“The reality is, we lose money almost every year, and we’ve lost a lot the last few years,” Dolan said. “It’s the nature of our business. We’ve owned the team for 20 years and never taken a penny out of it. On the rare times when we make money, we reinvest it in the team.”
The Indians' projected payroll is expected to be $116.7 million in 2019. That's nearly $8 million less than 2017 and close to $16 million shy of what the payroll was on Opening Day last season. The organization didn't exercise Michael Brantley's option in the offseason. They traded Yan Gomes, Edwin Encarnacion and never made a serious run at re-signing Andrew Miller. The roster is filled with holes the veterans left behind.
The Indians didn't replace them with proven commodities. Instead, they're expecting to contend and develop their young players at the same time. The organization hopes Jake Bauers, Greg Allen and Jordan Luplow and others can help the team in 2019 and beyond.
“If the term rebuild is being used around us right now,” said Dolan, “that’s a real mistake.”
The Indians are trying to have their cake and eat it too. It's hard to become younger, cheaper and still contend. It's an even bigger challenge if the organization can't bring in proven commodities to help an inexperienced outfield. No ones ever admitted it publicly, but it's hard to imagine the front office being content with this roster going into this season. Salary constraints have to frustrate Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff.
The organization is taking a risk and it might pay off. The bullpen may be better than everyone expects. Bauers, Allen and Leonys Martin might prove to be a solid starting outfield. Hanley Ramirez could find the fountain of youth and give the Indians a legitimate designated hitter. All of those things are possible, but it's hard to envision every single one of them happening.
Losing Money – Dolan said the Indians are losing money on a yearly basis, which could be true. The Dolans are going to make every penny they invested into the organization and then some, regardless of what they make or lose on a year-to-year basis.
They bought the Indians from Richard Jacobs for $323 million in 2000. Since then, every major professional sports teams value has skyrocketed. They would triple their investment if they sold the team tomorrow. The franchise is worth $1 billion according to Forbes.
Remaining Competitive – The Indians are expected to win the American League Central for a fourth-straight season. They will be competitive, but can they actually contend for a World Series?
“Put me in October with the best starting rotation in baseball and two MVP candidates (Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez),” Dolan said, “and let’s go.”
That sounds great, but the Indians have to get to October baseball first. They're banking on a bunch of unknowns to do so. The plan may work out and heck, the Indians have a shot against anyone with the rotation they have. Unfortunately, fans are left wondering why ownership didn't give the front office the green light to re-tool the roster with proven talent.
Instead of adding a bunch of young, unproven commodities to a team that had "the best starting rotation in baseball and two MVP candidates," why didn't the Indians sign legitimate outfielders and relievers who could give this organization a real chance to compete with the Red Sox, Yankees and Astros?
The answer would involve payroll, but that can't be an excuse. There's only one way the Indians can shake off the criticism from fans, especially after an offseason full of cost-cutting moves – they have to win.
The season starts on Thursday, March 28 in Minnesota against the Twins.