The Antonetti principle--an EHC Buzz Session

(photo Chuck Crow/Plain Dealer)
With the trade deadine looming, the spotlight is on Chris Antonetti to make some changes in a club that has become a bit stagnant at the major league level. While Antonetti has struggled over the years to be seen as a singular entity thanks to Mark Shapiro and Terry Francona, he's very quietly become one of the most respected GM's in baseball.

EHC's Adam Burke, Mike Hattery and Jim Pete take a look at Chris Antonetti, who he really is, and what he'll likely do in the coming hours, months and during the hot stove season.

Jim Pete (JP): Let's start off our 'Chris Antonetti' dialogue today with his most recent trade (at the time of this initiation) with the St. Louis Cardinals. Antonetti flipped right fielder Brandon Moss to the St. Louis Cardinals for highly coveted starter, Rob Kaminsky. Just looking at the peripherals, this seems like a great deal for the Indians, especially considering financials going forward, and what Kaminsky could mean to this club, either on the field, or in another trade. Do you like the trade, and what about this relationship with the Cardinals that Antonetti has? Doesn't that speak a lot towards our GM's 'respect factor' across the league?

Mike Hattery (MH): I obviously am Antonetti proponent, with limited financial flexibility he as frequently turned water in to wine and shows an ability to seize opportunities in the trade market to seize assets under value and spin them later after the price appreciates. You spoke to most of the upside of this deal Jim. I think Antonetti's greatest skill is opportunism. The Moss deal was clearly not heavily considered until Antonetti sensed the opportunity to receive over market value, and he pounced. I am a huge fan of Kaminsky as I noted yesterday, and ultimately that Kaminsky was a piece the Indians didn't clearly need but Antonetti sensed the opportunity for positive arbitrage and collected another strong asset.

As for respect, I think Shapiro and Antonetti are clearly respected throughout the game, as the Francona signing can attest.

Adam Burke (AB): I think this trade speaks to a couple of different factors. For one thing, from a non-Indians perspective, the Cardinals still believe in Moss, not just this season, but next season as well. Trading away a prospect like Kaminsky would suggest that they are going to retain Moss for 2016. It doesn't change the performance that Moss had in Cleveland, but the Cardinals are now the second team in eight months to buy into his power potential and adequate defense. That's a little bit of shade for the Antonetti haters that are out there. The Moss deal made sense in December and it still does today, even with the Indians not getting what they thought out of him.

In terms of this deal for the Indians, it shows a few key things. For starters, the talent evaluation throughout the system has improved since Antonetti fully took over the general manager duties. He has had plenty of success poaching other teams prospects by trusting in his scouts and the analytics staff. They're not afraid to wait on a guy like Kaminsky with the upside. I saw some dissenting opinions on Kaminsky from this season that suggested regression in his curveball - his best pitch - and some wonder about his projection. But, in general, the feedback has been very positive. We're talking about a 20-year-old kid in High-A that wasn't abused in college ball and pitched cold weather HS ball. What I also like is that I'm finally confident in the Indians to develop a kid like Kaminsky into a Major Leaguer. Player development is huge. Examples of the Indians' improvements in that regard are present at every level.

I echo Mike's sentiments regarding the respect that Antonetti garners. Look around at how many former Indians front office personnel have jobs around the league and look at the core that Antonetti has built by improving the entire minor league system, both through the draft and through trade acquisitions. That's how you earn respect as a GM, not by shoving money around like a drunk playing 2/5 No Limit Hold 'Em like some teams have the luxury of doing.

JP: What intrigues me the most with regards to Antonetti are the relationships that he has across the board that not only have Cleveland ties, but with teams he's worked with in past years. I've already mentioned St. Louis, but there really aren't any non-Central division teams that I don't think would deal with Antonetti at any point.

The fact that there are former members of the Indians' organization in multiple front offices across the league really speaks to the development of the system, starting with Hank Peters, whose firm belief was to acquire the smartest people around him. John Hart was very much the same way, hiring Shapiro, and several others that have moved on to other organizations. Neither Peters or Hart were analytical, but had no problem bringing that type of staff together.

Shapiro's bump to the GM job just enhanced that vision, and Antonetti has even gone beyond Shapiro. I want to talk about the front office evaluations in a bit, but before that, let me play Devil's Advocate for a moment.

When do the Indians under Antonetti get past this seemingly vicious cycle of getting to the brink, not winning, and trading away players to both shed payroll, and acquire minor league pieces? To the outside looking in, this "selling," if you want to call it that, seems to be the same old, same old. How is this trade deadline different from the past, and is it a scenario in which we've seen the floor of this team, both in core major leaguers as well as the overall organizational depth raised over the past five seasons?

