The Best Indians One-Year Wonders of the 2010s
Seemingly, every World Series winner has a player on a one-year deal who makes a big difference down the stretch. Perhaps no sport is better than baseball for the "same face, new place" veteran, popping up during the twilight of their career in a uniform prime for a future #RandomJerseySighting. Sometimes, it is a player who could not stick anywhere else but breaks out at the right time after signing a minor league deal.
For small markets like Cleveland, these players are imperative to piecing together the most valuable roster while locking up young players for as long as they can.
The Indians have had plenty of these types pop up one way or another over the past decade. While none of them have been absolute stars, some have been plenty serviceable. Some have been disappointments overall but added something of great worth at the tail end of a miserable season.
These are the best one-year wonders for the Cleveland Indians from each season over the past decade.
1. Austin Jackson, 1.9 bWAR, 2017
Can you believe Austin Jackson is still just 33-years-old? It seems like forever ago since Jackson was a key piece of the Detroit-New York (AL)-Arizona mega-trade that send Curtis Granderson to the Bronx, Max Scherzer out west, and the 23-year-old Jackson to the Motor City.
Upon signing a minor league contract with Cleveland in 2017, Jackson was coming off of a medial meniscus tear in his left knee. His contract was purchased by the team in late March and became an everyday outfielder at the end of May before missing the end of June and July with a quad strain.
Over 85 games, AJax slashed .318/.387/.482, accounting for a career-high .869 OPS.
And oh yeah, he did this:
SPOILER: The man he robbed, Hanley Ramirez, will not be appearing on this list anywhere else.
2. Mike Napoli, 1.2 bWAR, 2016
The Indians were a few outs from the grandest party in 2016, and Napoli was a huge reason why. In retrospect, his 111 wRC+ was not lore-worthy, but the timing of his arrival, his charitable reach, and his career-high 34 home runs all were.
After converting from a power-hitting catcher to a power-hitting first baseman, Napoli failed to hit 20 home runs for two consecutive seasons before a one-year, $7 million pact with the Indians. He paid that contract off quickly on the field, with situational hitting to the tune of his first 100+ RBI season.
Off the field, Napoli struck up an odd-couple friendship with a budding young star named José Ramírez, and also spurred on charitable t-shirt sales that raised north of $200K for Cleveland Clinic Children's Hospitals.
Honorable Mention: Rajai Davis, 0.6 bWAR, 2016
The same year as Napoli, Rajai Davis decided to stop torturing the Indians as a member of the Detroit Tigers and joined up with them on a one-year deal worth $5.75 million.
Aside from hitting for the cycle on July 2, Davis's regular season was more or less nondescript. He more than made up for it on November 2.
3. Yonder Alonso, 1.6 bWAR, 2018
Technically, this spot should go to Jon Edwards, who signed a minor-league deal in late March, and produced next to nothing other than some feel-good stories. Perhaps it should go to Óliver Pérez, who was phenomenal but was not brought in until mid-season.
Yonder Alonso signed a two-year deal worth $16 million on December 20, 2017, following a power surge attributed to increased launch angle and resulting in his only All-Star Game. He would only play one season in Cleveland, so we're going to slot him in here.
4. Scott Kazmir, 1.2 bWAR, 2013
Once a highly-touted prospect with the New York Mets, Kazmir sharply declined due to elbow issues before being released by the Anaheim Angels in 2011. He spent 2012 pitching with the Sugarland Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League before moving to the Puerto Rican League's Gigantes de Carolina.
The Indians gave the 29-year-old a shot on a minor league deal, and he broke camp as the team's 5th starter. Starting in all 29 appearances, the southpaw tossed 158 innings, with a 4.04 ERA (102 ERA-) and 3.51 FIP (89 FIP-), his best season since 2007.
On the back of his comeback season, Kazmir signed a 2-year, $22 million deal with the Oakland A's. He improved again in 2014, going 15-9 with a 3.55 ERA and a 3.35 FIP. Out of the league since 2016, the 36-year-old is currently trying to make a comeback.
Honorable Mention: Jason Giambi, -0.7 bWAR, 2013
While Kazmir had the overall success, the Giambino could easily have taken this spot for one moment alone.
A finalist for the Colorado Rockies' managerial position following a dismal 2012 as a player in Denver, Giambi turned down an offer to become the Rockies hitting coach to take a minor league deal with the Indians.
