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Arguments around blowing the whole damn thing up

It doesn’t sound like the Indians actually want to do it, but could they put us out of our misery if they do?

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Minnesota Twins Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Additional rumors surfaced regarding the Indians trading away more key players. Earlier today, Matt R. Lyons made the correct assessment:

It’s correct for at least one school of thought, and the one in which most fans are enrolled: The Indians are still a very good team with cost-controlled core talent. As such, they should probably try to divert resources toward winning the World Series before they lose control of said talent. Opinions about the morality of artificially suppressing the wage-earning ability of young players notwithstanding, it’s the “right” thing for the team to do in its current circumstances.

There is another school of thought. The Indians already traded away Corey Kluber, allowed Michael Brantley to depart, and are unlikely to re-sign Jason Kipnis. They may still move Mike Clevinger and Francisco Lindor. So why not trade everybody?

Blow the whole thing up

Yes, this is maniacal. But as a fan, if the Indians are going to do this, could they please just go all out? I don’t want any half-measures here. Trade Clevinger. Trade Lindor. Trade Ramirez. Trade Reyes. Trade Santana. Trade Perez. Just clean house, plan on losing for three seasons, and accumulate “surplus value”.

Nothing says “in it to win it” like “accumulating surplus value”, folks. Plus, with that low payroll, they’d certainly be able to ensure they extract a profit from the team every season. It is a business, after all, as a certain breed of fan likes to shout any time payroll is discussed.

I don’t want this. You don’t want this. But if the team is determined to cut payroll while the best talent in decades takes the field, I’d rather see them incinerate it all at once. Burn it all and burn it quick, instead of tossing water on it and watching the embers cool. We’ve often heard the current strategy of the front office referred to as “retooling on the fly”. That would potentially be a winning strategy if they did it right; a reloading rather than a rebuilding, in which the team is assembled to compete for the division every season without trying to win 100+ games. You might not agree with this strategy, but you can at least understand the logic behind it.

Trading the best shortstop in baseball and two ace-caliber pitchers in one offseason is absolutely not a reloading or a retooling. It’s a retreat. To me, if the Indians do it, they’re signaling that it’s time to pull the window closed. And also put up some plastic to keep the heat in, because by god Jimothy we aren’t trying to heat the neighborhood here.

That sounds painful

...and this is a Cleveland team. It tracks.

But answer this: is it more or less painful than slowly deconstructing the roster? Are there really pieces that the Tribe can get in return today that can contribute today? If there were, I feel like these trades would have already gone down. We’d be looking at the returns saying, “Okay, I see where the strategy is here. It’ll take some time to get used to rooting for these guys, but by June we’ll be cruising in contention and happy.”

If they’re planning on doing it, just do it. Please. I don’t know if I can stand another season where an interesting player in Triple-A is stuck behind twice-discarded thirty-something utility players. Because, you know, the utility player has experience and can contribute his 0.2 WAR over 250 plate appearances right now.

I would rather watch a 70-win team stocked with fun, young, future stars than a 90-win team that flips through a Rube Goldberg machine on the way to the Wild Card game. Why? Because we know that the pieces for a 100-win team are there, if only the Indians would just spend like any other team in baseball.

I understand that baseball “is a business”, but that’s an arms-length defense that deserves serious scrutiny. I can acknowledge that baseball is a business, but in doing so I ask you to acknowledge that the only winning business strategy in owning a baseball team is to sit on a massive asset that is guaranteed to appreciate. It is ideal to keep the budget somewhat in the black while doing so, but any team owner can sustain occasional losses thanks to the promise of a ludicrous payday when they sell. Those numbers make any year-over-year returns nearly pointless to examine.

Let’s demonstrate that in the case of the Dolans. They bought the team for $323 Million in 2000. That amounts to $482 Million in today’s dollars, and the most recent estimate of the team’s value is $1.2 Billion. Anything you can do to accelerate the appreciation of that asset—the franchise—pays massive dividends. You know the best way to increase the value of a franchise, and thereby return on investment? Championships. Case in point: Jim Crane bought the Astros for $465 Million in 2011. The franchise now has an estimated worth of $1.8 Billion.

A marginally better cash flow in 2020 is fine for the year 2020 if that’s how you want to run things. In the long run, though, I’m not even sure that’s the optimal way to run a baseball team “as a business”. I think someone out there would float an owner a loan to cover some short-term losses since they have hundreds of millions of dollars in equity to back it up.

A World Series title is great forever and provides by far the best possible business return thanks to the long-term value it attaches to the team (to say nothing of incremental increases in ticket and merchandise sales). On top of all of that, baseball is a sport that has become a business, and I can’t help but think we’ve all lost sight of that to some extent. Nobody roots for a spreadsheet except for the owners.

I am doing my best here to publicly grapple with what the actual business considerations would be and it doesn’t quite add up for me. And if I’m wrong about that, I’d love to hear a coherent argument that rises above the rabble of twitter users shouting “YOU WOULDN’T RUN A BUSINESS AT A LOSS SO WHY SHOULD THEY”. Most business aren’t explicitly entertainment products. Also, if said business was guaranteed to quintuple in value over the course of a decade, yes, I would run it at an acceptable loss. Isn’t it valid to consider short-term losses as investment toward long-term equity if you can prove that they improve the overall expected return?

So blow it up, sell the team, or go for it. I understand that “lol just win a World Series” isn’t quite actionable advice, but what’s happening now doesn’t suggest a clear strategy at all. I want clarity. If you want to maximize your return on investment in the team, doesn’t it make sense to spend when the team has the best possible chance to win it all since winning a championship has such a dramatic effect on team value? You can’t always win, though, so if you aren’t committed to going for it, burn it down. Give us something fun to watch, but ownership: at least be clear and absolute about the direction you’re taking and what the plan for extracting value from your asset is.

As successful businessmen that must be your primary concern, but I’m not even sure you’re going about it the right way.