A trade for now and for the future

A trade for now and for the future

For so many years, it was easy to be skeptical about the Indians.

Between 2002 and 2015, the numbers weren’t pretty.

One division championship.

One wild card appearance.

No World Series stops.

During that span, we saw Cleveland pitchers win the Cy Young in consecutive seasons. Then, each was traded the following year.

We saw the Indians build a three-games-to-one-advantage in the American League Championship Series against the Red Sox in 2007.

Then, they didn’t so much as win a postseason game for another nine years.

But something has changed over the past three seasons.

It started two years ago, when the Indians made a deal with the New York Yankees. The Indians sent two of their prize prospects – outfielder Clint Frazier and pitcher Justus Sheffield – to the Yankees for Andrew Miller.

A quarter century ago, the Indians went on a run in which they won six division titles in seven years. Like the Indians current front office, then-GM John Hart was active at the deadline.

But he wasn’t always, well … smart.

From 1995-2000, the Indians made trades for starting pitchers such as Ken Hill, John Smiley and Jason Bere.

Hill helped the Indians reach the World Series in 1995. Then he was gone in free agency. The other two … well, you can be a pretty committed fan and not remember Smiley or Bere ever pitched for the Tribe.

Hart’s actual philosophy seemed to be that the Indians could outhit all of their problems. That’s why position players such as Jeff Kent, Harold Baines, Bip Roberts, David Segui and Kevin Seitzer would continually join the Indians roster in July and August.

Did it work?

Has the Tribe won a World Series since 1948?

But the Miller deal was different. The Indians needed bullpen help. So they got Miller, who was unhittable in 2016. He was the MVP of the ’16 ALCS against the Blue Jays.

But Miller was not a rent-a-player. He was signed for two more years. So, unlike Hill, who was strong but gone after a few months, Miller helped the Indians win another division title in 2017 and could still make and impact this year if he recovers from injury.

Which brings us to Thursday.

The Indians sent their top prospect, catcher Francisco Mejia, to San Diego for relievers Brad Hand and Adam Cimber.

Anyone who has watched Cleveland this season knew it needed relievers. The Tribe pen has been among the worst in the league, often turning strong starts into lopsided losses.

So here’s where Hand will help. The left-hander has a 3.05 earned run average and has 24 saves. Aside from matchup guy Oliver Perez, Hand will arrive with the best ERA of any Tribe reliever.

Cimber, a right-hander, has a 3.17 ERA. He’s not an All-Star like Hand, but he has been steady for the Padres.

Losing Mejia may hurt, but not right away. He’s the No. 1 prospect in the Indians’ system. But he’s also blocked by All-Star Yan Gomes (who’d have thought we’d say that two years ago). Mejia figures to be a better hitter than Gomes, but there’s no way he could match the veteran’s defense or ability to handle a pitching staff.

Mejia likely will be a great player for the Padres. But he wasn’t going to help the Indians win this year or next.

The other appeal of the deal is Hand just signed a three-year contract with the Padres in February, meaning he will be an Indian next year, when Miller and current closer Cody Allen likely depart in free agency. Meanwhile, Cimber is in his first season in the big leagues.

But it’s a sign of Indians’ front office member Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff’s approach: Be aggressive, but not reckless. Fix a current need without mortgaging the future.

Everyone knows how good Terry Francona is as a manager.

The Tribe skipper is leading the Indians to their sixth-straight winning season and their third-straight division title.

For me, Francona, Chernoff and Antonetti is the best manager-front office combo for this franchise since Al Lopez and Hank Greenberg in the 1950s. Those teams were great, winning more than 90 games in six consecutive seasons.

Few talk about it because the New York Yankees – and in one season, Willie Mays stood in the Indians’ way of a title.

No one can predict if the Indians will win it all.

But with this group in charge, you have to feel there’s a good chance.

And in baseball, that’s all you can ask for.

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