Guardians' lack of spending takes center stage as Dodgers win Ohtani sweepstakes with record-breaking deal

San Francisco Giants v Cleveland Guardians
San Francisco Giants v Cleveland Guardians / Jason Miller/GettyImages

The Los Angeles Dodgers winning the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes by way of a 10-year $700 million deal shook the baseball world Saturday. While there were a handful of fanbases that were disappointed that they were not going to sign the generational two-way star, there was a much different reason for disappointment for fans of the Cleveland Guardians. Ohtani’s record-breaking deal with the Dodgers serves as a reminder of how far the Guardians are from operating at that level financially. It also shows the relative irrelevance of baseball in Cleveland.  

The deal between Ohtani and the Dodgers could not have come at a worse time for the Guardians. While records are being set for financial commitments by those two parties, Cleveland is continuing their thread-the-needle process of attempting to be competitive while not overspending, and the uncertainty of their television deal is only making that much more difficult. This has essentially led to taking themselves out of the running for any impact free agent and setting a precedent for removing a player from their payroll if another with a notable salary is added (Scott Barlow for Cal Quantrill, to be specific). 

While the chorus of Dolans Cheap continues to reverberate across the internet, it must be pointed out that it doesn’t matter who owns the Guardians. Spending a high dollar figure on a player is never going to happen. This is not an excuse for their lack of spending because, let’s be real here, they have not made enough serious attempts to acquire and retain high-priced talent. It is simply a function of operating under a major league sports team that is third in popularity in its own city, only managing to edge out a minor league hockey team on Cleveland's sports team hierarchy. 

The Guardians are never going to overtake the Browns for the most popular team, with second being the best attainable position. But this scenario requires the Cavaliers not being a complete disaster, a description that does not currently apply to Cleveland's basketball outfit. Placing the blame for the Guardians' lack of spending on the fans is not at all fair, and that is not what is being argued here. But it is hard to justify from an ownership perspective making acquisitions that will see their payroll drastically increase if it does not result in the return on investment they expect. This is by no means the best way to operate a sports franchise, but it is the way the Guardians operate in a sport without a salary floor and hard salary cap.

The reality of the situation is that it does not matter who the owner of the Guardians is they are not going to be one of the top-spending teams in the sport, given baseball's current landscape. There are two different groups in the sport of baseball, the haves and the have-nots, the latter group being where the Guardians reside. With that being said, it does not excuse them from making little to no attempt at adding impact players to their roster on a regular basis.

If Cleveland were to add just a couple of players who are known commodities to their roster, it would take them from a position where they need everything to go exactly right to possibly win the division to one where they would be expected to win the American League Central from the beginning. Unfortunately, these types of moves do not appear to be on the way, as it seems they would rather play it safe with a relatively low team ceiling rather than take a chance and raise it exponentially.

Nobody is asking the Guardians to operate like the Yankees or Dodgers, but something more than team payroll (retained salary included) that barely eclipses the yearly average of Ohtani's deal with Los Angeles. Even though Ohtani's contract is unprecedented, it does not make Cleveland's current 23rd-ranked payroll any less embarrassing.