Cleveland Indians: The Small Market Excuse Needs to Go


Indians need to drop the small market excuse and act like they want to win

It seems to be one of the first arguments you’ll hear in defense of a struggling team–and not just the Cleveland Indians. Any time a team fails to gain any ground on an opponent with a bigger payroll, ballpark, TV contract, etc., you’ll hear the “we can’t win as a small-market team”. I think it’s near time we laid that defense to rest. Yes, there are certain advantages to being in a larger market–but that doesn’t exclude the little guys from doing damage.

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The Associated Press did a study early in the season to forecast 2015 payrolls. It’s not a perfect science, as not all details of contracts are released. But through the information that is available, you can get a good idea of who are the top dogs and who isn’t. Spoiler alert: The Indians aren’t. But when you look at the bottom 10, there’s something you should notice.

Three of the bottom ten teams–from the beginning of the season–made the playoffs. And the New York Mets are currently playing in the World Series. Well, they’re there, not really doing much of the playing thing as of yet. Now I can admit that all of these teams are in different stages that brought them to a similar point.

The Padres weren’t very good, so new GM A.J. Preller went out and spent big money. Several large deals combined with the players they had still left them in the bottom third and the play didn’t elevate. The Braves have begun a rebuilding period, and the Marlins aren’t far removed from a gut job on their franchise either. But the Athletics, Rays and now the Astros have won either this year or very recently with smart management.

The Astros and Cubs (who are 13th, thanks in large part to Jon Lester‘s deal) built through losing. It sounds counterintuitive, but it worked very well for those two. But not many teams or fan bases want to sit through several years of losing. The Cubs were able to handle five more without issue, it’s been a while.

Billy Beane and the A’s built a roster through “Moneyball”, the analytical, evidence-based approach–sabermetrics–to put themselves in the thick of things. It wasn’t till Beane broke from that last year to acquire several big names at the trade deadline did it seem to dissolve the good thing they had going.

The Rays? They’re just the Rays. Without Joe Maddon who took off for Chicago, they finished fourth but still managed to win 80 games this season. Unpleasant ballpark (but at least it’s a dome), terrible weather (refer to ballpark for its saving grace), but they keep finding a way to win with names you likely have never heard of in your life.

And then there’s the Indians. The only thing lower than the payroll was the attendance. Progressive Field isn’t a terrible place to see a game, and they continue to pour money into the park–which isn’t drawing fans. But the Field of Dreams logic isn’t working here. The Indians are building it, no one is coming. The phrase that has circulated for several years is “The Dolan’s are cheap”. Mutter that in a group of baseball fans and you’ll get quite an array of responses. It’s hard to defend that they’re cheap when they are doing a multi-million dollar renovation, but it is part of the problem.

I don’t even know that I would quantify them as cheap, but definitely careless with the money. The last few seasons of free agency have been a debacle, and this year they managed to rid themselves of all of them. Few of you can raise your hand and say you thought they’d find a suitor for Nick Swisher. Yes, they’ve locked up players like Corey Kluber, Yan Gomes, and Michael Brantley long-term. But now they don’t seem to have the resources available to improve on what they have.

Will it be another season of fill-ins, has-beens and gambles in free agency? Or will the Indians make the decision that they want to win and do what’s necessary. That may be loosening up the purse string a bit, or maybe even trading a player that they don’t want to in order to get a piece that they need. I had a reader say to me once that if they don’t put a good team on the field early in the season, nobody will come later no matter how good the team plays. Sadly, that has been true.

So instead of investing in a ballpark that no one is coming to, how about invest in the team in it to bring those people in? It’s a novel idea for, you know, a small market team.

Next: Improving on Progressive Field improvements