PEORIA, Ariz. — Take a stroll through the Seattle Mariners spring training clubhouse and it’s tough not to bump into a former member of the Indians organization.
Seattle, which lost 6-4 Tuesday to the Indians at Peoria Sports Complex, now employs ex-Cleveland players Cliff Lee, Ryan Garko, Franklin Gutierrez, Milton Bradley, Josh Bard and Mike Koplove, as well as former Indians pitching coach Carl Willis (minor league pitching coordinator) and former Cleveland player and minor league coach Tim Laker (Double-A West Tennessee manager). Ted Walsh, who used to run the clubhouse in Cleveland, is doing the same in Seattle.
The majority of them are happy to be out of Cleveland, where the Indians are not expected to contend this year after entering a rebuilding phase in the middle of last season.
“It’s hard to win when you trade back-to-back Cy Young Award winners,” said 2008 Cy Young winner Cliff Lee, who followed 2007 Cy Young winner CC Sabathia out of town when the Indians began to trade off the bulk of their high-profile veterans last year. “It’s tough to make sense of that. But I guess that’s how it goes there.”
It didn’t always.
Just three seasons ago, the Indians were on the verge of advancing to the World Series before bowing out in Game 7 of the ALCS to eventual world champion Boston.
But it was all downhill after that. Cleveland finished third in the Central Division with an 81-81 record in 2008, then, after slipping out of contention the following year, began the veteran fire sale that claimed Lee, Victor Martinez, Rafael Betancourt, Garko, Mark DeRosa, Ben Francisco and Carl Pavano.
A team that added big-name closer Kerry Wood, DeRosa and Pavano, finished the 2009 season in a last-place tie with Kansas City.
“It was hard,” said Garko, who was traded to the Giants, then signed a free-agent contract with Seattle this offseason. “It was hard to tell whether we were trying to win or trying to rebuild (last year). It’s just too bad. It was only 2007 (that we were in the postseason). We all thought we were going to be doing that all the time. We were all young. It’s just amazing.
“Whatever we had in ’07, we just never got it back.”
After trading off a number of its starters, Cleveland finished last year with inexperienced players littering its lineup, as the Indians began to rebuild around their new acquisitions.
“I saw an Indians game in September and I didn’t know any of the guys playing,” Garko said. “I was like, ‘I was just here. Where is everybody?’”
The majority of the players dealt last year from Cleveland went on to bigger and better things. Martinez (Boston), DeRosa (St. Louis), Pavano (Twins), and Lee and Francisco (Philadelphia) all landed on postseason clubs, Lee playing a major part in the Phillies advancing to the World Series.
But even he wasn’t spared another relocation project when he was traded to Seattle this offseason, the Phillies favoring Roy Halladay over him.
“It was pretty obvious (what happened),” Lee said. “They had a deal to get Halladay and they felt like they needed to get rid of me. It was kind of strange, but whatever. It is what it is. I could be traded today.”
Cleveland fans know that score all too well.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org.