Sooner or later, it all comes down to money
The Indians’ $81.6 million payroll on Opening Day was the 14th-highest in all of baseball.
No, that’s not a Yankee-like ranking, or anything close to it, but it was a reasonable investment on the part of ownership in a team that the front office sold as a contender.
Projected attendance for this season was around 2.2 million. And even if the Indians had met those projections, the Dolan family knew it had the potential to lose money, unless the team reached the postseason and generated additional attendance and revenue.
Well, you know what happened next. The Indians had their worst first half since 1991. What’s more, hardly anyone came to witness it. Attendance has declined about 18 percent from last year — and last year was hardly anything to get excited about, either. The Indians now hope to draw 1.8 million, when all is said and done, but don’t bet on it.
Now that the Indians have drastically slashed payroll for 2010, some fans are in an uproar. But as Joel Hammond of Crain’s Cleveland Business explains in a pretty rational take, in what other business are owners expected to spend freely, even as their customers and revenue sources stop supporting them?
This is a vicious cycle, and it’s going to be difficult for the Indians to overcome it in this market and in a sport without a salary cap.
A friend of mine recently wrote in, saying, “One reality is that this town can reasonably support about two and a half teams, not three. For whatever social reasons, the Browns are No. 1 and apparently always will be. The Cavs, because they have LeBron and are a contender, are No. 2. That leaves the ever-shrinking population with ever-shrinking disposable income to spend money on the Indians.”
Hard to argue that. This is a fair-weather baseball town (loyal readers of this blog are, of course, exempted from that statement, because, let’s face it, if you’re reading this at this point of the season, you’re no fair-weather follower of the Tribe).
Fans pack Progressive Field (yes, the naming rights were sold, because, in a market like this, you must chase every source of revenue available to you) when the team contends. But even if this club put together a sustained run of contention right now, the sellout streak of the 1990s will never come close to being matched. Ever. It’s a different economy and a different professional sports climate in this city.
The Dolans have given Mark Shapiro and his staff limited financial resources to work with in the pricey free-agent market (which, again, is made all the more challenging by the lack of a salary cap), and that has led to Shapiro and company getting involved with the David Delluccis and Carl Pavanos of the world, rather than the big names that make fans salivate.
That’s what the most vocal of fans tend to focus on when discussing (or simply ranting about) the Dolans. They pay no mind to the fact that ownership has invested heavily into the Minor League system, the Spring Training complex that the front office deemed pivotal to success and, above all else, the “championship core” recommended by their baseball people. In the first half of the 2007 season alone, the Dolans, upon recommendation from the front office, committed more than $100 million to Jake Westbrook and Travis Hafner. Over the winter, again upon recommendation from the front office, they committed more than $30 million to Kerry Wood (counting his 2011 option, which now doesn’t look likely to vest anytime soon). Even Masa Kobayashi somehow got his hands on $6 million.
So it’s not as if the Dolans didn’t spend. It’s that the money they’ve committed to payroll has too often either not been spent wisely or has gone to players who ended up injured or ineffective.
Now, the payroll is getting scaled back, drastically. Call it a rebuild. Call it a reload (that’s the term Shapiro is using). Call it whatever you want. But it’s definitely a step back. The players brought in via trade and the core that is now made up of the likes of Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera will determine how far back a step that is. Crazy things happen in baseball, and a run at contention in 2010 is not out of the question. Again, though, don’t bet on it.
What you can bet on is this vicious cycle continuing. Unless the Indians field a contender (or are somehow able to schedule 81 Friday fireworks nights each season), the crowds will be small. Unless the fans show up, the Indians will never possess anything more than a middle-of-the-pack payroll, at best.
That’s why last week’s purge took place. With its financial hands tied, the front office sold off some of its most valuable assets in exchange for some younger, more affordable commodities that may or may not pan out in the seasons to come.
Meanwhile, in Berea yesterday, Cleveland’s NFL entry began training camp in preparation for a 6-10 season in which the fans will come out in droves.
That’s life in Browns Town.
EXCRUCIATING MINUTIA OF THE DAY…
- CC Sabathia on the Tribe’s recent moves: “I think it’s sad. It’s just one of those things. We all came up together, and it’s kind of like our era of that team is gone. It’s just crazy.”
- Tigers manager Jim Leyland on the current Tribe: “I think the Indians are going to be a nightmare for a lot of teams in the second half of the season. I think they’re going to be a nightmare for people because they’re going to be looking at arms like [Justin] Masterson, and I think they’re going to get some hungry guys that are going to get a chance to play that are going to want to make a good impression. They’re going to be busting their tail. I think they have a chance to be a nightmare for people in the second half.”
- Jhonny Peralta has 15 RBIs over his last seven games and is first in the AL in second-half RBIs, with 17. He’s batting .400 (18-for-47) with nine runs scored, three homers and 17 RBIs over his last 10 games.
- Obviously, Peralta has been a target of Eric Wedge’s criticism quite a bit in the past, including earlier this season. Peralta was asked what he thinks about playing for Wedge. “I don’t try to say nothing wrong about him,” Peralta said. “He manages how he manages, and I play how I play. Maybe we’re different. More than anything, he wants to help. When he sees I don’t do good, he gets frustrated with me. But there’s nothing bad I can say about him.”
- I’ve got a Juan Lara update for you. About 21 months removed from a life-threatening car accident, he’s made nine appearances thus far for the Indians’ rookie-level team in Arizona, posting a 4.50 ERA in 12 innings. He’s struck out 17 and walked a pair. “He ebbs and flows with his ability to maintain that velocity,” farm director Ross Atkins said. “He’s coming back from a very intense transition, and his body is not completely his yet. But he’s really been competitive. He’s still a longshot [to one day return to the big leagues], but he’s legitimately making us believe there is a chance.”
- Keep in mind that Lara is playing alongside a bunch of 18 year olds who really have no idea who he is. But in his first appearance, he received a standing ovation from both the Indians’ team and the opposition.
- Today is Grady Sizemore’s 27th birthday. Even when you take into account his injury affected 2009 season, what Sizemore has done by the age of 27 is impressive. He’s a three-time All-Star, two-time Gold Glove winner, one-time Silver Slugger winner who has averaged an .849 OPS, 39 doubles, eight triples, 27 homers, 85 RBIs and 27 stolen bases per season.
- I loved this quote from Wyatt Toregas about his first Major League hit last night: “My legs were shaking, and I couldn’t even feel myself at the plate. Somehow, I got a hit. I don’t know how I did it.”
- Get used to those “first Major League experience” quotes. We’ll have plenty of them the next couple years.
- Cliff Lee is gone, but right-handed reliever Chen Chang Lee has been pitching well lately at Class A Kinston. Lee hasn’t allowed a run over his last five outings, covering 10 2/3 innings of work. He’s allowed five hits with two walks and 11 strikeouts in that span. Lee is 3-4-1 with a 3.38 ERA in 34 games this season. He was signed out of Taiwan last year.
- On the other end of the spectrum, Zach Jackson somehow gave up 10 runs in 1 1/3 innings in Columbus’ 15-4 loss to Gwinnett last night.
- Follow the Twitter version of CastroTurf here.
- Finally, remember the “Kick It” campaign I told you about earlier this season? Well, it begins in earnest today, as the first of five charity kickball games benefitting pediatric, adolescent and young adult cancer research will take place at Progressive Field following the game against the Tigers. Kids can register their kickball teams at Indians.com and kick-it.org to hold games in their communities to raise money from July until September. And select teams will be chosen to play games here at the ballpark following the remaining Sunday home games. This endeavor will continue next season, as well.