David Richard-US PRESSWIRE

Is It Time for the Dolans to Sell the Indians?


Fans tend to disagree quite a bit when it comes to decisions surrounding their favorite teams. It doesn’t even matter what the topic is or what part of the team it pertains to. If there’s an opinion to be had on something, you’re sure to hear a million of them. After all, that’s what fans do. We think we know what’s best for our teams even at times when we probably don’t.

David Richard-US PRESSWIRE

However, there is one topic of discussion among fans of the Cleveland Indians that seems to draw the unified opinion regardless of age, race, gender, creed, or even political party. The response stirs up so much anger and hatred that one begins to wonder how the situation could ever improve itself enough to reverse everyone’s unified opinion. But what exactly is this topic that gets a Tribe fan’s blood pumping like none other? It’s a pretty simple question, at least on the surface: Should the Dolans sell the Indians?

Ask the average Indians fan about their opinion of the Dolans’ ownership and you’re sure to get the same general sentiment across the board. Most fans can’t stand how they’ve chosen to operate the team, they despise the people put in leadership roles, and they would rather spend their money elsewhere than place another dollar in their pockets. (This isn’t to say that this sentiment is necessarily correct, but there’s no denying its pervasiveness.)

If you think I’m kidding, tune in to any local sports talk show when the topic of the Dolans comes up. Go read the comments in any Tribe forum or Cleveland.com. You can even take a look at this year’s attendance figures. What better way to stick it to ownership than to say, “We don’t believe in you or the product you’re putting on the field” then by simply not showing up? There’s even a new website that popped up last week, www.dolansmustsell.com.

Things have gotten so bad that even the players have begun speaking out against ownership and how they’ve chosen to run the team. Chris Perez’s comments concerning the Dolans and the front office, while completely out of line, echo the ever-growing sentiment of the fans. We see what’s wrong with this team and it drives us crazy from the outside looking in. Imagine actually being on the inside.

But, that dismisses the question. It doesn’t get to the core of the issue. The question isn’t, “Do you want the Dolans to sell the team?” The real question is, “Should they sell the team?” I don’t believe I’m being reactionary or overly subjective when I say yes, they should.

First and foremost, given the recent sale of the Dodgers for over a billion dollars, odds are the Dolans could make a considerable profit off of an investment they overpaid for in the first place. In November of 1999, Larry Dolan purchased the Indians for the hefty sum of $323 million from Dick Jacobs. Given the growth of baseball and inflation over their twelve years of ownership, there’s no reason to think they couldn’t still turn a profit off of their initial investment, even for a smaller-market team.

Forbes currently ranks the Indians as the 26th most valuable franchise in baseball at just over $410 million. (Forbes‘ figures are extremely flawed, but they seem like a reasonable place to start.) Certainly the Dolans aren’t going to ask for sticker price and any single person or investment group desperate enough to buy into Major League Baseball will some premium. That’s how the Dodgers sold for a billion dollars even though they were bankrupt and how the Browns, who are perennial losers and are literally in the Indians’ own backyard, also sold for over a billion dollars. It took the right buyer willing to pay, regardless of the price.

Second, as mentioned earlier, the Dolans’ relationship with the fan base couldn’t be any worse at this point, and they don’t seem to be helping their own cause. Could they try to regain the fans’ trust? Probably, but at this point it probably doesn’t matter. The fans can rattle off example after example of how the leadership of the Dolans has been frustratingly inept from their perspective.

For instance, the Indians cry poor but then generate the most operating income in all of baseball according to Forbes (though again, take that with a grain of salt), thus drawing the ire of the fans. They fail to spend money on obvious areas of need, instead opting for bargain bin deals with washed-up veterans. The Dolans repeatedly trade away top of the line talent such as CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, and Victor Martinez without getting much back in return. And the problems with the development of the minor league system (or rather lack thereof) under the Dolans’ watch has been well documented.

There is also a lack of urgency surrounding the team. Time and time again the Dolans and their braintrust have assured the fans that they would spend wisely and acquire talent in a calculated manner. Then when they were in contention they would make the necessary moves to improve the team and get it over the hump. For two seasons now we have seen the Indians be in contention heading towards the trade deadline and both times the front office has failed to make any helpful moves. Unless you’re of the opinion that the trades for Thomas Neal, Kosuke Fukudome, Brent Lillibridge, and Lars Anderson were impact deals.

David Richard-US PRESSWIRE

In fact, the only power play the Indians have made over the past two seasons was for Ubaldo Jimenez. The best part is it was the one move every national pundit said a team in contention shouldn’t make. Jimenez was described as a clunker, a lemon, and damaged goods. The results of that trade have proved as much.

Now, this season, Paul Dolan has been speaking to the media and essentially providing a vote of confidence for the front office, Manny Acta, and each and every single player. This coming after an improbable 11-game losing streak and in the midst of a nine-game skid. Apparently when you completely collapse and fall out of contention for the second straight year, turn in two of the worst months of baseball in franchise history, trail the Royals within your own division, and are within a few games of the worst record in the American League, a vote of confidence is the perfect thing to do. Weren’t they all saying playoffs or bust this season?

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, the fans feel like they’ve been sold a bill of lies by ownership. They don’t feel like they care enough to put the Indians in a position to compete year in and year out. In an attempt to create a spectacular fan experience, Dollar Dog Nights, ginormous fireworks displays and bobble heads are great, but you know what creates a truly great fan experience? A winning baseball team. That’s something that seems to have escaped the Dolans since taking over.

