The Cleveland Indians were eliminated from playoff contention on Friday night. The team finished with 93 wins on the season, but in a brutally competitive AL, it left them on the outside looking in for the first time since 2015. They were not even close to catching the Twins for the division lead, and they are finishing the season a few games out of the last Wild Card slot. This was a really disappointing outcome for a team that many expected to win the division again with ease.
FanGraphs projected Cleveland to win about 97 games this season, with about an 87 percent chance to win the division (11 percent over the Twins). Granted that Cleveland will finish only a few games short of that projection, and the 101-win Twins have blown past their expectations thanks in part to the juiced ball. However, they might have gotten one of the Wild Card slots had their stingy ownership decided to actually open up their wallets and try to fix the glaring deficiencies of this team.
You Can’t Predict Baseball. It is a popular saying in the sabermetric community, and one I have quoted more times than I can remember. The 2015 season was a great example of this when seemingly none of the consensus picks for division and Wild Card winners were correct. The Dolan ownership group was either ignorant towards this or apathetic, and now the fans and the team — people they clearly do not care about — are the ones left crestfallen because ownership wanted to save money it does not need.
Last season, Cleveland won 91 games, a record inflated by playing in a historically weak division. They took the division by a whopping 13 games, too. However, the bullpen was pretty poor, and while their offense was a top-10 offense, it was top heavy. MVP candidates Francisco Lindor and José Ramírez had a 146 wRC+ and 130 wRC+, respectively, and Michael Brantley had a 124 wRC+. This team was carried by arguably the best starting rotation in the league.
Of course one cannot draw conclusions from three measly games, but the Astros exposed this team’s glaring weaknesses in last year’s postseason. They did not just sweep them in the ALDS. They flat out embarrassed Cleveland.
I am sure the front office was well-aware of these weaknesses and would have been more than happy to leverage free agency to address them. The Dolans, on the other hand, likely saw an embarrassingly weak division that had little chance at getting better in 2019, so they decided to keep their wallets shut. Because the team’s rotation was a great strength, and you can always count on pitchers to stay healthy and perform consistently, right? Sure the Twins were actually trying to make their team better, but they only won 78 games last year, and it is not like baseball ever surprises you with a team that has everything break right. No sir, that never happens.
According to Spotrac, Cleveland’s $142.8 million payroll ranked 15th in the league. This year they shed approximately $21 million in salary and fell to 19th in the league in payroll. In fact, they were reportedly looking to take away from their critically important strength by trying to trade away some of their starting pitching in a further attempt to shed payroll! The Brewers spent more money than they did, and by the way, they are going to the playoffs!
One might point out that those payrolls are pretty good given the franchise’s track record for stinginess. That is not completely unfair, but it is also not the right way to look at this. The league has never been more profitable. While it is difficult to pinpoint exactly how much the three members of the Dolan ownership group is worth, I believe it is safe speculate that it is in the billions, possibly more than $2 billion.
Paul Dolan gave an infamous interview with Zack Meisel of The Athletic in-late March. In it, Dolan claimed that the team has lost money more years than not. That is a highly suspicious claim, and one that is easy to be deceptive of since teams are not required to open their books to the public. On top of making a claim that nobody should accept without proof (i.e. open the books), he brazenly implied that fan favorite Francisco Lindor is as good as gone after his rookie contract ends in 2021.
You know what happened this season. The rotation was decimated by injuries. Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger pitched like aces, but Corey Kluber made only seven starts, and Carlos Carrasco made only 12 starts due to a shocking leukemia diagnosis (get well soon, Cookie). Trevor Bauer regressed to an average pitcher before he got traded, and that is when he was not being a terrible teammate who behaves like a petulant child.
Bringing back Carlos Santana who then had the best season of his career was great, but the Cleveland offense took a major step back compared to last year. Ramírez was inexplicably one of the worst hitters in baseball for the first half of the year before returning to his MVP form in the second half. Even Lindor took a step back offensively with a .334 OBP compared to a .352 OBP last year.
The outfield was a dumpster fire, tying with the Mariners for the sixth-worst offense in baseball. The thing is that everyone saw that coming, yet ownership refused to let the organization do anything about it during the winter. They declined to even extend a qualifying offer to Brantley, who hit .311/.372/.502 over 634 PA and was worth 4.5 WAR for the Astros.
Roberto Pérez did well this season, but his backup Kevin Plawecki did not. Yasmani Grandal, on the other hand, had a great season with the Brewers on a one-year deal. Having him be the starting catcher with Pérez as the backup would have added a few wins to this team. Josh Donaldson, also on a one-year deal, hit .259/.379/.521 and was worth 6.1 WAR. DJ LeMahieu had a 135 wRC+ and also had 6.1 WAR. He is making $12 million this year. Any one of these players could have been enough of a difference maker to put the Cleveland in the playoffs. All three of them could have put them in contention for the division, and I will believe that the Dolans absolutely could have afforded that unless they are able to prove otherwise by opening their books.
As I alluded to earlier, Cleveland’s 90+ wins is inflated by the quality of competition they faced. It was not quite as bad as last year, but the White Sox barely cracked 70 wins, the Royals won fewer than 60, and the Tigers were especially putrid with fewer than 50 wins. Cleveland was 18-1 against the Tigers! Against the other two teams, they were just 20-18. This team easily could have finished no more than a few games over .500 in a better division.
Cleveland has not won a World Series since 1948. The Dolans don’t care. This team has missed the playoffs and has serious issues that need addressing. The Dolans don’t care. They could address these problems by spending money that will not affect the Dolan’s quality of life one iota. The Dolans don’t care. They will keep rolling out the same false narratives and straw man arguments as to why they will not spend.
The Dolans are worth billions of dollars and the team is valued at $1.2 billion. That’s all they care about. They are not much different than former Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, as this franchise is clearly nothing more than an annuity to them. The fans deserve better, Cleveland deserves better. The Dolans should sell the team so they can cash out on their farcical ownership and hand over the reigns to an owner that actually cares about putting together a winning team.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.