The former MVP and 5-time All-Star was mostly a solid clubhouse veteran, slashing .183/.282/.371 over 186 plate appearances. Yet all of that was forgotten in late September.
During a hotly contested Wild Card race with the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays with six games left in the season, Giambi provided the Indians with their fifth consecutive win in dramatic fashion.
They won their remaining five games, too.
5. Tyler Clippard, 1.4 bWAR, 2019
Debuting with the New York Yankees before becoming a two-time All-Star with the Washington Nationals by 29, Tyler Clippard showed an uncommon level of consistency as a reliever over his first eight seasons.
Then the righty was shipped to the Oakland Athletics in January of 2015, kicking off a tour de Majors. He spent time with the A's, New York Mets, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox, Houston Astros, Toronto Blue Jays, and the Yankees again by the end of 2018. At no point was Clippard bad, with just one season after 2008 with a league-average ERA or worse.
At 34, Clippard signed a minor league deal with the Indians and worked through a pectoral strain to reach the majors on April 25. He was as reliable as ever, tossing 62 innings over 53 outings, including three starts as an 'opener,' with a 60 ERA- and an 85 FIP- (100 is league average, lower is better.)
6. Scott Atchison, 1.9 bWAR, 2014
While he pitched in two seasons with the Indians, Atchison was signed to a minor-league deal on January 6, 2014, and parlayed that opportunity into a one-year extension with a team option for 2016 by mid-August.
After spending 2008 and 2009 in Japan with the Hanshin Tigers, Atch returned to the states for the final two years of Terry Francona's tenure with the Boston Red Sox. After a year under Bobby Valentine in Boston, and an average year with the New York Mets, Francona and Atchison reconnected in Cleveland.
The 38-year-old broke camp with the Indians and tossed a career-high 70 innings, with a 71 ERA- and an 81 FIP-. He struggled the next year, his final season at the big-league level, and was released on June 28, 2015.
Atchison would serve as the team's advance scout coordinator before two more as bullpen coach.
7. Jeff Manship, 1.7 bWAR, 2014
Like Atchison, Jeff Manship was a career journeyman before his best professional season coming in Cleveland. The only difference was that Manship went to Asia after his time on the North Coast.
The righty signed a minor league deal with Cleveland on Christmas Eve, 2014 and broke through to the big league club on June 18. Pitching mostly in the middle innings for multiple frames, Manship posted a 0.92 ERA (22 ERA-) and a 65 FIP- over 39 1/3 innings.
Manship was tendered a contract for 2016 and had an up-and-down year. He was not given another shot in 2017 before departing for the NC Dinos in Korea.
Though his stay was short, the reliever was referenced plenty by Francona in future seasons, who often referred to a mid-inning cleanup reliever as pitching in "the Jeff Manship kind of role."
8. Austin Kearns, 0.9 bWAR, 2010
The former Cincinnati Red and Washington National signed a minor league contract with the Indians in January 2010. He was added to the 25-man roster shortly after the season started.
Kearns proved serviceable, showing glimpses of the promise he showed during his rookie season. Sitting at 42-61, Mark Shapiro took advantage, shipping the outfielder to the Yankees for a player named later. That player, Zach McAllister, would pitch in 8 seasons in Cleveland.
Kearns returned on a minor league deal in 2010, posting a .589 OPS over 57 games in 2011 before being released in August.
9. Chris Seddon, 0.5 bWAR, 2012
Look, the Manny Acta years were tough on all of us. The team was bad, and they were not signing a whole lot of players in an effort at a playoff push. They were more a landing spot for players trying to keep their heads above water.
Chris Seddon signed a minor league deal with the Indians in January and did not make it up to the big league club until August 5.
The righty was not bad, posting a 3.67 ERA and 3.94 FIP over 34 1/3 innings, his best season as a professional. It was his last, stateside. Seddon pitched 2013, 2015 and 2016 in South Korea, 2014 in Japan, with another brief stop in China in 2015.
10. Travis Buck, 0.3 bWAR, 2011
Travis Buck was pretty decent as a rookie, a 2 WAR season with the Oakland Athletics in 2007. He hung around for three more sub-40 appearance seasons out west before signing a minor league deal in Cleveland for 2011.
He appeared in 50 games, mostly in the stead of the injured Grady Sizemore, slashing .228/.275/.342.
Yet this video exists of his entire game-tying at-bat against the Blue Jays on July 9, so watch it. Drink it in.