GOODYEAR, ARIZ.: Speculation turns into rumor, rumor turns into “fact” and before you know it, a relatively bizarre proposal takes on a life of its own and is adopted as truth.
When it was reported late in the offseason that the Indians had no player under contract past 2012, the speculators went to work in earnest. They theorized that Larry Dolan and his son Paul had purposely rid the Tribe of all its guaranteed contracts as part of a plot to sell the team.
Hey, doesn’t it make sense that if the payroll is cut to the bone, a new owner will have fewer bills to pay, making the club easier to purchase?
It doesn’t take more than a little contemplation to figure out that the opposite is more likely to be true. If a franchise has no players under long-term contract, it probably has few marketable stars that make the team more competitive and attractive to its fans.
If the Dolans really wanted to sell the team — and I don’t think they have any intention of doing so; they like owning a club they grew up rooting for — they would try to build value by adding talented players who would transform the franchise into a contender, which would increase ticket and merchandise sales, attract more sponsor money and lift television ratings.
Isn’t that how sports franchises become more valuable? The Dolans didn’t buy the Indians from Dick Jacobs when the team was down on its luck and bereft of viable players.
The appeal of the team as an investment was its decade-long record of achievement, from winning numerous division championships to making two appearances in the World Series. This was a club that sold out 455 consecutive games. That’s why Jacobs received top dollar.
There was one instance of an owner selling off his team’s assets, then trying to scrounge up a buyer. When Charles Finley decided to dump the Oakland Athletics, he began shedding the franchise’s best players with the intention of selling what was left of a bare-bones operation. Unfortunately for him, Major League Baseball stopped him from gutting the team before he could get too far with the scheme.
Finley was selling players for cash and pocketing the money. In no way does that resemble what the Dolans are doing.
More than likely, the fact that every Indian is employed on a one-year deal is a consequence of two things: Most Tribe players are young and have yet to prove they are worthy of multiyear contracts, and General Manager Chris Antonetti has tried to sign at least two players — Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera — to long-term contracts, but neither has agreed to the idea.
So whether you are Dolan fans or Dolan critics, don’t count on the Indians changing owners any time soon.
On the other hand, anyone out there with tens of millions in extra cash should contact Paul Dolan immediately. No doubt he would welcome a silent investor, someone who wants to indulge in the perks of ownership without calling the shots.
I know. Good luck with that.
Another example of speculation run amok occurred when Antonetti was looking for ways to add players to the club over the winter.
An offhand remark about having depth in the bullpen turned into a proposal — apparently on a sports talk show — that the GM should trade closer Chris Perez and make Vinnie Pestano the guy whose job it is to save games. From there, speculation became rumor then an idea that probably would happen.
No such luck, and it’s doubtful that Antonetti ever entertained the idea of jettisoning Perez. No player on any team is absolutely untouchable, but it’s a matter of degree. The problem with trading Perez is that you might fill one hole — by obtaining a first baseman, outfielder or starting pitcher — only to create another hole.
It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that Pestano could become an effective closer. But there’s no way to know for sure. Fact is he’s been a setup man for only one season, a time span that does not provide enough evidence to determine if he can save games consistently.
But that’s not even the primary issue. If Perez is sent packing and Pestano is elevated to closer, who becomes the Tribe’s setup man? Do I hear, “Who cares?” Wrong response.
It is no less important to have a solid pitcher to hold leads in the eighth inning. If a pitcher blows the lead in the eighth, the closer becomes irrelevant.
Of course, manager Manny Acta has several relievers who had an exceptional year in 2011. So which one would you pick as the successor to Pestano in a setup role?
How about Joe Smith? He was practically flawless last season. There is the problem that as a side-arming right-hander he might be a little too vulnerable to lefties. But how many of those bat in the eighth inning?
Then there’s Tony Sipp and Rafael Perez. Both pitchers performed well most of the time in 2011. Want to give the setup job to either of them (or maybe both; they could share)? You’re not sure, are you?
Maybe it was best to leave well enough alone. If it’s not broke. …. well, you know the rest. No, the Tribe did not find its right-handed bat, but there’s a chance that Kevin Slowey or Derek Lowe (or both) will become the starter they were seeking.
And there’s something about bullpens. Remove one important cog, and it changes the way the entire machine works. The Tribe relief corps was the most proficient and reliable sector of the club last season. Do you really want to mess with it?
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/tribematters. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.