Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The fire sale from hell

To the remaining Tribe fans who haven't deserted the team after Larry Dolan took it over from Dick Jacobs, the current installment of the yearly fire sale does not come as a shock. Nonetheless, all of us are devastated by this latest round of trades. The CC trade last year was incredibly painful but understandable. CC was heading into free agency and had very honestly made it clear he would go to the highest bidder. Hence, getting something in return for CC before the foregone conclusion of his leaving at the end of the season made sense, even to CC's most ardent supporters. But this year's trades of Cliff Lee and Vicky Martinez are not justified by the same parameters. Both players had team options for next year, at roughly the same salary they're making this year. Why, then, not employ the same strategy as last year? That is, start the year with an intact roster, see if the team will contend, and, if things look bad as the trade deadline approaches, deal the marketable players who are heading into free agency for prospects. I like to think that we the Tribe Faithful understand that the salad days of Jacobs actually trying to field a winning team regardless of personal cost are over. We may be chronically afflicted with collective Sisyphus issues, but we're not hopelessly stupid, so we also realize that these are crummy economic times for everyone. But if Dolan hopes to make any money from his ownership stake in the Indians, he needs to field a competitive team.

Cleveland is a football town, and they'll support the Brownies no matter how putridly inept a team / coaching staff / managerial staff is in place. The attendance records for Browns games provides compelling evidence of this unconditional support. Since their return to the league, the Brownies' record of futility has been astounding, and yet they keep selling out game after game after painfully embarrassing blowout loss to the fucking Steelers game. Neither the Cavs nor the Tribe are granted the same luxury of seemingly unlimited support. The pre-LeBron Cavs were probably a few more lousy seasons away from being relocated (you can't convince me otherwise), and team owner Dan Gilbert has done a remarkable job of following previous owner George Gund's lead and investing oodles of money, time, and effort into building a first-class franchise. Sure, the fact that LeBron has blossomed into the league's best player hasn't hurt, but the point is still valid: unless you own the Brownies, you must spend at least some money to make money. The Cavs regularly sell out home games, and the crowd is enthusiastic and rabid, as it should be. The same scenario played out for the Tribe starting in the mid 90's and continuing into the early part of the current century. The new stadium, coupled with a team that actually started winning and became a perennial contender thanks to several shrewd trades AND lucrative player contracts (bears repeating: LUCRATIVE PLAYER CONTRACTS!!!), resulted in an unprecedented era of baseball success in Cleveland, as witnessed by the remarkable sellout streak of 455 consecutive home games.

If Dolan's only strategy for maintaining a positive bottom line is slashing the payroll, which GM Mark Shapiro has confirmed countless times, then the Tribe are in for a nasty free-fall of perennial rebuilding. Dolan would be better off selling the team to someone who actually has the capital to invest in team improvements and wait for those investments to mature, à la Dick Jacobs. Dolan would also be well-advised to sell the team before the average attendance plummets to the triple digits, something that was quite frequent in the 80's and early 90's. I used to work downtown back then, and can still remember walking to old Municipal stadium after work with friends and/or Fiancée No. 2 (she was a trooper), paying $5 for tickets, and, since the stadium would be practically empty, sitting anywhere we wanted -- even the ushers didn't give a shit back then, and with good reason: those teams were abysmal. I'm sure I speak for the remaining Tribe Faithful (all 13 of us) when I say that a return to those conditions would be nothing short of a catastrophe.

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