AB: As I wrote in the past, I think the key for Antonetti is to take control of his own roster. I feel that Terry Francona has too much control, which is presumably why he agreed to manage the Indians. Antonetti trusts in his abilities and in his staff's abilities to put the best possible team together and then the best possible team never plays as one collective unit during the season. Francona has a knack for keeping around veteran "presence" guys that lack the skill sets that the ballclub needs. Antonetti has given Francona those guys, but they sit and rot in Triple-A. If Antonetti has one big flaw, it's this one. But, if this is something that was either written in stone or was presented as a handshake deal, his hands are now tied.

Some may view that as a conspiracy theory. I don't. The intelligence and insight that Antonetti has shown in building up the system, putting people in positions to succeed, and with the transactions he has made lead me to believe that he has given up too much control during the season.

If that is not the case, then Antonetti's biggest failure, if you can call it that, is in avoiding risk. Risk avoidance is necessary in this market, but perhaps Antonetti needs to take more "rental" chances at the deadline to help the ballclub. The team is set up for long-term success and Antonetti's unwillingness to upset that dynamic may have been detrimental at past trade deadlines. He would never have the "go for it" mentality of the 2015 Kansas City Royals or 2008 Milwaukee Brewers, teams in similar market sizes. Then again, he's never had the opportunity to show that side, so he could surprise us in 2016 or beyond. One of the ways to be an "all-in" buyer at the deadline is to acquire tremendous organizational depth. This minor league system has only recently gotten strong enough to support a philosophy like this. Overnight success and sustainability are much harder to obtain in MLB than they are in other pro leagues. It's frustrating, but it's a reality.

JP: I don't think there's any doubt that when Terry Francona was hired by Antonetti (and Shapiro, to some extent), Francona was given "free reign" of the roster on the field, while Antonetti maintained control of player/organizational acquisitions. Take that for what it's worth. I think hiring Francona made sense in 2012, and would today, if there were checks and balances in place for the manager.

I found this piece on Grantland, by Mike Barnacle, on Francona's relationship with his old GM, Theo Epstein to be interesting, and you can tell that Tito understands he needs to use the numbers, but has a disdain for being told what to do. Of course, Epstein is/was extremely regimented in his roster, and a pretty forceful presence on a day-to-day basis with regards to his manager.

It's fun listening to Francona and Epstein talking about their relationship. First, is always an immediate, "we got along great," usually followed by "like any relationship, you have your ups and downs, but we always had each other's backs." There definitively was a push and pull between Epstein's baseball ops in Boston, and Francona's on-field management, but they generally stayed out of each other's hair.

Francona often notes the one time in their eight years together in which he asked for a reliever to be called up, and said player got shellacked. It was an admitted mistake by Francona, and one that he didn't repeat after that singular incident.

It clearly happens often in Cleveland, or at least it seems that way.

The question now is clearly whether or not a down season, as this 2015 season clearly is, can allow Antonetti to "gain some clout" with regards to the day-to-day operations. If Epstein only allowed Francona one player move in their tenure together, why the hell does Antonetti let Francona continue to make idiotic moves when they aren't successful?

And seriously, if you're continually making mistakes in the clubhouse, when do you stop?

But today's piece isn't focusing on Francona, although I suspect we'll go there in the weeks to come.

Adam, you briefly mentioned acquiring talent to potentially make moves in the future, to go "All-In." My question to both of you is simple: Is Antonetti in the process of building the equity to go after a big bat for the outfield?

His deadline moves have been interesting. He acquires a speedy shortstop for the low minors, who seemingly is a solid defender, then acquires a High A starter. Is this a precursor to a bigger move down the pipeline, either before the deadline, during the waiver period, or during the offseason, and what might Antonetti use to go after the final pieces to this core?

AB: To briefly address the Francona thing, I think Antonetti inadvertently put himself in a compromising position with Francona's roster demands by signing a guy like Jason Giambi and trading for a guy like Mike Aviles. I'm not sure he knew what he was getting himself into and it's a problem that he will rectify in the future by not signing players like that. No longer carrying the Mike Avileses and Ryan Raburns of the world will take away some of Francona's power in that regard. Going young with Tyler Holt, Jose Ramirez, James Ramsey types will keep Francona's meddling at bay because it will tie his hands and force him to play younger players. It's shrewd, justified, and beautiful.

Back to Antonetti, I made the connection on Twitter that what I believe Antonetti is trying to do is "create" money that isn't there by taking the incredible player value he has built through trading for, and subsequently locking up, good young talent. Take Carlos Carrasco, for example. Carrasco is being dangled for Major League bats that are otherwise unattainable. By using Carrasco's contract value (and performance) as currency, he can fill a major organizational hole. The Indians cannot commit 20-25 percent of payroll by getting the free agent bat that everybody is clamoring for. What they can do, in essence, is "buy" controlled bats from other teams by trading their assets with tremendous value. Drafting and developing impact hitters is harder and harder to do in the changing landscape of baseball. Your .300-30-100 guys don't really exist anymore. When prospects with that sort of upside run into better pitching, their expectations get changed to .275-20-85. Proven hitters are impossible to get at realistic costs...unless you trade from a position of strength to get them. No, Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler types are not fully proven, but they fit the mold of what the team needs and it's a deal you have the luxury of making.

