By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com
The first question Indians fans will ask themselves, in the wake of the San Francisco Giants’ unlikely rise to World Series glory, will be, “Can that happen in Cleveland?”
The answer, from my perspective, is yes. And no.
This Giants team was not your traditional underdog. It’s easy to get caught up in the talk of their collection of “outcasts and misfits” and lose sight of the fact that the Giants opened the season with the ninth-highest Opening Day payroll in the game, at $98.6 million. They are in the nation’s sixth-largest television market, and their fans can hardly be construed as fair-weather. The Giants lost 91 games in 2007 and 90 in 2008 and still drew 3.2 million and 2.8 million fans, respectively, in those seasons.
Now, you can look at the Giants and suggest that they actually won with a payroll in the mid-$60 million range, because several of their big-money makers — Barry Zito, Mark DeRosa and Aaron Rowand — were either not a major factor in the postseason run (Rowand) or off the postseason roster altogether (Zito and DeRosa).
But the fact remains that this was an organization with the payroll flexibility to absorb some pretty outrageous financial blunders.
So, no, in one sense, the Giants’ situation and that of the Indians isn’t even remotely comparable.
Yet what strikes me about the Giants’ postseason roster and its key contributors is the way it was built. Brian Sabean’s major ventures into free-agent waters proved ill-fated. The strength of this club was its internal, homegrown talent, with some low-cost pieces/parts filling in the gaps.
The Giants are world champs primarily because they drafted well. In the first round in the last decade, they took Matt Cain in 2002, Tim Lincecum in 2006, Madison Bumgarner in 2007 and Buster Posey in 2008.
Right there, the Giants provided themselves with the pieces that would fill three rotation spots and a catcher for the middle of the order.
Not a bad haul. And not that any of you need to be reminded, but while the Giants were pulling in that talent, the Indians were making the likes of Jeremy Sowers, Trevor Crowe and Beau Mills top 15 picks in the Draft.
The Giants were able to rebuild relatively quickly (they had four straight losing seasons from 2005-2008) as the Barry Bonds era wound down and eventually ended because they had that next wave of talent coming through the farm system. That’s something the Indians simply didn’t possess when the 2007 club became besieged by injuries and the pending free agency of several core players.
What the Indians received when the walls caved in and they dealt those core players to other clubs will go a long way toward their current rebuilding effort. But the early returns on those trades of CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez obviously leave quite a bit to be desired.
Still, as if the message hasn’t been hammered home enough, I’ll hammer it home again: The Indians have to hope they got it right with Alex White, Drew Pomeranz and their other prominent Draft picks in recent years.
The Indians don’t have the money, the market or the reliable fan support to compare to the Giants, but they do have the ability to build this thing from within, as the Giants (in some ways in spite of themselves) did. You have to hit on your No. 1 Draft picks, and you have to have some luck — something the Indians haven’t majored in, to this point.