Can the Dolans shed the 'cheap' label?

Here's how the Dolans can change public perception

James Rapien
March 16, 2019 - 12:18 pm

© Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland, OH (92.3 The Fan) – Indians owner Paul Dolan is facing backlash after the interview he did with Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com.

 “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.”

Plenty of fans reacted on social media asking the Dolans to sell the team. Others have called Indians’ ownership ‘cheap.’ It’s a narrative that isn’t going away anytime soon.

Fans see the best starting rotation in baseball, two great infielders in Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor and wonder why the Indians aren't going ‘all-in’ to win now?

“We have a team that can compete for a World Series title,” Dolan said. “We’ve been in that position for a while, and we have been investing in the team to try to accomplish that. At some point, it becomes unsustainable. Frankly, what we were doing last year was unsustainable. We needed to pull back some, which we did.”

There are only two ways the Dolans are going to shed the ‘cheap’ label. The first one simple: win a World Series. In the Indians’ defense, they were one win away from accomplishing that feat in 2016. Unfortunately getting close to their goal wasn’t enough and it has the City of Cleveland hungrier than ever for a World Series Championship.

The Indians have won three-straight division titles and have been one of the best teams in the American League over the past five years. That success helped raise expectations. Fans aren't satisfied with American League Central champaign celebrations, they want to win a World Series. And they feel, whether it's fair or not, that the Dolans' budget gets in the way of championships. 

Winning is the best way, but it's not the only path to showing fans they aren't 'cheap.' The Dolans could prove it by re-signing Lindor long-term, instead of letting him leave in free agency or trading him before that. 

The majority of fans believe Lindor is going to end up on Boston, New York or Los Angeles. It's hard to blame them. They've seen this time and time again with Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton, CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and others. If the Dolans want to shed the perception that is likely stuck to them forever, then they’ll keep Lindor.

This fan base is worried about its’ star leaving, even though Lindor is under contract for the next three seasons. What does that say about the perception of ownership? No one is giving the Indians a legitimate chance to keep Lindor. Instead of moving on from their best player because of salary, the Indians have an opportunity to prove that they’re willing to spend money in situations that make sense.

Moving on from Lindor, assuming he continues to play like he has over the past three seasons would be a bad move. He isn't Bryce Harper or a past his prime Alex Rodriguez. Investing in Lindor makes sense for any team, even in a small market. He is a star. The City of Cleveland loves him – from his smile, to his style and play on the field.

Lindor is a top-five player in baseball. If the Indians kept him in Cleveland for the next decade, would anyone be able to say ownership was cheap?

Dolan mentions sustainability, which is something every business owner has to take into consideration. Is it sustainable to tell your customers that you aren’t willing to pay market value for one of the top players in the league? Some are going to mention the lack of a salary cap. Others will say that Cleveland is a small market.

The Cincinnati Reds signed Joey Votto to a 10-year, $225 million extension. That contract didn’t prevent the Reds from winning in recent seasons. Bad deals like Homer Bailey and Brandon Phillips did. If the Indians can avoid having multiple bad contracts around Lindor, then they can sustain success while paying him $25-30 million per season. 

The San Diego Padres signed Manny Machado to a 10-year, $300 million deal. They’ve built one of the best minor-league systems in baseball. Spending on a few high-end players and surrounding them with young, controllable talent is a blueprint the Indians should consider.

If the Dolans truly want to shed the ‘cheap’ label, then they have to spend money. It's hard to envision those dollars going to a player or players more valuable than Lindor. They would argue that they’ve spent in recent seasons and that’s fair, but the fan base doesn’t believe. No one thinks Lindor will be around long-term.

The Dolans could silence the critics and hang onto their best player for the next decade. Keeping Lindor is easier said than done, but it may be the Indians' only way of convincing fans that they'll do anything it takes to win.