Chris Antonetti Shaped Indians’ Success

President Chris Antonetti built Cleveland’s first pennant-winning team since 1997 (Photo by Diamond Images) President Chris Antonetti built Cleveland’s first pennant-winning team since 1997 (Photo by Diamond Images)

Viewed in a certain light, the Indians’ run to the World Series could be seen as charmed. Seemingly every time the Tribe lost a key piece—all-star left fielder Michael Brantley, starters Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, catcher Yan Gomes—an answer appeared.

Young players stepped up to fill the holes, newly signed free agents quickly became leaders, and midseason reinforcements turned into heroes. The Indians’ Opening Day payroll ranked 21st in baseball, leaving the team with less margin for error than bigger-market clubs. Through it all, team president Chris Antonetti found answers whenever a player went down.

Major League
Executive Of The Year
1998 Doug Melvin, GM, Rangers
1999 Jim Bowden, GM, Reds
2000 Walt Jocketty, GM, Cardinals
2001 Pat Gillick, GM, Mariners
2002 Billy Beane, GM, Athletics
2003 Brian Sabean, GM, Giants
2004 Terry Ryan, GM, Twins
2005 Mark Shapiro, GM, Indians
2006 Dave Dombrowski, GM, Tigers
2007 Jack Zduriencik, scouting director, Brewers
2008 Theo Epstein, GM, Red Sox
2009 Dan O’Dowd, GM, Rockies
2010 Jon Daniels, GM, Rangers
2011 Doug Melvin, GM, Brewers
2012 Brian Sabean, GM, Giants
2013 Billy Beane, GM, Athletics
2014 Dan Duquette, GM, Orioles
2015 Sandy Alderson, GM, Mets
2016 Chris Antonetti, president, Indians

Antonetti’s maneuverings make it harder to view the season as charmed or lucky. Instead, the Indians’ success looks more like the product of a steady hand at the controls of an organization built to withstand such pressures.

With Antonetti, 41, guiding the club, the Indians overcame the key absences to win the American League Central for the first time since 2007 and reach the World Series for the first time since 1997, where they lost to the Cubs in a seven-game classic. For those reasons, Antonetti is Baseball America’s 2016 Major League Executive of the Year.

“I don’t think people realize how good he is,” Indians manager Terry Francona told reporters during the World Series. “Because we haven’t had the biggest payroll here.

“I think our whole organization follows his lead and I think that he’s so modest that he would never take credit for that.”

Company Man

Antonetti has spent nearly his entire professional career with the Indians. He joined the club in 1999 after about a year in the Expos’ front office, beginning as an assistant in the baseball operations department. He was promoted to assistant GM in 2002 and became GM in 2010. Last year, he became president after Mark Shapiro, his longtime mentor, left the Indians for the Blue Jays.

Antonetti handled the change ably and, on the field, the Indians had their best season in more than a decade. The Indians’ core returned from the 2015 season, and to that group Antonetti added in free agent outfielder Rajai Davis and first baseman/DH Mike Napoli, who became clubhouse leaders.

The biggest move, however, didn’t come until the end of July. With the Indians leading the division, Antonetti decided to go for it and give the team reinforcements at the trade deadline. He worked out a deal with the Yankees for lefthander Andrew Miller in exchange for Top 100 prospects Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield, as well as two more pitching prospects. The Indians also added outfielder Brandon Guyer from the Rays, and had a deal in place for Brewers’ all-star Jonathan Lucroy, until the catcher exercised his no-trade clause to block the move.

The deadline trades will impact the team for years to come. Guyer and Miller remain under contract for the next two seasons, adding to the Indians’ controllable core. Antonetti said the franchise put a premium on acquiring players who were more than just second-half rentals.

Antonetti is quick to share credit for his success and the Indians’ season. During his Cleveland tenure he has had the opportunity to learn from several executives who went on to become GMs. And Antonetti is mindful of the Indians’ tradition of developing front office personnel, such as newly named Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey.

“I’m incredibly fortunate to work alongside and with some extraordinary executives from John Hart to Mark Shapiro to Neil Huntington to Josh Byrnes and the group that remains here in Cleveland,” he said. “I’m so fortunate to work with an extraordinary group in the front office and throughout the organization, guys like Mike Chernoff, Derek Falvey, Carter Hawkins, Matt Forman, Brad Grant and the list kind of goes on and on. Each day it’s one of the things I’m most thankful for is the people I get to work alongside.”

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