Corner of Carnegie & Ontario: Owners,GMs & fans,Oh my!
By Jim Pete
September 8, 2012
Why can’t the Larry Dolans’ Cleveland Indians compete with Mike Ilitch’s Detroit Tigers?
"Different owners, it comes down to that. They (the Tigers) are spending money. He (Ilitch) wants to win. Even when the economy was down (in Detroit), he spent money. He's got a team to show for it. You get what you pay for in baseball. Sometimes you don't. But most of the time you do."
Why is Chris Antonetti’s job in jeopardy?
"You can't miss. You have to be right. That's why I say it's not just ownership. They don't make the trades. It's the GMs. It goes hand in hand. The GMs can only spend the money the owners give them, but they pick who they spend it on or who they don't. They pick. The owners don't pick. Josh Willingham would look great in this lineup. They didn't want to (pony) up for that last year. … That's the decision they make, and this is the bed we're laying in."
Why is Chris Perez likely going to be traded?
Before I answer that, the quotes from above were clearly the comments made by the Tribe’s mercurial closer, Chris Perez. Those very same quotes could have come directly from this column, as I’ve been saying the very same things over the past few months when discussing this team’s future. I don’t have to tell you which side of the coin that I fall with regards to the Indians current state, and why they are where they are.
Chris Perez clearly isn’t afraid to speak his mind, and I clearly agree with him with regards to his statements earlier this week. The Dolans don’t spend as much money, and Chris Antonetti has had too many misses.
Of course, matters are much more complicated than Perez makes them out to be. Yes, there are similarities between Detroit and Cleveland, but there are a vast amount of differences there as well.
Mike Illitch, the owner of the Detroit Tigers, is the owner of Little Caesars Pizza, and has about two billion dollars at his disposal. Larry Dolan, the brother of billionaire Charles Dolan, doesn’t have that kind of capital. Too often, people think that both Dolans are pulling money from the same pool. Charles Dolan started HBO, and essentially traded HBO for Cablevision. Larry, while owning stock in the “family business,” does not. He was an attorney, and while he was a millionaire attorney, Larry Dolan is NOT a billionaire. Not by a longshot.
Remember, Dolan made a push to buy the expansion Cleveland Browns, but was rebuked because his net worth wasn’t deemed adequate to own and operate an NFL team. You could make a case that there’s one of the major differences between Major League Baseball and the National Football League. He then moved right over to the Indians, and purchased the team for a then record $320 million. Now I’m not saying that Dolan is broke. He’s far from that. But it’s fairly clear that Michael Illitch handles his team like a toy that a billionaire owner has at his disposal. Dolan handles his team like a business. That may be a little unfair to Illitch, but the point is clear. Illitch will do whatever it takes to win, because he can afford it. Dolan can’t.
Another thing to keep in mind is that while Detroit and Cleveland may have many visible similarities with regards to economics right now, that’s really where it ends. First and foremost, Detroit has always been a Tigers sort of town. The Lions, while relevant now, haven’t been in years. Illitch has been a steward of sorts for the city of Detroit, with his stadium remaining a beacon of finance in a city that has been decimated by a poor economy. The Indians are exactly the opposite. While I don’t buy the assertion that many make that the Indians can NEVER draw well again, there’s NO DOUBT that the town has been the centrifuge for the Browns. There’s no intimate feel towards the Indians that the city of Detroit feels towards its Tigers.
And I have to tell you…it’s laughable that there are people comparing the two markets. The Tigers and the Indians DO NOT share a similar market.
The major difference is the T.V. market, and that’s where the real difference is. The Tigers aren’t a top ten market, but they are close at 12. The Indians are much further down the list at 21. History has really shrunk the Tribe’s market. While the Indians were bad for decades, the Tigers to the North, the Reds to their Southwest, and the Pirates to the East were busy playing good baseball. Roots were built, and while the 90’s Indians likely put a dent in that, baseball is as much a family business for fans, as the Dolans apparently are looking at the Indians. The Indians are about as regional a market as you get.
The similarities of the two cities shouldn’t be overlooked. Detroit and Cleveland are clearly similar types of cities, getting hit hard by a tough economic recovery. I don’t want to oversimplify this by any stretch, but I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that Detroit has been hit harder. Regardless, to say that either city has been thriving over the past decade would be a vast overstatement. Through it all, each city could be considered a proud, blue-collar town.
