By Griffin Olah
October 3, 2019
Griffin is a second-year BGSU undergraduate student from North Ridgeville, Ohio. He is a Sport Management major and a Spanish minor. His primary sports interests are baseball and football, both collegiate and professional, but he is also interested in basketball, MMA, boxing and hockey.
The Cleveland Indians’ 3-year reign over the AL Central has come to an end, and the Tribe has missed the postseason for the first time since 2015. The preseason division favorite finished in second place in the Central and third in the AL Wild Card with a 93-69 record. This season definitely did not go according to plan for anyone involved, but reasons for missing must be analyzed.
Most media attention focuses on shoddy leadership, particularly from owner Paul Dolan, as the primary reason the Tribe sits on the outside looking in on the postseason. Before the season began, Dolan ordered the payroll to be cut. Following an embarrassing sweep in the ALDS at the hands of the Houston Astros (Torres, 2019), this was particularly puzzling. The 2018 iteration of the Indians was flawed for sure, with the top-heavy offense and top of the line rotation carrying the team to 94 wins, but there was no addition over the offseason (Perry, 2019). Following a three team trade of first basemen sluggers with the Rays and Mariners that netted the Indians Carlos Santana and Jake Bauers while losing Yandy Diaz and Edwin Encarnación, the Indians sat quiet for the offseason.
The reasons behind the blame placed on the Dolans vary based on the article, but there are two main ideas. The first is that the Dolans either don’t care to spend or don’t care about the team’s success. Following the Astros’ sweep, the Indians had a window to improve and a few key contributors on the open market, including relievers Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, outfielder Michael Brantley and third baseman Josh Donaldson. All four left in free agency on contracts that the Indians could have afforded if the Dolans opened up their pockets. There is also the infamous comment from Paul Dolan telling fans to “enjoy” Francisco Lindor when asked about resigning him (Meisel, 2019). The other idea is that it is the fault of ownership. This group believes that the Dolans went farther than restricting the resigning of players, they instructed President of Baseball Operations Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff to cut payroll. The Indians “cut more than $15 million from the 2018 Opening Day salary obligations and reversed almost a decade-long trend of year-over-year increases” (Perry, 2019, para. 5), which led to the team not only losing key pieces of the 2018 team, but not being able to add any players at all. The Indians have a creative front office, but they were severely handicapped by the Dolans strategy and plans for the future.
Was this the reason that the team missed the playoffs? Yes, the offseason was flawed- letting Michael Brantley and Yandy Diaz leave was particularly painful for Indians’ fans both before and during their quality seasons- but there is a lot more to the picture than just the Dolans’ unwillingness to spend. The outfield was a serious issue, but one that was addressed by Antonetti and Chernoff. The Indians promoted outfield prospect Oscar Mercado in May, who went on to have a Rookie of the Year caliber season. They swung a major deadline deal with the Reds and Padres that brought in a year of Yasiel Puig and 5 of Franmil Reyes, shoring up the outfield and strengthening the overall lineup.
So, if the off-season concerns were addressed, what was the issue? Injuries. The Indians’ rotation, known across baseball as one of the most formidable in the sport, was decimated. Perennial Cy Young candidate Corey Kluber broke his arm on a comebacker to the mound, second ace Carlos Carrasco was diagnosed with leukemia and missed a significant portion of the season, and surging Mike Clevenger dealt with a back issue that caused him to miss over a month of the season. Jose Ramirez disappeared for the first half and then recaptured his MVP form in the second half, only to break his hamate bone in his right hand and miss the critical end of the season.
Even with all the injuries, the Tribe were still competitive, finishing 8 games behind the surprising Twins and 3 games behind the Rays for the second Wild Card spot. When looking at the season as a whole, where can the blame truly lie? The media puts it on the tight-walleted Dolans, but it should rest on the string of bad injuries. Would Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco give the team 3 more wins over the season? If Jose Ramirez performed to his MVP caliber the first half, could the team have won a few more games? These questions directly impact the win total of the 2019 Indians, possibly even more so than questions surrounding the Dolans’ choices over the offseason. So, in the ultimate question of “Whose fault is it anyway?” The answer rests solely on the unpredictability of baseball and the Indians’ lengthy IL.
Meisel, Z. (2019, March 25). Paul Dolan discusses the dollars and sense behind the Indians’ payroll and Francisco Lindor’s future. The Athletic. Retrieved from https://theathletic.com/884023/2019/03/25/paul-dolan-discusses-the-dollars-and-sense-behind-the-indians-payroll-strategy-and-francisco-lindors-future/
Perry, D. (2019, September 30).The Indians have been eliminated, and it’s mostly the fault of ownership. CBS Sports. Retreived from https://www.cbssports.com/mlb/news/the-indians-have-been-eliminated-and-its-mostly-the-fault-of-ownership/
Torres, L. (2019, September 30). The Dolans don’t care that the Indians missed the playoffs. Beyond the Box Score. Retreived from https://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2019/9/30/20889710/cleveland-indians-ownership-dolan-missed-playoffs-cheap