Residents of Goodyear, Ariz., may have been surprised last week when a group of high-profile sluggers and recognizable names disguised as Cleveland Indians descended at the Tribe’s spring training facility.
And while a mirage in the desert isn’t an uncommon occurrence, the sight of Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Brett Myers and Mark Reynolds in Indians uniforms isn’t such a delusion.
Nor is the $117 million price tag that came with the free agent group.
Whether Indians president and owner Paul Dolan has finally become aware of the long-held disenchantment on the part of fans longing to no longer be a farm team for the league’s big fish, or he is simply parlaying the estimated $230 million he sold the Indians’ TV rights for, it is long overdue.
For the first time since the early 2000s, the Indians’ front office seemed willing to do what it takes to win. This means no more talk of the constraints of being in a small-market, no more relying on castoffs and has-beens.
The Indians have instead seemingly adopted a team in the tradition of legendary Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis: “Just win, baby.”
It’s a far cry from the “We’ll spend when we contend” line the brass fed us ad nauseum while they were trading away the likes of perennial all-stars and Cy Young winners in back-to-back seasons.
Whether this spending splurge is just a ploy to get fans back in the seats — the Indians ranked second-to-last in attendance, averaging just less than 20,000 fans per game last season — remains to be seen.
But it’s already a step in the right direction, giving reason to believe the owners’ intentions are in the right place. Instead of fielding a futile lineup and expecting to clean up through the league’s revenue sharing rule, the Dolans have made a conscious decision to try to make bank the old-fashioned way: winning.
Spend money to make money.
And so far it’s paid off. Tribe officials said last week they sold more season ticket packages in one day than they usually do in an entire offseason month.
If the front office does its job — which it has — and the fans do their job — which they are — that only leaves the most important cog in the system to do theirs.
Chris Perez, the outspoken flame-thrower who had been critical of the front office’s frugality in the past, summed it up best: “It seems like this year there are no excuses.”
If there was an offseason championship, Cleveland would have its first title since 1964. Unfortunately, there is no such thing, something we should remember after witnessing what happened to the Florida Marlins a season ago.
If the spending experiment should miserably fail, the Dolans could revert to their old ways of being incentivized to lose and receiving a big check signed by Bud Selig for it. After all, it is a business for them.
But if they want to make money and see Jacobs, er, Progressive Field rocking like its 1995, hopefully what began in Goodyear becomes an even better one.
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