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Jim Ingraham

Commentary: Paul Dolan might not be the best owner the Indians could have, but he's also not the worst

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    Cleveland Indians President Paul Dolan speaks at the unveiling of a statue honoring Indians Hall of Fame coach and player Lou Boudreau on Aug. 5, 2017.

    AP

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Who would you rather have as the owner of the Indians?

Paul Dolan, who ordered his front office to cut the team payroll, resulting in several key players being traded or leaving as free agents, and, in the next year or two, will trade Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Francisco Lindor — or watch them leave as free agents — because they are too expensive, but whose team will likely win its division this year for the fourth consecutive year, and perhaps even go to the World Series for the second time in four years?

Or would you rather have as owner of the Indians Arte Moreno, who can afford to sign Albert Pujols to a 10-year, $240 million contract and Mike Trout to a 13-year, $430 million contract, but has no clue on how to build a winning team?

In other words, what’s your definition of a good owner? One who spends tons of money or one who knows how to put together an organization that can build and sustain a winning team?

Those two options are not mutually exclusive.

John Henry, the owner of the Boston Red Sox, spends tons of money, AND has built an organization adept at building winning teams. The Red Sox have made the playoffs in 10 of the last 16 years. The Steinbrenner family has bankrolled and built Yankee teams that have reached the postseason in all but four of the last 23 years.

Obviously, in the only sport without a salary cap, the biggest spenders can buy their way out of their bad decisions, unlike the Indians, and many others. So even though the Yankees and Red Sox have excellent baseball people calling the shots, they are also backed by baseball’s biggest checkbooks.

That’s not true of the Indians. They have to outthink the opposition because they can’t outspend them. However, that doesn’t mean the Indians should get a pass in times such as these, even as the sport’s biggest spenders in recent weeks have lavished contracts to three of the biggest names in the game — Trout, Bryce Harper, and Manny Machado — worth a combined $1.06 BILLION.

That’s right, BILLION.

In an interview last week with MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince, Dolan said the Indians “lose money almost every year.” In a vacuum, those words uttered by the owner of any business would receive the obvious and unsympathetic advice: “Well, then it might be time for you to sell your business.”

Instead, Dolan went in the other direction. He brought in a minority owner, John Sherman. Between the two of them, they bankrolled the largest payroll in Indians history last year — when they lost money again. Probably quite a bit this time, since the Indians’ home attendance was the picture of mediocrity, ranking eighth in the American League and 21st in the majors, and, as the sweepees to Houston (the sweepers) in the Division Series, they only cashed in on one home game in the postseason.

On the plus side, the Indians do get to cash in on playing in the weakest of the six divisions in the majors. Because of that, and their spectacular starting rotation, the Indians, despite getting rid of five of the nine hitters in their everyday lineup last year, are still favored to win their division again.

It’s a unique dynamic all the way around: under-financed ownership funding a brilliant front office able to consistently construct division-winning teams — at least in a flophouse division — while producing elite, but eventually, unaffordable talent.

Wash and repeat.

That, apparently, is why Indians ownership is willing to “lose money almost every year.”

It’s broke, but why fix it? Especially if you can’t. Or maybe it’s not broke.

It works in this model only because: A. The Indians front office is really good at building winning teams; and B. The rest of the teams in the Central Division are not.

So as long as Dolan/Sherman are willing to lose a little money every year, in hopes that they’ll one day hit it big with a World Series champion — don’t laugh, it almost happened in 2016 — it’s easy to see how this business model is sustainable.

It’s sort of like the reverse of the Big Spenders Principle. Instead of the Indians buying their way out of their bad decisions, their front office brainstorms around their payroll limitations.

Unless another team or two in the division can suddenly get good and put heat on the Indians, or the Indians front office goes into a Danny Salazar-style regression, your Cleveland Indians should be able to make continued visits to the postseason.

That, you could argue, if you so choose, is all that an ownership owes a fan base: consistent trips to the big dance, in the belief that the baseball gods will eventually play your song.

As long as it isn’t “Taps.”

Contact Jim Ingraham at (440) 329-7135 or jingraham4@gmail.com and follow him @Jim_Ingraham on Twitter.


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