What exactly is the Indians' plan this offseason?
The Tribe certainly shouldn't be a seller, looking to trade players like Justin Masterson or Carlos Santana who could bring a solid return were the team looking to rebuild. The Indians just won 92 games and made the playoffs for the first time in six years. You certainly don't blow up a team like that, not outside Miami anyway.
Ideally, coming off the season they just had, the Indians would be buyers, but while David Murphy was a solid signing, he isn't a major difference-maker, and the team doesn't seem to have been seriously involved with any of the bigger names.
There was some optimism that the new national TV contracts (which will provide each team with an additional ~$25 million a year beginning in 2014) meant the Indians would expand their payroll to something like $95 million, but it's pretty clear that last offseason was the big spree; Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn were signed with the TV money a year before it arrived. The Tribe's payroll looks likely to again fall in the $80-85 million range. Players already under team control will wind up costing almost $80 million once arbitration raises arrive, which means if ownership won't open the purse strings further, any remaining free agent additions will be very minimal.
I understand that the Indians are a business, and that ownership has an operating budget, but this seems like a time when it'd be worthwhile to go over-budget. 2013's success was a surprise, and because few saw it coming, the Indians didn't say much in the way of a ticket sales windfall, as many fans stayed away until very late in the season. That success built up some goodwill though, and by the time Opening Day rolls around, the Browns will have completed another disappointing season and the Cavs will be a couple weeks away from finishing the year among the NBA's basement dwellers again.
Last season's slogan was "This is a Tribe town," and now, for the first time since the Cavs won the 2003 NBA draft lottery and brought Lebron James to town, Cleveland really could belong to the Indians. I hate to think that the team will waste that opportunity by going into 2014 with a starting rotation that looks unlikely to get things done. The Winter Meetings begin Sunday evening, and the front office ought to be given the green light to add salary in order to make moves that will keep fans engaged and improve the team's chances in 2014.
That doesn't mean uber prospect Francisco Lindor should be dealt, but if the right trade possibility turns up, the team should be willing to move other prospects to upgrade the team for next season. I'm not looking for Larry Dolan to compete with MIke Illitch, but an extra $10-12 million this winter could make a big difference next summer, and a big 2014 could send the Indians back to the top of the Lake Erie food chain.
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