In 2007, the Cleveland Indians looked like they might be recapturing the glory that had come in the mid to late 1990s. The Indians beat the New York Yankees 3-1 in the American League Division Series before losing in seven games to the eventual World Series Champion Boston Red Sox. The team featured Victor Martinez at catcher who drove in 114 runs and hit 28 home runs, a 24-year old wunderkind in center field in Grady Sizemore, a shortstop in Jhonny Peralta who belted 21 homers, and a 30-year old power hitter at first base and DH in Travis Hafner.
On the mound, the Indians looked even more promising, with 26-year-old C.C. Sabathia leading a rotation that also featured Fausto Carmona who would win 19 games, and Cliff Lee who hadn’t yet become Cliff Lee.
It wasn’t meant to be, however. The next season, the Indians traded Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers knowing they couldn’t afford to re-sign him. Lee would win 22 games and the Cy Young Award in 2008, but would be shipped to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009. Injuries befell Sizemore and Hafner, and Fausto Carmona turned into Roberto Hernandez as it was discovered he had lied about his identity.
This off-season, the Indians officially turned the page on that era. Hernandez is now trying to pitch his way onto the Tampa Bay Rays, Sizemore is still a free agent and is rehabbing from his latest injury and Hafner just signed a one-year deal with the New York Yankees. Shin-Soo Choo, a promising 24-year old outfielder in 2007, was also traded this off-season to the Cincinnati Reds.
The door might be officially closed on the latest era of failed dreams in Cleveland, but the memory and sting still remains. The Indians were once among the best teams in baseball, one that rivaled the Yankees and prevented them from appearing six straight World Series from 1996-2001 with their ALDS win in 1997 and eventual World Series appearance that year.
Now, all of those players are gone. In their place are promising young players in Jason Kipnis at second and Lonnie Chisenhall at third base. Carlos Santana has replaced Victor Martinez, who was shipped off to the Sox in 2009. Trevor Bauer, who came over as part of the Choo trade, looks like he might be a potential ace, and Francisco Lindor looks like he might be the starting shortstop for many years once he makes his MLB debut.
The Indians have brought in free agents Nick Swisher and Mark Reynolds to play right field and first base respectively. Brett Myers was brought in to help in the rotation, and Drew Stubbs was brought in as part of the Choo trade to man center field.
The future looks a little brighter in Cleveland but still not as sunny as it did in 2007. The Indians needed to turn the page this off-season and have done just that, hiring a new manager in Terry Francona, the man who beat them in the 2007 AL Championship Series, and letting Sizemore and Hafner go.
The Indians might not contend this season but at least the Sizemore-Hafner era, and all of its failed promise, is officially closed. Now, the Indians will try to write a new chapter and perhaps this one will have a happier ending.