A Tribe Reborn Review | The Process Report

A Tribe Reborn Review

It seems more than a little bit of a coincidence that since hiring former Cleveland Indians general manager, John Hart, as a senior advisor in late 2013 that the Atlanta Braves have locked up key, pre-arbitration players to long-term deals which has resulted in the Braves having a cost-controlled core for years to come.

Hart, 65, rose to baseball prominance in the mid-90s with the Indians and is a central figure in the new book A Tribe Reborn from author George Pappas. Taking the reigns from Hank Peters, who wrote the books foreword, Pappas highlight’s Hart’s five-year plan using four keypoints of emphasis: the draft, smart trades, long-term extensions for those identified as “prime players” and targeted free-agent acquistions. These ideals may seem like common place now; however, they were not back when Hart was cutting his teeth as an executive as the book explains.

The Braves’ recent string of extensions, along with his proximity to the organization’s decision makers, leaves behind the most obvious evidence of Hart’s fingerprints on the game. But even in places where Hart had no direct influence there is residue.

Take for instance Pappas’ current employer, the Tampa Bay Rays. The Oakland A’s have long been the comparison for the Rays, but when reading A Tribe Reborn, you will notice the blatant similarities between the current Rays and Hart’s group in Cleveland. Referring back to the four-point outline, the Rays, under the guidance of Andrew Friedman, have made gains in all four areas during their six-year rise from the American League cellar.

Thanks in part to a decade of futility, Friedman was able to score high draft picks in his early years as an executive. Having the picks is one thing. Hitting on them is another. Although Tampa Bay, now picking near the end of the first round, has struggled to produce impact players from the draft in recent seasons, Friedman’s first few drafts produced: Evan Longoria, David Price, Desmond Jennings, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb; all key pieces of the 2014 club that is expected to contend for a World Series championship. And even though recent classes have failed to live up to expectations, the Rays have found ways to augment their club with drafted talent even if that talent was not highly regarded on prospect lists. Draftees Derek Dietrich, Justin Choate and Todd Glaesmann never donned a Rays uniform or topped prospect rankings, but the front office turned that trio into Yunel Escobar, Heath Bell and Ryan Hanigan; all key pieces to the 2014 club.

While the draft is regarded by the organization as the lifeblood, Friedman has made significant strides in trade. Hart was able to find success in this area as well, acquiring Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga and Sandy Alomar Jr. from outside the organization. Friedman’s first bold move came in the winter of 2007 when he traded former top prospect Delmon Young and others to the Minnesota Twins for Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett and a minor league pitcher. We know how the story ends, but the trade string has yet to be completed.

The Rays have since turned Garza into Sam Fuld, a productive bench player for three seasons with the Rays before moving on to Oakland this winter, budding young starter Chris Archer, a potential everyday shortstop in Hak-Ju Lee and outfielder Brandon Guyer, who earned a bench job this season. Meanwhile, Bartlett was spun off to the San Diego Padres for a quartet of players; two made the 2014 Opening Day roster for Tampa Bay (Cesar Ramos and Brandon Gomes).

Although many teams have recently shown willingness to execute another Hart-ism – long-term contracts – no one did that quite like the original. In the span of two seasons, Hart oversaw multi-year deals for 18 players. The philosophy was spurned in part by baseball’s arbitration process and the idea of leaving salary decisions in the hands of an outside panel. As Pappas explains, the Indians went to arbitration with pitcher Greg Swindell in February 1991. The club offered $1.4 million. The player countered with $2.025 million. The panel sided with the player forcing the team to fork up an extra $700k in salary. It was then that Hart decided he would try to avoid process and instead shift focus on multi-year deals including ones for not-yet-arbitration-eligible players. For example, the Tribe inked Kenny Lofton to a four-year contract with an option for a fifth year after just one season in the majors. The believed the benefit of such a strategy was three-fold:

1) Not a single player would dominate the payroll using 17 percent of payroll as the maximum for one player.

2) A player became easier to keep if he performed well or easier to deal if necessary.

3) The Indians could negotiate while still holding the players rights instead of competiting with uncertain prices on the open market.

While Friedman has not been as active recently in terms of extensions, he has certainly been aggressive in regards to pre-arbitration deals. Less than week into his major- league career the Rays signed Evan Longoria to what could have been a nine-year deal worth $44 million. That deal has been reworked into a deal that can potentially extend to 2023 and worth over $100 million. On the pitcher side, several young starters have signed extensions, but Matt Moore signed what could be an eight-year deal worth just under $40 million with just one regular season start to his credit.

With a core in place, Friedman and Co. have hit the free-agent market augmenting the talent in place. Reliever Joel Peralta and Jose Molina have provided stabilizing, veteran and productive presences while James Loney became the lastest free agent to come to Tampa Bay to revive his career. Spending on the open market will never be something the Rays do, but when they do go shopping it is calculated.

Hart’s five-year, four-point plan is just a small portion of A Tribe Reborn. The book digs deep into Cleveland’s history both on and off the field. In the book you will travel from sell-out streak in the stands of Jacobs Field to the streets of New York where the Indians began scouting a then 15-year-old Manny Ramirez playing sandlot baseball in Prospect Park. Through out the entire story, from Dick Jacobs’ purchase up of the club until its sale to Larry Dolan, George Pappas does a wonderful job of navigating through how a dormant franchise was reborn while uncovering several trends and process that still live on.

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