The Cleveland Indians don’t find themselves on the forefront of the baseball world very often, but it happened in 2016 when they tore through the American League to reach the World Series. The Indians had the second longest drought in Major League Baseball without a World Series win and they were stacked up against the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs were eventually going to win a World Series, it’s just unfortunate for the Indians and their fans that it came at the hands of a drought that is now the longest active one in baseball.
Still, the Indians have nothing to hang their heads about, as the franchise seems to be on the upswing once again. The Indians were contenders in the late 1990s and into the early 2000s, but seemed to hit a skid for a few years before bouncing back to contention in the past few seasons. Since 2000, the Indians have had some great players and some awful players, and it’s time to list the players from each category.
In terms of the best players, there were some notable names that were left off that include Jhonny Peralta, Shin-Soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, Francisco Lindor and even Cliff Lee. When it comes to looking at the worst players, we left off those that were there for a cup of coffee out of the minor leagues, instead focusing on overpriced veterans and mainstays that just weren’t good enough. With that said, here are the eight best and seven worst Indians players since 2000.
15 Best - Omar Vizquel
When Jim Thome got his statue outside of Progressive Field, there were some fans saying that it should have been Omar Vizquel that either received one in addition or in lieu of Thome. Vizquel played 11 seasons with Cleveland from 1994 to 2004 and taking just his 2000s years into account still makes him good enough to be one of the top five Indians since the turn of the millennium.
Vizquel’s best season in the era came in 2002 when he was an All Star that batted .275 with a career high 14 home runs. Known for his glove in the 1990s, Vizquel defensive abilities started to drop in the 2000s, but he was still making some memorable plays and he won the Gold Glove award at shortstop for the 2000 and 2001 seasons.
14 Worst - Trot Nixon
Trot Nixon was beloved for 10 seasons in Boston as he was putting up some solid numbers toward the end of his run there, including a season in 2003 where he posted a .306 batting average with 28 home runs. Nixon signed with Cleveland in 2007 for $3 million after his numbers had started to decline. It wasn’t a huge contract, but it was certainly noteworthy and had some Indians fans excited.
For that price, the Indians only received a player that batted .251 over nearly 100 games with just three home runs. Nixon also only registered a WAR of -1.2, making him basically a minor league player that was worth several million dollars. Most of that came from his defense, as his -1.4 WAR was the worst in his career by a large margin.
13 Best - Jason Kipnis
One of the more beloved players in recent Indians history, Jason Kipnis has been playing second base for Cleveland since 2011. Though he had his struggles in 2014, Kipnis has rebounded nicely in the past couple of years. As a matter of fact, 2015 was a career year for Kipnis as he posted a .303 batting average and .372 on base percentage. Kipnis has made two All Star Game appearances in his five full seasons, hitting a total of .272 with 76 home runs and 354 runs batted in.
Kipnis has also been valuable at his position, posting a 20.1 WAR in his career, including an impressive 5.7 in 2013, his first All Star season. Kipnis might not be the best fielder, but he’s fairly dependable and is able to be a leader in the clubhouse.
12 Worst - Michael Bourn
Michael Bourn put up some impressive numbers early in his career, especially when he was a member of the Astros where he became an All Star for the first time in 2010. Two years later, Bourn made his second All Star appearance, this time with the Braves. Before the 2013 season, the Indians decided to open up the vault for Bourn as they gave him a large four year, $48 million contract.
For that kind of money, you want someone that is pretty much guaranteed to be an All Star, but what they got was someone that was barely putting up numbers that you would want from a starter. In his three seasons with Cleveland before being traded, Bourn had a WAR of 3.6 combined, including just 1.3 in his final two seasons. Bourn went back to Atlanta after starting 2015 with a .246 average with the Indians, cementing him as one of the biggest free agent mistakes in recent Indians history.
11 Best - Grady Sizemore
Early in his career, it looked like Grady Sizemore was on his way to becoming a Hall of Famer since he displayed a ton of talent at a young age. There was even talk that during his first few seasons, Sizemore could fetch more in a trade than any other position player in baseball. During those prime years, Sizemore made three consecutive All Star Games, setting his career high batting average of .290 in 2006 and had his most home runs with 33 in 2008. Sizemore was also quick on the basepaths, putting up 134 stolen bases in his eight seasons in Cleveland.
In terms of wins above replacement, Sizemore had a career 27.5 WAR with Cleveland, which is saying something since his last couple of years were so poor due to injury problems. At his best, he was flirting with a 7.0 WAR.
10 Worst - Mark Reynolds
Mark Reynolds proved to be a slugger in his years with Arizona and Baltimore, posting 181 combined home runs over six seasons with the two squads. When Reynolds became a free agent after the 2012 season, the Indians signed him to a contract worth $6 million. That’s double what Cleveland gave to Trot Nixon and they received just about as much in return. Reynolds played just 99 games before being cut and he posted a .215 average to go along with 15 home runs, not enough to offset his terrible strikeout rate.
Reynolds, despite his short tenure in Cleveland, was still able to put up a paltry WAR of -1.2 and was a massive liability on the field. Reynolds would end up signing with the Yankees, where he still wasn’t playing great, but not as bad as he was in Cleveland. In the end, it was a waste of $6 million.
9 Best - Corey Kluber
Corey Kluber is currently making a case to be the best pitcher in the American League and even in his “down” season, he was putting up impressive numbers. Kluber came into the league in 2011 as a reliever with the Indians and has since become their ace thanks to a career ERA of just 3.33. Kluber is an innings eater with good stuff and he has posted season records of 18-9 in both 2014 and 2016 (the latter being his first All Star appearance and Cy Young win).
