Regression's a bitch. Two months ago the Cleveland Indians, losers of 93 games last year, were 30-15 and seven games up on their AL Central rivals. Seven weeks into the season, even the most hardened skeptics had to concede that the Indians were in good shape to make the playoffs. In a division in which no other team had a winning record, all the Indians had to do was play .500 ball and they'd waltz into the postseason.
If the Indians had done so, they'd be leading the AL Central by four five games today. Instead, they've gone 22-33 in that span, winning at roughly the pace they established in 2010. The Indians were not a fundamentally different team than the one that lost nearly 60 percent of its games last year, so it can't be considered a surprise that they've gone back to losing that much this year.
Yet thanks to their hot start, the Indians are still 52-48, and thanks to the mediocrity of the AL Central, they're still in the race, two one game behind first-place Detroit. Even that accomplishment, modest as it is, is impressive when you consider that the Indians have assembled virtually their entire roster from other teams' rejects.
For the most part, Cleveland's scavenger approach to team building has been a masterpiece of roster construction. The cheapest way to field a roster is through the draft, but the Indians own the fifth-lowest payroll in baseball and have somehow put together a competitive team with almost no homegrown talent. Cleveland is the only major league franchise that doesn't have at least one player in its lineup who came up through the organization's farm system. Only starters Fausto Carmona and Josh Tomlin, along with middle relievers Rafael Perez, Tony Sipp, and Vinny Pestano were signed as amateurs.1
Building a winner with other team's spare parts is a tradition of sorts in Cleveland. Even when the Indians emerged from 40 years in the desert to go 100-44 in 1995, the best record by any team since 1954,2 most of their hitters had been plucked away from other organizations. Some were acquired in legitimate trades (Sandy Alomar and Carlos Baerga were prospects acquired for Joe Carter) and some were flat-out stolen from unsuspecting organizations. Kenny Lofton came in exchange for Eddie Taubensee; the Indians traded Felix Fermin and Reggie Jefferson for Omar Vizquel. Eddie Murray was 38 years old when Cleveland signed him as a free agent, gambling that he wasn't washed up — and he wasn't.