It’s not complicated. It’s trust. The Detroit fans trust their owner to do whatever it takes to make their team better. Illitch clearly wants to win a championship at all cost, and has the means to do it.
The Dolans don’t have anyone’s trust, and Chris Antonetti is either an extension of that, or the cause. The Indians have been on the verge of doing damage a few times since the Dolans have purchased this team, and in each case, they didn’t make the final push to take the team over the edge. This culminated in the 2011/2012 season, when the Indians failed to capitalize on the “all-in” mentality that Antonetti prescribed to when he dealt for Ubaldo Jimenez.
The Indians failings have been the topic of conversation here for the past month, and I’m certainly not going to rehash it all again. What I will say that had the Indians taken a risk and made a move for a guy like Josh Willingham after pulling off the controversial Jimenez deal, it would have sent a message to the fans, and perhaps to the league that they were willing to actually go “all in,” and not just say it.
In the end, would the Indians have been a winner because of that deal this season? Likely not. There’s no way that this team’s pitching staff would have held up to a pennant run. But this is a solid case where mental is more important than metrics. You begin to build a culture in which fans and players start to take an organization serious. It takes time, and it takes some cash. The Ubaldo Jimenez deal was folly from the start…but as a part of a management team trying to show its fanbase, its team and the league that they would do whatever it took to win, it makes sense.
To do nothing after that deal multiplies the error in the move to begin with. Not only was it an idiotic move for a pitcher that seems to be on the downswing, but now it’s an idiotic move in isolation. Now it makes no sense. They clearly weren’t “all-in.” The move makes no sense at all.
…and there goes the trust…
The Tigers, who spent much of the beginning of the season below the Indians, were in the top ten of attendance. The Indians, who spent much of the beginning of the season above the Tigers, were in the bottom five of attendance.
Their fans know that even if they are struggling, they have a system in place in which the owner, the GM and the manager are all going to do whatever it takes to win. They sent the farm to get Miguel Cabrera, and took on players that were gambles with that deal to get him. It paid off. They went after pitching during the trade deadline, as did the Tribe, and had to give up less to do it. They then made a massive splash by getting Prince Fielder this offseason. The dealt more prospects for Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez, and were in play on several other deals.
And to top it all off, the Tigers are able to keep enough young players (Andy Dirks, Rick Porcello, Drew Smyly)and make deals for others to have depth. Remember, this team traded a major player in Curtis Granderson, but received Max Scherzer and Austin Jackson in that deal. They are not an old team. Their starting line-up has two 30-year-olds, and only one of them is a major piece, ironically enough, former Tribe-hand Jhonny Peralta, who’s 30. Their rotation is led by a 29-year-old Justin Verlander, their oldest starter. Their pen has age, but you can make a case that that’s the most transitional part of any team. Sanchez is only 28. Not only have the Tigers made moves, but they’ve been able to capitalize on their stars to get players that are both young, and substantial.
Yes, they can make mistakes, but that’s what MLB ownership like Illitch gives the Tigers…the ability to take risks. You can make a case that the Dolans would do better in a system like the NFL that has a hard cap. Why? They are playing under the same conditions as everyone else. This major league system isn’t built for this ownership group, in this city. There’s no revenue stream, so to run a good business model, the Dolans have to be “cheap.” I both understand, and hate them for it. It’s not their fault, and is their fault at the same time.
The Dolans force Antonetti to be perfect…but because of that small margin of error, create a mentality of job security for Mark Shapiro and Antonetti. It’s that old-school belief system that really doesn’t work in a market like Cleveland at this point. Sure, you can blame baseball’s unbalanced system if you want to, and you’d be right, but it is what it is, and the Dolan’s just can’t play in this current system. On top of that, they allow their management team allowances…clearly…that let them make mistakes in deals and movement, and keep their jobs. They message that’s sent is clear to upper management is clear…urgency is gone, because nothing is at risk.
The message sent to the fans? Management may or may not do anything, and will likely get promoted for whatever they do, regardless. The team suffers, and the fanbase is left without any trust that anything good will ever happen.
In other words, Detroit and Cleveland couldn’t be further from similar.
Which brings me back to Chris Perez.
