2012 was one crazy year in the wild wacky world of Cleveland Sports. Some would tell you 2012 was as bad as it has ever been here. As the year comes to a close, like we have done the last four years, WFNY will take a look at what we view to be the 10 biggest sports stories affecting our local sports scene. Each day through the rest of the year, we will be counting down from ten to one. We started earlier today with the Buckeyes Final Four trip . Number nine is something that happened just a short two weeks ago.
It literally came out of nowhere. Sure, there was a lot of speculation both at the 2012 trade deadline and all winter long that the Indians would move perhaps their best player, Shin-Soo Choo, but the price was reported to be very steep. No true rumors have been floated or names bandied about. All seemed quiet on the Choo front. After the Winter Meetings ended with Choo’s name never mentioned, I was resigned to the fact that the Tribe would hold Scott Boras’s flavor of the month, hope he had a great year, and then move him to the deadline.
Then it happened.
Early in the afternoon of December 11th, Choo to Cincinnati chatter grew louder. But it was unclear who the Tribe would be getting back. CF Drew Stubbs was the first player that emerged. Then the name Didi Gregorious, an all-glove, little hit, prospect shortstop was added as the bait to get Choo. But as the hours grew on, it became clear that Gregorious was a player the Indians were acquiring in order to catch the fancy of one Kevin Towers, the General Manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, who was said to be enamored with the kid from Curacao. On the other side was Tribe GM Chris Antonetti, who held no secret his deep affection for the D’Backs first round pick from two seasons ago, right-handed stud Trevor Bauer. The stage was set for a blockbuster deal to be made.
The particulars went as so:
The Indians received Bauer, Stubbs, and Arizona relievers Bryan Shaw and Matt Albers
The Diamondback received Gregorious, reliever Tony Sipp, and 1B Lars Anderson
The Reds received Choo and utility man Jason Donald
Baseball experts all over the country lauded the Indians haul for Choo, who everyone knew had just one year left on his deal and had shown zero inclination that he would re-sign in Cleveland, rebuffing several extension attempts from the Tribe front office. It was a true coup for Antonetti to get himself what is now easily his best pitching prospect and future ace with six more seasons of control, along with two serviceable major league relievers, and a starting outfielder.
While Choo will be missed in Cleveland, he’s had one foot out the door for at least two years. Here is what I wrote that day about the deal:
Choo was a fan favorite and a solid player here for parts of seven seasons, there is no doubt about it. But I have maintained for close to two years now that he is not a “winning player.” You all know by now he is a free agent after the 2012 season and had zero interest in re-signing in Cleveland. Unless the team was a contender out of nowhere, the Indians would have dealt him at some point during the season. Instead, they used him as bait to nab a future top of the rotation starter in Bauer. Choo has not fared well under pressure (see his post-DUI 2011 numbers) and is entering his contract year. Antonetti was painted into a corner by Choo and his agent Scott Boras. All it took was the right opportunity to come along. It just did. And now Choo is the new leadoff man and center fielder in Cincinnati.
The Choo trade in turn set the Indians up to become more active in the free agent market than we ever could have thought they would be. Less than two weeks later, the Tribe scored Nick Swisher on a four-year, $56 million deal and are still looking at free agent starters. With Stubbs aboard, the outfield of Michael Brantley, Stubbs, and Swisher is already an improvement over the Johnny Damon/Shelley Duncan, Brantley, and Choo crew from 2012. Defensively, its a major upgrade. The bullpen, where Albers and Shaw will be, is loaded with quality arms and has the depth to give the Tribe the option to deal Chris Perez before the season starts. Shaw slots to be the long-term replacement for Joe Smith, who will be a free agent after next season. Albers is coming off the best year of his career and will be the Esmil Rogers stand-in.
Most importantly, the Indians now have Bauer in the fold, who has been dominant in college and the minors, and projects to be a true number one starter. He’s only 21 years old and he is close.
Even if long-term Bauer turns out to be a complete bust and never pans out with the ceiling he is supposed to have, this was still the right move by the much maligned Tribe GM. He landed the future ace he always wanted without giving up Asdrubal Cabrera, the guy who had been mentioned as most likely to go to Arizona for Bauer.
Quite a coup indeed.