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The Cleveland Perspective

Subject:  hey jerk
To:  Jay
From:  Primo

why dont you answer edna`s question about the turkeys the indians for the 'holiday' season? that's why were a second class organization  because of ownership that is too frugal,the fourth best manager in our division and a GM whose hands are tied to compete for top free agents, and signing our best talent over the years, ie manny,thome,cc and grady and cliff to  come!!

Thank you for writing, Primo.  Sorry you didn't like my answer, but you and I just see the situation differently.  I picked on Edna because her question was not a good question, and it wasn't meant to be a good question.  It was just an excuse to insult the team's ownership and management.  I don't see the Indians as a second-class organization.  I see them as a first-class organization — imperfect, but first-class in both intention and execution in quite a few ways — but they're operating in a lousy competitive situation.

You may call him "too frugal," but since Dolan bought the Indians, he has spent far more of his own money on signing players than Steinbrenner has — and that is a fact.  Mainly because of TV contracts, the Yankees take in nearly $250 million more in revenue than the Indians.  At the same time, there is no salary cap like in the NFL, and there are no maximum salaries as in the NBA.  MLB is just a screwed-up league in this way -- it isn't a level playing field, and the Indians are operating at a severe disadvantage.

Considering that situation, the ownership does many if not all of the best things they can do.  First, they make every effort to run the business side efficiently and creatively, to make as much money as possible to put into the team.  Second, the team basically spends every extra dollar it can on players -- free agents, current player salaries, signing bonuses for the draft and worldwide, and scouting and development generally.  Third -- and this is well documented -- they allow the baseball professionals to do their jobs, without always injecting their own amateur opinions or egos into the process.

The front office, in turn, also has done a good job, as the team has won between 78 and 96 games five years in a row, with an average of 86 wins, one season with the league's best record, and not a single finish lower than third place in the division.  GM Mark Shapiro has been voted Executive of the Year by his peers twice in the last four years, and his top assistants are heavily courted to become GM's of other teams.  This is what a great organization looks like.

As for Wedge, though it would pain many to admit it, he too seems to enjoy broad respect, especially considering he's so much younger than the typical manager.  Wedge was named AL Manager of the Year in 2007 and was the runner-up in 2005.  Do you know how many other AL Central managers have done that?  None.  Leyland and Guillen have each won the award once, but other than in their winning year, neither have ever received even a single first- or second-place vote on a ballot.  Gardenhire has finished second three times, so that's pretty good.  Almost all managers drive their own hometeam fans crazy, and I certainly have my bones to pick with Wedge.  On balance, though, it must be said that he's been playing the hands he's dealt with a pretty high level of skill.

Of course this can all be dismissed by anyone who wants to label me an apologist.  I will not apologize for the Indians.  As a fan, I hold them to a very high standard.  I am happy to see that they at least are aiming high, making efforts to be highly effective and innovative.  As someone who grew up in the Cleveland area in the 70's and 80's, I know very well what an inept and dysfunctional organization looks like, and it has nothing to do with the size of the checks you're writing — just ask the Mariners, or the Mets, or the Rangers — I could go on and on.

Let's take a hypothetical situation.  Let's say that Dolan had a chance to sell the team to another guy, we'll call him Jorge Breinstenner.  Breinstenner promised to double the payroll for the next six years — essentially, he was going to outspend revenues by at least $80 million every year, dumping half a billion dollars of his own personal fortune into trying to win the big one over the next six years.  In addition, his own personal team of lietenants — headquartered in some other town, let's just say Tampa — were going to get closely involved in every aspect of the Indians operation, reporting back to him directly, disrupting the organization's chain of command.

I assume that you would take this deal.  I would not.  I believe the Indians would be less successful under Breinstenner than they will be (and have been) under Dolan.  The rich-but-meddling owner situation does not work for the Dodgers or the Mets, and it would not work here.  It only works for the Yankees (usually) because they don't just spend double, they spend triple — more than a billion dollars over and above the Indians over a six-year period.

Furthermore, the owner who is willing to dump half a billion dollars of his own money into player salaries simply does not exist — it's a fantasy.  Dolan took operating losses of around $40 million in his first few years with the Indians, in an attempt to put an aging powerhouse over the top — adding Chuck Finley, Juan Gonzalez, and Ellis Burks to an already expensive roster.  It didn't work.  In Detroit, ownership has blown through over $100 million over the last few years, and traded half their farm system — it didn't work, and now their franchise is over-budget and stocked with old players, and they don''t have a single player worth a damn on the farm who can help them in the next few years, except maybe one middle-of-the-rotation starter. Their owner, meanwhile, got tired of pouring money into a sinkhole and is slashing payroll.  Every owner has limits, and they are nowhere near enough to materially change the competitive landscape.

In the bigger cities, the owners aren't even spending out of their own pockets, they're just cutting into their massive profits.  You want to be mad at someone, be mad at MLB and the Players Association, who have taken only very tiny steps toward a level playing field.  It is outrageous that the Dodgers get to think about signing Manny and C.C. and we don't — but it certainly isn't Dolan's fault.  Do you think MLB has 20-25 owners who are all "too frugal?"  Or is it really just that the system is screwed up, and unfair to us as the diehard fans?

I don't know if what Dolan's organizaiton is doing is going to work — if we're going to get that championship this year, next year or any time soon.  I do think that they are running a first-class operation.  I do think that they are doing their best to have first-class people running it, and in large measure succeeding.  And I do think that until the whole system changes, their large-scale plan is just about the only thing that even might work.  For all the unfairness in the game, the one thing going for us is that having great scouting, analysis and decision-making is still more important than money.

And that, Primo, is why Edna's question was so stupid.