Indians achieving unexpected success
Cleveland's assorted collection of outside talent paying off
CLEVELAND -- You could say that this 2011 Cleveland Indians team is a mutt.And a surprisingly good-looking one at that. This club, which has vaulted itself to the top of the American League Central standings just one year after losing 93 games, is the product of a remarkably rapid roster restructuring that began when the 2007 team that fell one win shy of the World Series was torn down. It is also the product of the Tribe front office's shrewd assessment of prospects from other systems when holding some valuable trading chips in hand. While the "rebuilding" process can be a painful one, the Indians have done it twice in the last 10 years, building winning teams by raiding the farm systems of other organizations. This mutt of a club is living proof. Three-fifths of the starting rotation was imported from the East -- specifically the Red Sox, Phillies and Rays. The closer came from the Cardinals. The speedy leadoff man and slugging first baseman were both Brewers. The slick-fielding shortstop and the five-tool right fielder were both acquired from Seattle. Even the two holdovers from the '07 starting lineup were developed elsewhere before they were bred in Tribe colors. For the purposes of illustration and illumination, take a look at how the major pieces of the 2011 team came together, in order of arrival to the organization: Fausto Carmona, RHP: One of only seven truly homegrown players on the current active roster, Carmona was signed out of the Dominican in late 2000. The Indians tried him as a closer briefly in 2006, to disastrous results. Carmona won 19 games in the rotation in '07, but he had to be sent to the Minors in 2009 to fix his mechanical issues. He was the Tribe's lone All-Star representative last year. Rafael Perez, LHP: Signed out of the Dominican in January 2002, Perez reached the big leagues in 2006 and was one of the most dominant late-inning lefties in the game in 2007. After two wayward years, he recaptured his old form last season and has been a steady presence since. Grady Sizemore, CF: The first time the Indians tore it all down with an intent on building it back up again came in June 2002, when they sent their staff ace, Bartolo Colon, and Tim Drew to the Montreal Expos for what would be billed as "Lee Stevens and prospects." Those prospects were Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips, all of whom would go on to become All-Stars. Injuries have kept Sizemore, currently on the DL with a bruised knee, from living up to that billing the last three years. Travis Hafner, DH: A 31st-round selection by the Rangers in 1996, Hafner arrived, along with Aaron Myette, in the December 2002 trade that sent Einar Diaz and Ryan Drese to Texas. He recovered from three years' worth of shoulder issues to get off to a good start this year, but the big slugger is currently sidelined with an oblique strain. Tony Sipp, LHP: The Indians took a chance on Sipp with the 1,337th overall pick in the 2004 Draft after seeing him pitch one inning of relief for Clemson in a super regional against Georgia. He's been in the big league bullpen since 2009. Frank Herrmann, RHP: The Harvard grad was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2005, and he has bounced back and forth between the big league bullpen and Triple-A Columbus this year. Josh Tomlin, RHP: Perhaps the most surprising member of the bunch, given that he was not on the big league radar before the 2010 season, Tomlin was taken with the 581st overall pick out of Texas Tech in 2006. He dazzled in his debut against the Yankees last July and has been a reliable rotation member since. Vinnie Pestano, RHP: One round after they took Tomlin, the Indians plucked Pestano with the 611th overall pick in that 2006 Draft. He has made an immediate impact in the bullpen since his arrival last September. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS: With the 2006 season quickly spinning out of control, the Indians dealt veteran first baseman Eduardo Perez, who had been in a platoon role with Ben Broussard, to the Mariners and received Cabrera, who was in Triple-A. Cabrera wasn't highly regarded as a hitter at the time, but he would arrive in the big leagues in August 2007 and spark the lineup en route to a playoff berth. He became the regular at short in 2009. Shin-Soo Choo, RF: One month after dealing Perez, the Indians sent the other half of the "Benuardo" platoon to Seattle to get Choo, a native South Korean and converted pitcher. Elbow surgery prevented Choo from impacting that 2007 playoff team, but he emerged as a viable threat in '08 and has since been viewed as one of the game's more underrated talents. Josh Judy, RHP: Taken in the 34th round of the 2007 Draft, Judy joined the big league bullpen for the first time over the weekend. Matt LaPorta, 1B: The realities of the standings and of baseball economics caught up to the Indians in early July 2008 when they sent their homegrown Cy Young winner and free-agent-to-be, CC Sabathia, to the contending Brewers in exchange for four prospects. The power-hitting LaPorta highlighted