe keep on rolling. Their September callups, Zach McAllister, Hector Sanchez and Lazarus Breitmayer, all play very well. Jim Thome is looking as youthful as ever, collecting walks and homers like someone half his age. Then on September 26th, something crazy and unexpected happens.

After a 7-6 victory over the division rival Chicago White Sox, a game in which Thome had 1 walk and 0 Abs, something clicked in his mind. Thome decided he couldn’t do it anymore. Even though his team were on their way to the best record in MLB Pro and he hadn’t lost a step, Jim Thome made the hardest decision of his career; he hung up his boots with less than two weeks to play in the regular season. Thome walked in to GM Ayden Dugmores office and told him straight up “While I still love the game of baseball, my heart isn’t in playing anymore. I am officially retiring, effective immediately.” While stunned, Dugmore took in everything Thome said and wished him luck. To Thomes surprise, Dugmore offered him a job as a guest announcer at home games for the rest of the season, a job which Thome took without hesitation. Now, Thome is managing the Arizona Diamondbacks AAA affiliate, the Mobile Bay Bears.

Fast forward to game four of the ALDS between the Indians and Toronto Blue Jays. With the Indians up 2-1 in the series and the score locked up 3 all heading into the top of the 10th, a clutch two run homer from Danny Espinosa (after an RBI single earlier by Juan Francisco) has the Indians up 6-3 and what looks to be the clincher in this series for the Tribe. Then, the unthinkable happens. Eric Thames starts off the inning with a flyout, making Indians fans even more excited. A single by Uggla…no biggy, right? Another single by Rajai Davis…Tribe fans start to worry. Then Brett Lawrie hits a line drive straight to Mike Carp. Looks like an easy out until Carp misses it. The ball bounces to the wall, Carp, who isn’t the fastest of players, runs back to get it but by that time it’s too late. Brett Lawrie has an inside-the-park home run to tie the ball game. You know how the rest of the story went so I won’t bore you with the details again.

Fast forward to the offseason. Indians ownership told GM Dugmore that only minor changes were needed. “Get a power hitter to replace Thome and we will repeat as AL Central champs” Dolan Jr told Dugmore. But in a decision that wasn’t met with the best of responses by ownership, Tribe fans and sports critics everywhere, Dugmore decided to make radical changes to everything, the roster, team strategies…everything.

Dugmore showed he works fast, agreeing to three trades on the first day trades are allowed. He sent Placido Polanco and Brandon McCarthy (via sign-and-trade) to the Cubs for Tony Campana and prospects. A trade was also agreed upon between fellow Ohians, Cincinnati, sending Jemile Weeks and AA spec Johnathan Arias to Cincy and getting back one of the best relievers in the game, Aroldis Chapman and one of the more underrated pitchers in Bronson Arroyo, who was 5th in MLB Pro in ERA a season ago. The final trade agreed upon on the first day was arguably the biggest for the Tribe. Henry Rodriguez, Chad Bettis, Casper Wells and Juan Gutierrez were sent to Arizona in return for Brett Gardner, said to be the Indians top target this offseason, and Jaff Decker, an AAA player who reminded GM Dugmore of a very important player from a season ago, Jim Thome. Neither player was amazing when it came to contact, but both had the patience to wait until they saw the exact pitch they wanted and when they connected…BAM! Gone. Now after the Indians got their top target, most people thought they were done making moves. Boy, were they wrong.

With a focus on keeping a strong rotation, strengthening the bullpen and getting high contact guys, players like Yoenis Cespedes , Justin Masterson, Jonny Venters and a large number of specs were sent packing but in return the Indians received the strengthening of the rotation (Cole Hamels), bullpen help (Hector Noesi, Steve Cishek, Matt Thornton) and high contact guys (Michael Young, Gerardo Parra). Not to mention the rather cheap signing ($1mil for one year) of Carlos Lee. So although the Indians made a lot of moves, not one move was made “just for the sake of making a move” as some critics have said.

The opening day lineup now looks like this

C- Jarrod Saltalamacchia
1B – Mike Carp
2B – Danny Espinosa
3B – Juan Francisco
SS – Asdrubal Cabrera
LF – Brett Gardner
CF – Gerardo Parra
RF – Shin-Soo Choo
DH – Billy Butler

The rotation looks like this

Tom Milone
Clay Buchholz
Cole Hamels
Brandon Morrow
Bronson Arroyo

And the pen looks like this

Long Relief
Hector Noesi

Middle Relief
Aroldis Chapman
Daniel Schlereth
Steve Cishek

Set Up Guys
Chris Perez
Matt Thornton

Vinnie Pestano

A lot of big names have moved to the AL Central; Troy Tulowitzki (MIN), Brandon Beachy (DET) and Edwin Jackson (CWS) come to mind. With all of the other teams getting better, the Indians couldn’t afford to just stand pat. Lucky for Tribe fans, GM Ayden Dugmore is a guy that makes things happen.

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