With regards to the Eric Stamets deal, like I told somebody on Twitter, you simply look to acquire "plus" tools. In this case, Stamets can't really hit, but he's a plus defender and a plus-plus runner. Players with two or more pluses out of the five tools (power, hit, field, arm, run) are very valuable assets. Perhaps Stamets's speed elevates his bat because he is already a bat-to-ball guy. I don't think there's a connection between these players and the current trade deadline. Rob Kaminsky could be a future move, but I think the Indians truly like him and targeted him to keep him.

This is one of the great things about Antonetti. He's very cognizant of sprinkling talent throughout the minor league system. That allows for a lot of flexibility, like not burning money on utility infielders, bench bats, or retread starting pitchers. By creating flexibility, you create opportunity. By creating opportunity, you give yourself a chance to make a big trade to fill a big need.

JP: So it's clear that we all have faith in Antonetti. There are rumors that there are a flurry of trades about to come about after 3:00. Make one bold (or not-so-bold, if you choose) prediction about what the Indians are (or aren't) going to do between now and 4:00.

MH: I doubt the Indians get anything of significance done. Perhaps a Raburn move but outside of that I expect little.

Antonetti is shopping Carrasco in order to create a peak bidding war but has a very specific price in mind. Unfortunately, I don't think anyone will be willing to pay the price. Except this isn't unfortunate because it merely means the Indians retain control over a top 15 pitcher in baseball for the course of the next 5.5 years.

Antonetti is looking for a special offer and it appears he hasn't found it. Thus, all he has done is shave ~$10 million in payroll over the next 1 1/3 years in exchange for a top 10 LHP prospect in baseball.

Of course, this deal is not what they expected or sought but rather it is the right deal because it is not confined by need but rather defined by value and organizational improvement.

Another day, another positive acquisition from Chris Antonetti.

AB: It seems that the Dan Haren acquisition temporarily suspends the Cubs' interest in trading for Carlos Carrasco, unless of course the Indians are getting somebody like Kyle Hendricks back in a possible deal.

I'd expect Ryan Raburn to go and probably Marc Rzepczynski as well. I think Giovanni Soto may get a Major League shot over the last nine weeks, since the organization seems to be uncertain of how to use Kyle Crockett. It also wouldn't surprise me to see a late push for Bryan Shaw, a controlled reliever with an escalating arbitration cost and a high workload over the last two-and-a-half seasons.

Overall, I think it was a successful trade deadline. Antonetti has a great sense of how teams value Carrasco and I think he could gain even more value after showing teams that he can sustain this performance of 180+ innings in a season. Stamets has some tools and Kaminsky seems like a good future piece for rotation depth and/or trade currency. In Antonetti I trust.

JP: Alright, so just for kicks, I'll go all in. I agree with both of you in that Raburn is going to move on, and so will Rzepczynski, and anything we get for them is a boon. Sheds more salary, and frees up roster space for the rest of this year, and next as well.

Shaw is interesting, and if we could flip him into some sorta Mark Lowe haul, I'd be dancing the NC jig.

With that said, I think it's distinctly possible that the Indians either bring in a BIG bat to help this year, and going forward, or possibly a smaller bat that can play in some form in years to come. The big surprise would be Puig, and I expect Antonetti to be on the phone right up until 4:00.

I still thing a deal could be had in Chicago, just not sure I like their leverage.

So I'm going to say that one of either Puig, Marcell Ozuna or Jackie Bradley Jr. will make their way to Cleveland. The who depends on the player. If it's Puig, it's a package including Carrasco. If it's Ozuna, it has to be a not-settled minor league package, like Yandy Diaz, or EGon, as well as a Luigi Rodriguez.

Jackie Bradley Jr. is the unknown for me. Perhaps a 10-20 prospect, like a Jesus Aguilar could get it done, but what if the Indians went big, and targeted Bradley or Betts, and say Brian Johnson and Henry Owens? The problem is that your are using likely Carlos Carrasco to acquire two potential starting pitchers, a likely fourth outfielder, and not picking up your big bat. Or, you could look at Johnson and Owens as assets for the spring, but would they be worth more than Carrasco? You likely start there, and see what happens, but just not sure the Red Sox are a fit.

I would explore Bradley Jr. though, if you can get him cheap.

Either way, I think something bigger will happen, or at least get set up.

Should be fun.
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