The rest of Major League Baseball is on a free-agent spending spree while the Cleveland Guardians stand pat, and fans are right to be frustrated with that.
Baseball’s free agency period is a time often punctuated by wealthy teams in large markets making lucrative deals with premier players seeking contracts throughout the league.
As is often the case for Cleveland baseball fans throughout the colder months, nothing very attention-grabbing has hit the headlines to draw fan attention, outside of roster moves pertaining to the Rule 5 draft. Even with a front office projection that the Guardians will be looking to add talent in the coming weeks and months, it is still difficult to have an optimistic outlook for the current free agent market. Fans are right to be frustrated by the proverbial financial quagmire Cleveland is stuck in, and Major League Baseball needs to be held accountable to create more parity across the sport for smaller market teams.
Why aren’t the Guardians spending money while the rest of MLB spends like crazy?
The Cleveland Guardians have yet to sign a free agent since the name transition took place. The team did make some roster adjustments and made a couple of trades as they dialed in the 40-man roster for the Rule 5 draft, but there has been little movement with some of the available talent currently floating in the ether.
An obvious reason for the lack of moves is the astronomical asking prices for top-tier free agents. Players like Carlos Correa (unsigned) and Max Scherzer (three-year deal with the Mets for $130 million), who headline this year’s crop of available players are commanding money that teams in Cleveland’s shoes cannot fathom. Teams without a large market like New York and Los Angeles are at an automatic disadvantage, especially when coupling in MLB’s lack of a salary cap to keep spending more consistent across the league.
Outside of the occasional Christian Yelich-style scenario the Milwaukee Brewers lucked into, most smaller market teams don’t have the capital or the draw for headliner names when they hit free agency. The Guardians have made due with serviceable signings like Cesar Hernandez and Bryan Shaw, but these types of deals are a far cry from $300+ million deals that other teams can dole out to top free agents. This is a disparity the sport has to address, either by setting a cap on spending or by promoting a better revenue-sharing model and price floor for teams to adhere to.
In addition to a smaller market and less money to throw around compared to larger organizations, the lack of a minority owner has created roadblocks to the Guardians acquiring top-level talent outside of its own developmental system. The last time Cleveland splurged on a top free agent was when Edwin Encarnación signed a three-year, $60 million dollar deal, and that was due to the influx of capital from minority owner John Sherman. Sherman has since abdicated his share of Cleveland’s ownership to buy the Kansas City Royals, meaning the Guardians lack a critical piece necessary to consistently being more active on the free agent market. Securing a high-profile investor with deep pockets (who is Cleveland-oriented) would be a massive boon to the team’s finances and ability to ink premier players.
As for fans, the aforementioned struggles are nothing short of frustrating. Cleveland has built a system that has proven it can develop top-level pitching talent, and it has seemed like the team has been a good bat or two away from truly competing since the 2017 season. The inability to ink high-level players when they are available is a sticking point for Guardian fans, and it rightfully should be. The team has one of the most intelligent and well-run front offices in all of baseball. Turning Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff loose in free agency with a blank check is a pipe dream as things stand right now, but the thought is tantalizing.
For a team that does well making the most of what it has in its system, adding from outside the organization is likely the missing piece to a deep run that could end Cleveland’s World Series drought. Until the Dolans can bring in a new minority owner and MLB cleans up its own act (hopefully as it negotiates a new CBA – but not likely), it will be easy for Guardians fans to be frustrated with what is a broken system in Major League Baseball.