It will be no easy task for the Indians to win back the fans whose disenchantment crested with the trades last week of Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez.
General Manager Mark Shapiro took his turn in facing media questions about the deals and Thursday, club president Paul Dolan, son of owner Larry Dolan, made the case for jettisoning the two impact players now rather than waiting a year, when they will be free agents.
Dolan also explained the dilemma that the Northeast Ohio market finds itself in, and the financial limitations forced on the team by a region that felt the effects of economic decline long before the current recession.
‘‘As far back as 2001,’’ Dolan said, then added with a smile, ‘‘When we bought the team.’’
Timing has not been an ally of the Dolans.
They purchased the team from the late Dick Jacobs for $423 million, when the club reached peak value (In 2008, Forbes Magazine estimated the Tribe's worth at $417 million).
And Cy Young Award winner and staff ace CC Sabathia's free-agent season of 2008 coincided with the Yankees needing a star pitcher, dropping $90 million in payroll and moving into a new, max-revenue-generating ballpark, leaving no doubt which team would sign Sabathia for a whopping $161 million.
Dolan explained to a small gathering of reporters Thursday that Shapiro had little choice but to deal away Lee and Martinez.
‘‘It started with a recognition that (after a certain point), we were not going to compete this year, and this would have an effect on next year,’’ Dolan said.‘‘We advised Mark that we could not add to the team, but that we would keep it together (in 2010).
‘‘But if we didn't succeed next year, it would have a negative impact on the team for years to come. Now, we have a new infusion of talent and some added flexibility (ridding the club of $16 million owed to Lee and Martinez next year).’’
Dolan understands why the fans are angry, but he believes the future is brighter because of Shapiro's recent moves.
‘‘I know the fans are not happy with us now, but they would be more unhappy in years to come if we hadn't done this,’’ he said. ‘‘We have to look to 2010, 2011 and beyond, even to 2012 and 2013.’’
Dolan doesn't know when the team will be in a position to contend for the postseason again, but he is banking on the fact that the 11 prospects -- mostly pitchers -- acquired in the past six weeks, coupled with several promising position players -- Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana, Luis Valbuena, Nick Weglarz and others -- will enable the Indians to turn around their fortunes sooner rather than later.
Dolan expects the club to lose $16 million this year (‘‘As we sit here now’’) and a lesser amount next season.
‘‘We don't expect our losses to be as great next year,’’ he said. ‘‘And we could have some financial flexibility as soon as 2010.’’
However, Dolan is not promising to spend money for players next season, when it appears the payroll will drop from $81.5 million to an estimated $59 million or less.
How will the $16 million loss be made up?
‘‘It's a combination of borrowing more money and an infusion of (owners') cash into the team,’’ Dolan said. ‘‘We'll probably do both over the next couple of years.’’
Again addressing the disgruntled fan base, Dolan said, ‘‘We were going to see a downward trend (in ticket sales) whether we did something or not. What we did exacerbated the problem, but probably not that much.’’
Dolan discussed the possibility of making staff changes, including the retention of manager Eric Wedge past this season, but gave no hint how the decision might go.
‘‘You heard from Mark that we would look at everything at the end of the season,’’ he said. ‘‘That will be the case. But you have to examine things in context. We are all disappointed with this year. But you have to look at the whole body of work. In the last four years, we are fifth in wins (in the league), just behind all the major markets.
‘‘If every four or five years we can have a shot at the World Series and contend for the playoffs at other times, that's as good as it gets for a team in this type of market.’’
What about the job Wedge has done?
‘‘Eric and his staff have achieved a lot here,’’ Dolan said. ‘‘The fans have a tendency to forget that. He took what amounts to an expansion team and turned it into a competitive club. We haven't been successful the last few years, and I know the fans sometimes want to hear and see a different approach. So we have to balance all of that.’’
Shapiro will not made the call to keep or discard Wedge on his own.
‘‘That clearly is a decision ownership will have input in,’’ he said.
Some fans have lobbied the Dolans to get rid of the club, but don't look for that to happen.
‘‘I get the suggestion to sell the team a few times a day from fans,’’ Dolan said, smiling. ‘‘But we have not changed our plan in any way in regards to (owning) the team.’’
Dolan did say that he was not opposed to taking on minority investors, but that he hasn't actively looked for anyone to put money into the team.
He also made it clear that the next time a marquee player is primed to reach free agency, the Tribe probably won't be able to keep him.
‘‘Unless the baseball world changes,’’ he said. ‘‘CC was a prime example. There was no chance that the Cleveland Indians or the Milwaukee Brewers or any other team in that market size could sign that kind of an elite free agent.
‘‘That's our reality. We have to operate as effectively as we can within that reality.’’
NEW TERRITORY -- When Jess Todd threw his first pitch Wednesday night, he became the 28th pitcher to appear in an Indians uniform this year.
That puts the Tribe within striking distance of the franchise and American League record for pitchers used in one season, 32, set in 2000.
What are the chances that four more new pitchers will take the mound for the Indians this year? Wedge already said that Carlos Carrasco, acquired in the Cliff Lee deal, probably will be summoned from Triple-A Columbus, and Jake Westbrook is almost certain to return to the rotation after recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery.
That would leave only two to tie the mark.
CONDOLENCES -- Wedge will miss the series opener tonight against the White Sox in Chicago because of the death of his mother-in-law, Carol Kulniszewski, in Lancaster, N.Y., a suburb of Buffalo.
During the All-Star break and the three-game set with the Blue Jays in Toronto last month, Wedge and his wife, Kate, visited her mother, who was ill for several weeks.
The funeral is scheduled for Saturday morning at 10.
Bench coach Jeff Datz will manage the Tribe tonight.
MINOR MOVES -- Left-hander Mike Gosling and right-hander Winston Abreu cleared waivers after being designated for assignment. Gosling accepted an outright assignment to Columbus, and Abreu chose to become a free agent.
OTHER STUFF -- The Tribe won for the fourth time in 43 games when it scores three or fewer runs. ... Asdrubal Cabrera is batting .343 with eight doubles, two triples, three home runs, nine RBI and 14 runs in his past 15 games. ... Travis Hafner, with two hits Thursday, is batting .288 with three doubles, two home runs and 10 RBI in his past 20 games.
FARM FACTS -- Vidal Nuno (3-0, 1.26 ERA) gave up one run and three hits in five innings, as Mahoning Valley beat Tri-City 5-3. Kyle Bellows homered and drove in two runs.