Kluber has been over 225 strikeouts in each of his past three seasons and was impressive during his 2016 playoff run. Kluber’s WAR over the past three years has also been 18.1, putting him into Cy Young contention regularly. At 30 years old, there’s still time for Kluber to climb this list if he keeps putting up great numbers.
8 Worst - David Huff
Before doing a lot of research, I completely forgot that David Huff was:A) Still playingB) An Indian for several seasons.
Huff started his career in 2009 and had a decent record at 11-8 in his 23 starts. However, that was a bit misleading as his ERA of 5.61 was not impressive in the slightest. Huff would follow that up with a 2-11 season and a 6.21 ERA.
Still, the Indians would continue to throw Huff out there on the mound and he finished his five seasons in Cleveland with an 18-26 record and 5.40 ERA. That’s a lot of seasons for a guy that had a -1.6 career WAR with the franchise and eventually the Indians would put him on waivers. In 2016, he played with the Angles, but was released after two months and is currently a free agent who probably won’t sign.
7 Best - Carlos Santana
Since 2010, Carlos Santana has been a mainstay for the Indians and provided some big home runs in the Indians’ most recent playoff run. Santana has never been one to stand out as an MVP candidate, but he has always been a borderline All-Star thanks to a career 21.2 WAR in his seven seasons. In 2016, Santana had arguably his best season as he posted a batting average of .259 with 34 home runs and 87 runs batted in.
While he does strikeout quite a bit, Santana does have the ability to get on base and has not missed extended time since making his debut. Santana is signed through the 2017 season, so he has a shot at working his way up the list a bit if he’s able to have a monster season, especially if he pops 30+ home runs again to add to his 151 career dingers.
6 Worst - Chad Durbin
Chad Durbin had spent his first four seasons in the Major Leagues with Kansas City, posting an 11-22 record and a 6.01 ERA. Who wouldn’t want to sign that to their franchise? The Indians signed Durbin as a free agent before the 2003 season, but he was put on waivers toward the end of the 2004 season. Durbin, however, would make his return to Cleveland for the 2011 season, before wrapping up with Atlanta and Philadelphia.
In his three combined seasons with the Indians, Durbin posted a career mark of 7-9 with a 6.10 ERA, which was somehow worse than his time with Kansas City. Durbin also had no value at the Major League level, as his WAR was -2.0 during his time in Cleveland. Thankfully, the Indians didn’t break the bank to get him.
5 Best - Jim Thome
Jim Thome is an Indians legend and if you included the 1990s, he would likely be the number one player on the list due to his full body of work. However, we’re only counting seasons that happened from 2000 to now, so Thome has to settle for being just one of the best Indians. Thome played three seasons in the 2000s with Cleveland (and a small part of a fourth one in 2011), and had his best season in 2002 with a 7.4 WAR.
Also that season, Thome was able to bat .304 with 52 home runs and 118 runs batted in. All of this while drawing 122 walks, giving him an amazing .445 on base percentage. Thome would only play 22 games in his return to Cleveland in 2011, but the fans were happy to have him back and he even has his own statue outside of Progressive Field that was unveiled in 2014.
4 Worst - Jose Jimenez
Jose Jimenez was never what you would consider to be a great (or even good) pitcher as he spent time with the Cardinals and Rockies from 1998 to 2003. At his best, Jimenez was posting an ERA of 3.18 and record of 5-2. In his final two seasons with Colorado, he had a combined record of 4-20 out of the bullpen and and ERA over 4.50.
Jimenez became a free agent before the 2004 season, signing with the Indians for just over $1 million. In his lone season in Cleveland, Jimenez posted an awful ERA of 8.42 with a 1-7 record, struggling to get batters out over his 31 appearances. Jimenez, despite only having 36.1 innings during that season, somehow posted a -2.0 WAR, which is actually pretty impressive since you have to try to be that bad.
3 Best - Victor Martinez
While Red Sox and Tigers fans have laid claim to their love of Victor Martinez over the past seven years, he did play eight seasons with the Indians, the team that he made his debut with back in 2002. Martinez was a three-time All Star when he was in Cleveland, and proved to be a phenomenal hitter that was putting up as many as 25 home runs and 114 runs batted in. Martinez would club 103 home runs with the Indians and posted a .297 average, giving himself a WAR of 19.2 during his time there.
Martinez really didn’t get enough love for his time with the Indians, but there was no doubt that he was a big part of the offense for eight seasons and his defense was average back then compared to being a liability since his departure.
2 Worst - Nick Swisher
Now we get to the worst Cleveland Indian since 2000, Nick Swisher. Swisher had spent time with the Athletics, White Sox and Yankees and he was able to make the All Star Game with New York in 2010 thanks to an impressive .288 average, 29 home runs and 89 runs batted in. Swisher would become a free agent after the 2012 season and the Indians thought they made a splash by signing him to a four year, $56 million contract.
The numbers, needless to say, were bad. Swisher batted just .228 in his three seasons with Cleveland, including just 32 home runs and 113 runs batted in (over 272 games). Swisher struggled to get on base and his WAR was only 1.7 with the Indians, making him one of the most overpriced players of the past five years.
1 Best - CC Sabathia
We wanted to save the best for last and it’s pitcher CC Sabathia. Sabathia, to a lot of very young fans, has been a Yankees mainstay with his struggles from time to time or even a mercenary that played for half a season with the Brewers where he threw enough innings over that span to make you rub your elbow. Sabathia played for eight seasons with Cleveland and they were mostly impressive as he made three All-Star Games and posted a record of 106-71, dating back to 2001.
Sabathia also had an impressive 3.83 ERA during that span and was able to top out at 251 strikeouts in his 2008 season (that he split between Cleveland and Milwaukee). He also won his only Cy Young award in Cleveland back in 2007. Sabathia also put up some monster numbers in Milwaukee and New York that would have only added to his Indians legend.