Since the 2000 season, the Indians have enjoyed back-to-back winning seasons only one time. That was, of course, 2000 and 2001. Their overall record is 1024 wins and 1060 losses, a .491 winning percentage. To make matters worse, they’ve made the playoffs only twice in a 12-year span and one of those times, 2001, was with the remnants of the team the prior owners built. Whereas the Jacobs were able to build a sustainable winning organization over time, the Dolans have been in a constant state of rebuild with only small glimmers of success since taking over.

This isn’t to say the Dolans don’t want to build a winning team and didn’t want to continue the run of success established by the Jacobs. They indicated as much when they took over—after all, they’re Clevelanders themselves. They understand what winning a championship would mean to the city’s fragile psyche. But, thanks to a number of factors outside of their control (the growing power of the large market teams, the struggling Cleveland economy, the return of the Browns) it just hasn’t come to fruition. That makes you wonder if it ever will. And if not, then what’s the point?

So again, should the Dolans sell the Cleveland Indians and cut their losses? The evidence suggests they should. Their overall record since taking over, continually failing to meet expectations, and ever-deteriorating relationship with the fan base say yes. Of course, the one positive in all of this is that the fans still care enough to be angry. If they were apathetic then the Dolans would have an even bigger problem on their hands.

Still, selling a professional sports franchise involves a lot of moving parts including the right timing and having the right parties involved. Until that happens, fans should continue to expect the Dolans to be the figureheads for Indians and the Dolans should continue to expect anger and lackluster attendance unless they build a winner.

As the iconic saying goes, “If you build it… they will come.”

Should the Dolans sell the Indians?

  • Yes (97%, 56 Votes)
  • No (3%, 2 Votes)

Total Voters: 58

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Tags: Cleveland Indians The Dolans

  • Ed Carroll

    I’m sorry if I’m picking a fight here, but I think I need to point out some flaws with this line of thinking.

    1. You can argue that the Dolans SHOULD sell, and you may have a point. But selling the Indians now would be a completely foolish business practice, and the Dolans, if nothing else, have tried to run this team as a business. They don’t spend what they don’t have. Furthermore, NO ONE is going to pay anywhere close to market value for the Indians. Why would anyone? You can argue that the fans will come when the team spends/wins/however you want to qualify it, but the simple fact is they haven’t. Not in 2005 (24th in attendance) or 2007 (21st, while tied for best record in baseball). Not in 2009 (25th, despite a $90 million payroll) or 2011 (24th, in first for half the season). You can blame all kinds of things, but Cleveland hasn’t really held up to its end of the bargain. Fans aren’t coming, So a new owner is supposed to overpay for this team just on the hope that the attendance woes are ALL TIED INTO THE OWNER? Sorry, I don’t buy it. There’s no “white knight” owner to ride in on a chariot and save this team.And Cleveland can probably blame themselves for that.

    2. You mention the Forbes numbers, and while you do provide the disclaimer, they are terribly inflated – not to mention out of date. The team will lose money this year. And unless they have a fire sale, probably next year too. Who would buy this club again?

    3. If you want to blame anyone here, it needs to be the MLB economic system and it’s paper puppet master, Bud Selig. The deck is completely stacked against a team like the Indians. Blame the Dolans for not being rich all you want, but I don’t blame them for not wanting to set a pile of money on fire. They can’t spend what they don’t have. And everyone applauding “bold” moves like Detroit signing Fielder won’t be in years 6-9 of that deal. Other than Hafner’s albatross deal, the team has been smart not to lock itself into insane long-term deals. Unfortunately, the mistakes hinder small-market clubs more. Blame the decay of the farm system, not the lack of splashy FA-signings.

    Sorry, know this is long and may seem like an attack, but I see this line of thinking a lot, and it’s not correct.

    • Steve Kinsella

      Don’t blame the system. That is a cop out. The Rays have proven how to build a franchise in the tough AL East.

      None of the following were top picks: Shields, Hellickson, Moore, and Cobb

      Desmond Jennings was a nice draft pick but first drafted but not signed by the Indians.

      Chris Archer is the next top arm to come through the system and he was originally drafted and dumped by the Indians in the DeRosa deal.

      Ben Zobrist was a player to be named later in a deal.

      Matt Joyce was acquired in a trade for Edwin Jackson.

      Trading for Soriano, Joaquin Benoit, Kyle Farnsworth, and Fernando Rodney are all value signings.

      Point is….through good drafting, good management, and not falling in love with the players you have (Garza, Edwin Jackson, Scott Kazmir, Andy Sonnanstine, Benoit, Soriano, Carl Crawford, Grant Balfour, etc.) you can beat the system.

    • Ed Carroll

      Point is still there, small market clubs have to be perfect in order to win (which the Rays haven’t yet).

    • Michael Berger

      Cleveland isn’t a small market, and the Indians aren’t a small market team.

      Merely from the perspective of television market size (perhaps the most important metric), Cleveland (16th out of 27 markets) is just behind St. Louis (15th).

      A place never described as “small market”.

    • Ed Carroll

      Cleveland is definately a small-market team. Just because it’s large enough to have a MLB team doesn’t discredit that fact. And if TV is your litmus test, look no further than STO’s ratings and you’ll see that those numbers are even smaller.

    • Steve Kinsella

      How have the Rays not won? Because they haven’t won a world series? Making the playoffs 3 out of the past 4 season, only 1 of 4 teams to have 5 years in a row over .500 etc.
      I’ll say it again…don’t blame the system. A first class organization that can compete year in and year out – even when screwing the pooch on free agent signings (Pat Burrell, Carlos Pena), blowing some high draft picks, and playing in the toughest division in baseball is all possible.
      The problem is in the INDIANS model not MLB’s model.