The Stigma of Spending


Mar 22, 2013; Gooodyear, AZ, USA; Cleveland Indians right fielder Nick Swisher (33) smiles in the dugout before a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Goodyear Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Indians Failure of Spending is not a Failure

Once again the Cleveland Indians are forced to answer for why they aren’t spending money in the free agent market. One season after spending big on Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher, fans expected a repeat performance out of Chris Antonetti and the Dolans this time around. Well, the offseason following a successful 2013 campaign has been anything but what was expected. Rather than spending big, it’s been an exercise in conservatism.

The end result of this conservatism? Fan writing in to the various Indians beat writers wanting to know, quite bluntly, “what the hell are they doing?” I present to you exhibit A. The following question was presented to Indians beat writer Paul Hoynes in his latest edition of “Hey, Hoynsie!”

"“As I understand it, every team will receive an annual $25 million boost from national TV contracts from 2014 through 2021 seasons. The Indians’ 2013 payroll sat at about $80.6 million. You reported that the spending has just about ended for the 2014 season at about $80 million and the focus is now on trades. Where is that $25 million going? Seems to me we could bag a couple top starters at least with that money. – Bobby Reichert, La Crosse, Wis.”"

It’s a fair question. Thanks to the increase in available money as a result of the new national TV contracts, the Indians DO have money to spend. Hoynes does a fair job answering the question, explaining that the increase in revenue is going towards paying the long term deals of both Swisher and Bourn. However, what Hoynes fails to do is explain why not spending that money this year could be the smartest decision of all.

Apr 14, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians center fielder Michael Bourn (24) singles in the sixth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

First of all, the Indians have to be smart about how and when to spend their money. Without rehashing the position of being a small market team for the umpteenth time, the Indians can’t just go out and spend without thinking about the consequences of their decisions. They took a big risk and tied up a large chunk of money in both Bourn and Swisher. Admittedly, despite the fanfare attached to their signings, both players are middle of the road talents making money that is above their skill level. Signing one or two players in that manner is not going to sink a payroll, but doing it over multiple offseasons can present a significant problem down the line.

Adding to the dilemma is the free agent pool this offseason. With the exception of Robinson Cano, there were no can’t miss, big name free agents. Everyone available has some sort of question surrounding them, whether it be age, past performance, or injury concerns. Why then should the Indians be so eager to invest heavily in so many players with so many questions surrounding them? What’s the point of spending big money if it’s not smart spending?

To the point made above about “bagging a couple of top starters,” which top-level starting pitchers is he referencing? When Ubaldo Jimenez, a pitcher many of us considered to be finished for two straight years until an almost magical second half turnaround, is somewhere between the first and third best available option, that’s not a solid class of free agent pitchers.

Jimenez, Ervin Santana, Matt Garza, Ricky Nolasco, and Hiroki Kuroda are just some of the “top names” that were available this winter. Who among them is realistically worth multiple years and eight figures per year? Any one of the pitchers that were available via free agency had a tremendous boom or bust potential leaning heavily in the direction of bust.

Knowing what we know about free agency and the economics of baseball in the year 2013, why is choosing to not spend money considered a “poor decision?” In so many other aspects of business and even life we are instructed to be cost conscious with our money and to invest wisely. Why then when a professional sports team decides to take this approach is it considered a poor decision?

It all goes back to the stigma that in order to compete in Major League Baseball you have to spend big in order to win big. Again, we have seen time and time again that while the ability to spend money helps, being smarter than everyone else is often times just as important, if not more. By opting to wait for the free agent market to level out and to see who becomes available via trade, the Indians are attempting to be smarter than the rest. While this is nowhere near as flashy and doesn’t provide the same sort of instant gratification, rarely does the team that wins the offseason win it all come October. Just look at the Angels and their yearly spending sprees as exhibit A.

So be patient Tribe fans. Know that there is a plan in place. Know that the front office of the Indians is one of the smartest in all of baseball and doesn’t do anything without having a reason to do it. When the time comes and the right move presents itself, the Indians will strike. It could be a free agent or it could be via trade. Just be patient. They aren’t done.