Top seven reasons why the Indians’ decision to dump players and slash payroll was ill-advised, ill-conceived and just plain wrong:
- TERRIBLE TIMING: Teams work years to create a window of opportunity to win a championship. There were times over the last 50 years when the Indians went decades without such a window. They are squarely in the middle of one now, one that was achieved through years of astute trades, good drafting, and quality player development.
It’s a window that should not be prematurely amended, but exploited to its fullest. To do anything less cheats the organization of its prior efforts.
- IT SENDS THE WRONG MESSAGE: Teams that have a window of opportunity to win a championship should remain in full go-for-it mode until they either win it all or their window closes due to unforeseen, unpreventable reasons, such as a rash of major injuries to key players or the defection through free agency of players who are either unhappy or seeking grossly outrageous contracts.
None of the above applied to the Indians when ownership decided to slash the team payroll. Indians officials said over the winter that their goal was to remain competitive while adding young players for the future. That almost never works, and it shouldn’t work, because those are two incompatible agendas.
You’re either all-in trying to win or you’re not. To try to have it both ways is robbing Peter to pay Paul. Worse yet is the message it sends to the clubhouse: “Sorry if we can’t add to, or even maintain the team we had, but we’re trying to save money and add some pieces for the future.”
Good luck selling that to the veterans.
- WAIT A YEAR AND THE “PROBLEM” FIXES ITSELF: The Indians were unnecessarily proactive. The big salaries that scared them were going to take care of themselves. Three players they traded, Edwin Encarnacion, Yonder Alonso and Yan Gomes, are making a combined $36.6 million this year, but all three players are in the last year of their contracts.
Had the Indians kept all three, for just one more window-of-opportunity year, they would have had a legitimate 30-homer, 100-RBIs cleanup hitter, an All-Star catcher and a 20-homer first baseman. With the possibility of winning a World Series, why not keep all three, see what happens and then let them walk after the season?
The Indians are also probably going to trade Trevor Bauer after this season — if not sooner — because of his escalating, arbitration-fixed salary. Corey Kluber’s contract expires after this season. The Indians do have club options for two more years, but it’s their call, not Kluber’s, on how much longer that partnership continues.
Why not keep it together one more year? Then, with the expiring contracts of Encarnacion, Alonso and Gomes, plus the possibility, if the ballclub so chose, of trading Kluber and Bauer, there’s a potential savings of $66 million on next year’s payroll.
The time to think about the future is when the window of opportunity for a championship has been expired, which it most certainly had not when ownership decided to start throwing deck chairs overboard.
- THE POST-MICHAEL BRANTLEY OUTFIELD WAS DOOMED TO BE A DISASTER: And it has been. It’s by far the worst outfield in the league. One of the most loyal, respected leaders the Indians have ever had, and still at his professional peak, Brantley surely would have re-signed with the Indians had they matched Houston’s relatively modest two-year $32 million deal.
The Indians failed to even make a qualifying offer (one-year, $17.9 million), apparently because they were afraid Brantley would accept it. As a result, the Indians received no draft choice as compensation for Brantley signing with Houston. That flies in the face of Cleveland’s own offseason objective of winning the AL Central again, while acquiring players for the future. The Brantley decision seriously hampers the organization’s ability to do either.
- THE ALL-STAR GAME IS IN CLEVELAND: Note to teams hosting future All-Star games: when trying to execute a difficult, unnecessary, unpopular, payroll-slashing, roster-downsizing maneuver, it’s better not to do so in a season in which the baseball universe, and the attendant national spotlight, will be descending on your city for a week in the middle of the summer.
- THE JOSE RAMIREZ FACTOR: He hit .208 after the All-Star break last year and was hardly a sure thing offensively going into the 2019 season. Sure enough, say hello to .197. The Indians’ offense would still be bad even with vintage Ramirez. Without Ramirez’s bat, not addressing the outfield’s creampuff offense is more inexcusable still.
- ENJOY HIM: When you’ve got a future Hall of Fame shortstop for only a finite number of years, you owe it to yourself, almost as much as you owe it to him, to go all out to win a championship every year he’s here.