the package and was sent to Double-A. He broke in with the Tribe in '09 and became the full-time first baseman last year. Carlos Santana, C: While the Sabathia trade earlier in the month got most of the national focus, the deal that sent Casey Blake to the Dodgers later that month was also an impactful one. The Indians agreed to pay the remaining $2 million of Blake's salary to land Santana, one of the more highly hyped catching prospects in the game. After a strong debut last summer, he suffered a vicious knee injury that required surgery, and the young backstop made his return on Opening Day. Michael Brantley, LF/CF: Brantley was the "player to be named later" in the Sabathia trade, so he didn't actually arrive to the organization until the end of the 2008 season. He has since proven to be a major asset in the field and on the basepaths, as well as a capable leadoff man when Sizemore has been out with injury. Joe Smith, RHP: It was a head-spinning three-team, 12-player trade that brought Smith from the Mets and infielder Luis Valbuena from the Mariners at the Winter Meetings in 2008. Outfielder Franklin Gutierrez was sent to Seattle. Alex White, RHP: The Indians took White out of the University of North Carolina with the 15th overall pick in the 2009 Draft with the intention of making him a reliever. But he proved to them last year that he was worthy of a starting role, and has made an impact when the rotation was ravaged by injury this year. He sprained a ligament in his right middle finger over the weekend and will miss at least two months. Chris Perez, RHP: Perez arrived in the June 2009 trade that sent utility man Mark DeRosa to the Cardinals. DeRosa was merely a short-term rental for the Cards, while Perez has been a prominent member of the Indians' bullpen since, taking over the full-time closer's role from Kerry Wood last season. Carlos Carrasco, RHP: The jury is still out as to whether the Indians got an adequate haul in return when they sent Lee and outfielder Ben Francisco to the Phillies in July 2009. The primary piece of that deal, Jason Knapp, is 20 and in Class A ball. But Carrasco, while inconsistent, has at times shown flashes of dominance at the big league level in the Tribe rotation. Lou Marson, C: Another piece acquired in the Lee deal, Marson has been a serviceable backup to Santana, who occasionally starts at first base to spare his legs from the wear and tear of catching. Justin Masterson, RHP: Trading away the closest thing they had to a team captain, Victor Martinez, to the Red Sox in July 2009 netted the Indians three young pitchers. Masterson was the only big leaguer of the bunch, and the Indians converted him to a starter. Masterson had a rough 2010, but he finished strong and has dazzled this year. The other two acquisitions, Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price, are in Double-A. Mitch Talbot, RHP: The Tribe traded backup catcher Kelly Shoppach to the Rays in late '09 and landed Talbot, who was out of Minor League options and viewed as superfluous starting depth in the Tampa Bay system. He has been in the Tribe rotation since and is about to make his return from an elbow injury. Shelley Duncan, LF/1B: Duncan had spent the better part of three years at the Triple-A level in the Yankees' system when the Indians signed him as a Minor League free agent in January 2010. He has been a boon off the bench against left-handed pitchers and a highly regarded teammate in the clubhouse. Ezequiel Carrera, OF: The Indians landed him last summer when they shipped Russell Branyan to the Mariners. One year later, he turned his first big league at-bat into a game-winning bunt single. Jack Hannahan, 3B: When the Indians signed Hannahan to a Minor League deal with a Spring Training invite in December 2010, there was little reason to believe he'd see much, if any, time with the big league team. But an injury to Jason Donald led to Hannahan assuming the starting third-base job, and he's proved to be a major defensive asset. Adam Everett, INF: The Indians brought the veteran Everett aboard with a Minor League deal in December, and he won a utility job in spring camp. He is another guy credited with leadership in the clubhouse. Austin Kearns, LF: For the second winter in a row, the Indians signed Kearns to a one-year contract to be their fourth outfielder. They traded him to the Yankees last summer, only to acquire him again in December. Travis Buck, LF: A low-profile Minor League signing in December, Buck had a strong spring camp and is currently serving as the starting left fielder, with Sizemore out and Brantley shifting to center. Orlando Cabrera, 2B: The Indians signed the veteran Cabrera to a one-year, $1 million contract at the start of Spring Training to plug the hole at second base until prospect Jason Kipnis is ready. He quickly became a leader for this young club. Chad Durbin, RHP: This is Durbin's second stint with the Indians, having pitched for them in 2003 and '04. He spent the last three seasons in the Phillies' bullpen and signed a one-year, $800,000 deal with the Tribe during Spring Training.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.