The ownership of the Cleveland Indians by Larry Dolan and his son Paul is often a hot topic in Cleveland sports. Most fans look at the Dolans as poor owners who do not spend enough money to keep the team competitive. Their evidence is the organizations like of ability to make any impact on the free agent market, whether that means adding pieces or simply retaining their own players.There is a significant minority in the fanbase that sees the Dolans as the best owners in Cleveland sports. This is based off of the continuity in the front office as well as ownership’s overall willingness to let the baseball minds make the baseball decisions.
The thing is though, as fans we don’t have to look at the information. We can just judge by what we see and the emotions we feel. As a whole, I feel the Dolan’s have been poor owners, and have several reasons that explain my feelings, all related to money and the product on the field.
1. After making the playoffs last season, ownership did nothing to help the team on the field.
The 2013 Cleveland Indians won their final ten games of the season to finish with a record of 92-70 and clinch the top wild card spot in the American League. They followed this by allowing two members of their starting rotation, Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez, to leave as free agents and made no effort to replace them. While Jimenez has struggled, Kazmir has been phenomenal for the Oakland A’s, earning an All-Star berth this season. Since the Indians did not make a qualifying offer to Kazmir, they don’t even receive a first round draft pick as compensation for him leaving. This has helped lead to a starting rotation that has struggled throughout this season.
2. The money they spent before the 2013 season is more than offset by the money coming off their books.
Before the 2013 season, the Indians signed Nick Swisher to a deal that paid him $11 million the first year of the contract and $15 million in each of the next four. They also signed Michael Bourn to a four year deal that paid him $7 million his first season with the club and between $13.5 and $14 million over the next four. Both offers have vesting options for fifth years, but considering the amount of injuries both players have battled it’s unlikely those options are picked up. The Indians also paid Brett Myers $7 million last year in a failed attempt to make him a starter again. So those players received $25 million in 2013 and will receive approximately $29 million a year from 2014-2016. While this is a significant investments, it’ was not a significant addition to the Indian’s payroll. First off, the Indians no longer had to pay Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore, two injury-riddled former stars who earned a combined $18 million in 2012.2012 also saw the end of contracts to Casey Kotchman ($3 million), Derek Lowe ($5 million), and Shin-Soo Choo ($4.9 million), and the Dolans actually added $6 million less in salary than what came off the books in their biggest investment into the team in years. Now figure in the contracts of former closer Chris Perez ($7.3 million) and Jimenez ($5.75 million), and Mark Reynolds ($6 million) that expired after last season, and the Dolans are spending significantly less money in adding talent to the team than many realize, even when taking into account the terrific new contracts for Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, and Yan Gomes.
3. This is a team that routinely makes a profit.
While the Dolans can somewhat justifiably point to the team’s poor home attendance as part of the reason the payroll isn’t higher, that doesn’t paint the whole picture. The team’s merchandise sales and television ratings are through the roof, and the organization sold it’s Sportstime Ohio channel to Fox Sports for an estimate $230 million. All MLB teams have also received more money due to increased revenue from new television deals. Finally, while the actual details are known only to the organization, Major League Baseball, and the Player’s Association, the Indians are rumored to have made around $30 million in profit each of the last three years. While it should be noted that Paul Dolan and Delaware North Companies will pay for the upcoming major renovations to Progressive Field (as opposed to using tax dollars), one has to wonder if the renovations would be necessary if that same money was put into the team’s payroll. The same could be said for the Snow Days events which used to take place at the park. All of these other attractions might not be necessary if the product on the field was a consistent contender.
Despite what it might seem like, none of this is meant to vilify the Dolans. They have done a nice job developing a front office that is respected all around Major League Baseball and is noted for its clear chain of command and lack of upheaval. They have also given untold amounts of money to various charities to help those in need and have funded the baseball and softball programs for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District for years. But in an age where baseball seems to be struggling in popularity as a whole, they haven’t given Indians fans much to be consistently excited about over the years. As someone who has gone to games with his family since he was a small child and hopes to continue that tradition with his own two young children, I just hope that the apathy ownership has allowed to creep in doesn’t eventually lead to a time when Cleveland Indians baseball is no longer around for the people who love it.