Antonetti named Baseball America's top exec

Antonetti named Baseball America's top exec

CLEVELAND -- Indians manager Terry Francona rightfully gets credit for how he pulls the levers, but Chris Antonetti is the one who built the machine. The roster maneuverings of Cleveland's president of baseball operations were critical in the Tribe's run to the World Series this past year.

For his part in the Indians' success, Antonetti has been named the Major League Executive of the Year by Baseball America. The roster constructed by Antonetti and his front-office team -- a cast built mostly through trades and the MLB Draft -- captured the franchise's first division title since 2007 and first American League pennant since '97, and then engaged in an historic seven-game Series with the Cubs.

"I don't think people realize how good he is," Francona said during the World Series. "We haven't had the biggest payroll here. You're given a certain number and you have to make that work, and he's managed to put together four years of pretty good teams. I think we're built -- there's no guarantees -- but I think we're built where our organization is pretty healthy."

Antonetti on Francona, Santana

The Indians opened last season with the 21st-ranked payroll in the Majors, but the team's front office found ways to build a talented team under some financial restraints. Cleveland's rotation, for example, was under contract for under $15 million combined last year. The group also puts the Tribe's required model for success on full display.

Corey Kluber, who won the AL Cy Young Award in 2014 and was third in balloting for the award in '16, was acquired via trade as an unheralded prospect in '10. Carlos Carrasco was obtained as a Minor Leaguer as part of the Cliff Lee trade in '09. Trevor Bauer was a key component in the three-team trade with the D-backs and Reds in '12. Danny Salazar was signed as a non-drafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic in '06. Josh Tomlin was a 19th-round pick in the '06 Draft.

When the Indians ended the 2016 season, their 40-man roster included 17 players who were originally selected in the MLB Draft, another 13 acquired via trades (six with no Major League experience at the time) and five international amateur signings. Only two of the players signed as free agents -- veterans Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis -- on Major League contracts.

Napoli and Davis were one-year signings for last season and both played integral roles in the Indians' run. Napoli became a leader in the clubhouse and backed that up with a team-high 101 RBIs and 34 home runs (tied for the team lead). Davis showed off some age-defying speed, pacing the AL in stolen bases (43) to help Cleveland lead the league in thefts as a team.

Playing in his first full season, shortstop Francisco Lindor -- Cleveland's top pick in the 2011 MLB Draft -- made the All-Star team, won a Gold Glove Award and garnered some MVP votes. One year after Lindor finished second in AL Rookie of the Year Award voting, outfielder Tyler Naquin (taken in the first round of the 2012 Draft) was third in balloting for the award this season.

Antonetti's signature moment of the year arrived on July 31, though.

That is when the Indians reeled in lefty relief ace Andrew Miller from the Yankees in exchange for a four-prospect package highlighted by outfielder Clint Frazier and lefty Justus Sheffield. The depth and strength of Cleveland's farm system, combined with the Major League team's chance to go for a title, paved the way for the move. Miller was then dominant as a leverage weapon both over the final two months and into the postseason, during which he won MVP honors for the AL Championship Series against the Blue Jays.

Prior to the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline, Antonetti's team also swung a lower-level trade to net outfielder Brandon Guyer from the Rays. The lefty masher posted a .907 OPS over the final two months and is under control for the next two seasons. The Indians also reached a deal with the Brewers to land All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy, but he blocked the trade before approving a move to the Rangers.

Before the Aug. 31 deadline, Cleveland also acquired veteran outfielder Coco Crisp from the A's. Crisp filled in admirably down the stretch and belted a home run in each of the clinching victories over the Tigers (division title), Red Sox (AL Division Series) and Blue Jays (ALCS).

All of those moves by Antonetti and his team were aimed at strengthening and complementing a roster that already has its core in place. The team that was built was also able to withstand injuries to key players such as Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes, Carrasco, Salazar and others. In all, the Indians lost 477 games to days on the disabled list, but every setback seemed to be met with a solution.

The way the Indians handled all the adversity helped Francona earn the AL Manager of the Year Award for the second time in his four seasons in Cleveland. The manager is always quick to deflect credit to Antonetti and the job done by the front office.

"We've got some young guys coming and our guys, our core group is tied up," Francona said. "More important than that to me is the way [Antonetti] does it and the person he is. I think our whole organization follows his lead and I think that he's so modest that he would never take credit for that."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.