He speaks the truth, I’ll give him that. But, you can make a case that his statement this past week go directly against his statements earlier this season, when he commented on the Indians’ fans for not showing up to ballgames.
Part of the reason they don’t show up to games is the fact that ownership and the front office don’t do what it takes to win. He was right in both cases, but the contradiction is clear.
Again, this isn’t a black-and-white issue, and one that I’m sure I’ll delve into deeper during this sieve of a baseball season.
So will Chris Perez be traded?
Well, he’s slammed the fans (and was applauded for it), and slammed the owners (and was applauded for it), and slammed the GM (and was applauded for it). The one area he has avoided, is slamming his fellow teammates. If he really wants out of dodge, that’s the one route he can take to assure it.
But the Indians shouldn’t trade Perez because he’s a malcontent. They should deal him because they have depth at the position.
The bullpen is a great place to have depth, but it’s also arguably the easiest place to augment from season-to-season. While I don’t have a short memory with regards to the Indians’ closer situations of the past, I could easily see Vinnie Pestano or Cody Allen in that role, as well as a guy like Nick Hagadone. Since Perez has two years of control, and since he’ll likely cost the Tribe in the realm of 7 ½ million, he’s clearly on the table. But, you don’t deal him unless he brings a palpable major-league ready replacement, or a prospect too good to pass up. Cleveland fans shouldn’t be too quick to get rid of a closer, when it took several years to get one worthwhile.
Even with Pestano and Allen and Hagadone (and others) in the system, do you overturn the applecart of the one part of the team that is relatively stable (other than with regards to the mouth)? It’s not as easy as some make it out to be.
As per Perez and his mouth? He’s a closer. I’ve wanted one that could shut down teams for years, and most often what comes with it is eccentricities. I’m fine with him blowing steam to the media. Unless you are Mariano Rivera, this is par for the course.
So, until he slams his teammates, and until they are offered some outrageous deal, you keep Perez…period.
Of course, do you trust the Perez-slammed Antonetti to do the right thing?
Ahhh, what a web we weave. Why couldn’t we be fans of a team that’s a lot more simple…
Congrats go out to Russ Canzler, who lit up the skies yesterday with his first home run, and a three-hit ballgame. Also, a welcome back to David Huff, who looked awesome in relief for the Tribe, after struggling all season in Columbus, after starting the year off injured.
But, it’s laughable to think that either are long-term solutions at this point. Even if a guy like Canzler puts something together down the stretch that makes him look like Babe Ruth, the realities are that he’s just not that type of player. Nor is Huff.
But, you COULD make a case that Canzler would have been a better option in Cleveland that Aaron Freakin’ Cunningham. Is there even any doubt?
This is exactly the kind of mentality that makes me questions guys like Manny Acta and Chris Antonetti. Cunningham was pawned off to the Tribe for a quality piece like Cory Burns. No, Burns isn’t going to be a star, but in ten games with the Padres, he’s been a solid part of their bullpen. He’s given up four earned runs in ten appearances, but three of them were in his second appearance, and the other was in his last appearance.
I’d rather have Ryan Canzler all year long as a right-handed stick, and Cory Burns as a pen option, than Aaron Freakin’ Cunningham.
As per Huff, he shouldn’t be a factor for this team at this point. There are other options in Columbus and Cleveland that are more intriguing…which really doesn’t say much for Huff at this point. Still, if he really performs down the stretch, it’s not like our pitching staff is overqualified…but Huff really has to perform.
Have a fantastic weekend…everybody!!
Jim is currently the co-site editor, the ATF/Carolina Mudcats/Indians/General Site Columnist, and the co-host of IPI's weekly online radio show, Smoke Signals. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IPI, or contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Although it may not be fair to Acta, I think he has to go as well. The mess has to be cleaned up and he has managed two years in a row where his team collapsed totally in the second half. He may have had bad hands but, in the end, you win or lose and he has not been a managerial winner anywhere.
I didn't really think Cunningham was worth much but he filled a hole that Canzler could not. I wish they would play Neal who might cut it as a 4th OF rather than Canzler but maybe they think that Canzler can DH. Just speculation at this point.
Big question for me is "can the Indians replace these guys with anything better"? Not sure the answer is yes given the issues with Cleveland baseball.