The Disappointment Zone

Musings from a Cleveland sports fan

A tangential Cleveland sports post

Posted by disappointmentzone on 7 September 2006

Back in December I read an interesting article on Slate.com about the Florida Marlins, who had just traded away practically every piece of their team, much to the chagrin of the 83 Marlins fans in south Florida, in an effort to, among other things, slash their payroll. Not only would the Marlins be saving roughly $55 million, the trades would also give the team the youngest and most inexperienced group of players in the majors, if not the worst team as well. Or so Marlins fans thought.

Then last night Anibel Sanchez pitched the first no-hitter since 2004, bringing to an end the longest streak in history without a no-hitter while simultaneously bringing the Marlins to within three games of the NL wild card. Don’t look now but Florida plays Philadelphia 10 more times this season, including the last three games of the season, all at home, and the Reds three times, those games also at home. San Diego has the wild card lead, but don’t count out those pesky Florida Marlins.

And how did the Marlins acquire Sanchez, who is 7-2 with a 2.89 ERA? In last season’s fire sale of players, the Marlins traded Josh Beckett–14-10, 5.11 ERA–(and Lowell) to the Red Sox for a slew of players, including Sanchez. So far that trade was worked out fairly well for the Marlins. It has been said that pitching wins in the playoffs. If that’s the case the NL has to be concerned about the Marlins.

To turn this foray back towards Cleveland sports, in the article the author mentions the Cleveland Indians’ 2002 fire sale, which brought Hafner, Sizemore, Lee, and Crisp to the team. A lot of fans were unhappy in 2002–bye bye, Thome–and those same fans might be unhappy now, given the performance of the 2006 Indians, but no one can argue that Hafner and Sizemore (and to a lesser extent Lee) have not been extremely important parts of the Indians’ resurgence. If Andy Marte develops into an everyday 3B with a good glove–and by all indications he’s capable of manning the hot corner with the best of them–then acquiring Crisp and then dealing him will have been another savvy move made possible by the fire sale in 2002. And if Lee learns how not to implode in the fifth inning, then he’ll be a solid third starter on a team loaded with starting pitchers.

This off season the Indians are going to spend a lot of money, or so the front office has said. Bloggers and sportswriters have estimated that the team could have as much as $25 million to spend on new players and contracts. The free agent market isn’t shaping up to be that wonderful, but there is a lot of pressure on the front office to make the 2007 Indians more like the 2005 Indians and less like the 2006 Indians. In other words, to make the 2007 team a playoff team. A number of fans–I know at least four–think that the key to the Indians’ success next year (and, for that matter, in previous years) rests on Dolan’s willingness to spend money to build a playoff team. If he opens his pockets and gives Mark Shapiro his debit card then Indians can buy those last pieces that’ll solve the problem of the Indians’ playoff drought, or so the thinking goes. $10 million could get us a power-hitting corner outfielder–hey, Cliff Floyd and Barry Bonds are available!–and a few more million could get us a second basemen–hey, Ronnie Belliard and Craig Biggio will be looking for work!–but will spending all that money really be worth it? Are the Indians really better off following the New York Yankees’ model for baseball success, acquiring pricey free agents who are all on the back nine of their careers and hoping that one or two pan out?

I don’t think so.

That the Indians have money to spend doesn’t mean the Indians should spend money. In 2006 team payroll explains about 24% of winning percentage. This is about average. Money doesn’t go nearly as far as people tend to think. Sure, the Yankees are in first place in the AL East, but who’s leading the team to the playoffs? Sheffield? Johnson? Pavano? Wright? Rodriguez? Matsui? No, it’s some guy named Wang. Then there is Minnesota, Oakland, and Detroit, none of which rank in the top 10 in payroll. What about the MVP race? Ryan Howard is the front runner in the NL. He’s playing every day because the Phillies traded Jim Thome, who’s having a nice season, yes, but who’s also old and expensive. In the AL there is Joe Mauer, for a while Liriano was on that list, and Hafner and Sizemore ought to be on it. Jeter will win it, but there are strong cases to be made for a number of young guys. The Yankees haven’t won a World Series this decade and part of the reason is its front office.

To truncate myself, I just want to reiterate that just because the Indians have money to spend doesn’t mean the Indians should spend money. A big free agent signing might put people in the seats of Brand Name Field next April, but the only way fans will keep coming to games in July, August, September, and October is if the team is winning. Wanton spending will not necessarily bring the Indians any closer to the playoffs. If the players aren’t there this off season Shapiro should stuff Dolan’s money in a back account, let the interest accrue, and then spend it in 2008. If Shapiro needs any reminders, he can just look across the street at the Cavs, who now owe Ilgauskas, Hughes, Marshall, and Jones about 4 trillion dollars all because the team had some cash last sumer.

It’s not cheap, it’s smart. Look at the Marlins. They’ve won two damn World Series titles following this strategy.

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2 Responses to “A tangential Cleveland sports post”

  1. Josh said

    The Marlins spent a lot of money on free agents the year they won that first WS and the year prior.

    Bonilla, Sheffield, Alou, Devon White, Daulton, Kevin Brown, Leiter all were big money free agents or costly veterans acquired in a trade.

    I do however agree with your premise that they don’t necessarily need to spend truckloads to win. The Twins spent money this summer but it was efficent and only done at a few positions. I like the example of the most recent Marlins championship team which added I-Rod and Urbina to fill needs but also had a ton of homegrown or cheaply found talent like Cabrera, Willis, Beckett, Lowell, Lee, etc.

    I don’t follow the Indians as closely as you so you’ll know way better then I but it seems like the first thing they need to do is shore up their infield fielding. Everytime I watch the infield fails to make plays. They can start by moving Martinez to 1b and getting a solid catcher. I

  2. Martinez is having a poor year throwing out runners, but this doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it does other people. His value is in his bat as a catcher. As a 1B (even if you adjust for position) he’d probably be about average. Stolen bases are important, but not as important as people think. Martinez has done better recently, and only this season has his defense really been called into question.

    But you are right about the infield defense. Marte needs to keep improving, Peralta has had a much better second half of the season, but the 2B situation is dire, unless Trevor Crowe makes huge leaps in the offseason on defense (Crowe is a very exciting minor-league player who switched from OF to 2B about three weeks ago) or Astro-cab (very good defensive middle infielder in AAA) learns how to hit, although neither of these guys will likely start the year in Cleveland, and Astro-cab is probably two years away.

    Shoppach has proven himself to be a solid catcher. He has a rocket for an arm and hits for power. But Ryan Garko could develop into a solid 1B. If he does the team should go with Garko rather than Martinez (younger, cheaper).

    The possible iterations of infield players is large for the corners and small for the middle. I hope things get worked out this offseason.

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