In the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 5 of the 2016 American League Championship Series, in which the Indians beat Toronto 3-0 to win the American League pennant, Cody Allen struck out Josh Donaldson for the first out and Edwin Encarnacion for the second out.
All three players are now teammates on the Indians.
As the plot thickens …
The best front office of Cleveland’s three professional sports teams continues to quietly go about its business — the business of winning — while concerned more about results than fanfare.
If that means pulling a rabbit out of a hat in the waning minutes of the non-waivers and waivers-required trade deadlines, then so be it. Say hello to Bunny Time.
First, at midseason, the Antonettimen gave their team a hand by giving their team a Hand.
Brad Hand, plucked from the Padres, has slid smoothly into the closer’s role vacated by the temporarily discombobulated Allen.
Hand is now 7-for-7 in save situations for the Indians, while averaging 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings and holding opposing hitters to a .188 batting average.
In other words, he’s an Andrew Miller clone.
Friday night, Tribe president Chris Antonetti and General Manager Mike Chernoff went back to the well-why-not? well and pulled up a bucket full of former Most Valuable Player: Josh Donaldson, compliments of their Toronto counterparts and former fellow Tribe front officemates Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins.
Donaldson has been a Lonnie Chisenhall-style ghost player this season, having missed most of it with a calf injury that has limited him to 36 games in which he’s basically put up Brandon Guyer numbers.
But in the five years before this one, Josh Donaldson was Mash Donaldson, hitting .282 and averaging 33 home runs and 98 RBIs per year. His Mona Lisa was his 2015 MVP season when he led the league in runs scored (122) and RBIs (123) while hitting 41 homers with a .939 OPS, in a performance that so impressed voters that Donaldson nearly lapped MVP runner-up Mike Trout in first-place votes (23-7).
All that looks good on the back of Donaldson’s baseball card, but in reality, Team Antonetti is bringing him to Cleveland as a rental, and the meter won’t start running until October, when Big Boy Baseball begins.
“He’s an MVP-type player, a middle of the order hitter, who puts fear in the other team when he’s in the batter’s box,” said Indians manager Terry Francona, who would love nothing more than to see exactly that about 30 to 40 times before Donaldson heads for the free agent swimming hole in November.
Donaldson just began a minor league rehab assignment with the Blue Jays, party as a calf check, partly as an audition for interested shoppers, since Team Shapiro was intent on trading him.
The Indians nibbled, nibbled, then bit. It’s a bite worth taking, because there’s almost no downside.
And the dominoes have already started to tumble.
“We know there is some risk, but he has a chance to make us better,” Francona said. “There’s risk, but the potential reward makes it worth it.”
The potential reward is another Encarnacion-type slugger parked right behind Encarnacion in the lineup, and, hopefully, doing the same amount of damage.
Thus Donaldson, when he’s ready, gets plugged in at third base, moving MVP candidate Jose Ramirez to second base, where Jason Kipnis, like Aunt Martha’s too-old, too-familiar vase, gets moved from the dinner table to the pantry.
“This affects Kip more than anyone, and he’s not jumping for joy about it, but we didn’t expect him to,” Francona said.
Kipnis’ change of address destination is center field, where Greg Allen hasn’t been great — but also hasn’t been bad.
“He’s got to be the best option (in center),” said Francona, referring to Kipnis’ projected playing time in September.
Thanks to the Indians’ Moby Dick-sized lead in the AL Central, they don’t have to rush Donaldson into the lineup until he’s ready. Once there, all they are asking, when his wheels are properly inflated, is to bring more bat to the table than did Kipnis, which shouldn’t be hard.
Even with his recent offensive hullabaloo, Kipnis is still only hitting .227, with a defensive WAR (Baseball-Reference) of 0.0, meaning, defensively, he’s the equivalent of a replacement player.
Defensively speaking, replacing Kipnis with Ramirez was by far the biggest no-brainer part of the equation.
“Jose is a real good third baseman, and he’s even better than that at second,” Francona said.
So it’s win-win for the Indians. The addition of Donaldson improves their infield offense AND defense.
Kipnis is the odd man out, which stinks for him, but the Indians’ window of opportunity to win a World Series isn’t going to stay open indefinitely.
Consequently, for Kipnis, it’s a major league hang-with-’em.
As Michael Corleone said, “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.”
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