Dolans Should Watch Cavs and Learn What Can Be Done With a Little Spending

Last night the Cleveland Cavaliers took much of the sporting world and the city of Cleveland by storm as they opened their 2014-2015 NBA season. A down-trodden, out-of-contention club for the last four years was the talk of its league and the toast of its home town on Thursday and that could continue into June and then for a good handful of years after.

How is this possible? The biggest reason is talent. The NBA’s best player in LeBron James returned home after four years in Miami, while big-trade acquisition Kevin Love was added. Combined with Kyrie Irving, the Cavs have three of the game’s brightest stars.

How is it possible that a city like Cleveland could land such talent? Certainly, said game’s best player being a native of nearby Akron helps. However, the all mighty dollar comes into play, as well. Owner Dan Gilbert had to be willing to part with a lot of money in adding James and Love, while signing Irving to a maximum contract in July.

Gilbert, who ironically owns a couple of casinos, is gambling that shelling out all that green will come back to him in a large well. If last night was any indication, it will. Quicken Loans Arena was rocking inside, while downtown Cleveland roared outside for a team that honestly has a chance to break the city’s drought of major championships that has lasted since the 1964 Browns.

More eyes than ever in Cleveland were on the Cavs on Thursday and will be all year. Hopefully, two sets of those eyes belonged to Cleveland Indians owner and team CEO Larry and Paul Dolan.

Unlike Gilbert, the Dolan’s have not been so eager to spend money on their games brightest stars. The few times since 2002 when some of baseball’s best-known names like Jim Thome, C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez, have worn Tribe jerseys, they were elsewhere as soon as it was time for the bank to be broken on a large, multi-year deal.

Gilbert has added big-names in the offseasons and given the moon and the stars to his team’s best free agents. It is a big reason the Q will be sold out all this season.

The Indians, while they are a nice team, are void of any big-name stars. Michael Brantley and Corey Kluber have the promise of getting there. Even if they do, however, what in recent Indians history says they will be kept for more than a few years?

The Tribe has won 92 and 85 games the last two years, while playing in the Wild Card game in 2013. Fans are staying away from Progressive Field in droves. Wins are good – of course, more would be better. However, what is going to get fans to the stadium more than anything is talent.

The Dolans have always gone with the credo that they will spend money at the right time. They want to wait until the team is close to contention before breaking the bank on free agents and long-term deals. They have lived up to that, to some degree. They did give large deals, two offseasons ago, to Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. At the time, they were considered solid players, but nowhere near the game’s elite level players that make fans want to show up simply because they are in the lineup or on the mound.

After the 2013 postseason run, the organization failed to capitalize on the success and good feelings it had gained. Little additions were made before 2014 and it killed any momentum that 2013 had given the Indians in terms of fan interest. The Tribe slumped back to an average team this past season as the stadium was less than half full on a lot of nights.

The Dolans may be wise to consider Gilbert’s rout of building a team and, nearly as importantly, a fanbase.

Here we have the Indians, with one of baseball’s best manager in Terry Francona, a budding a young core of players, a team that has been in playoff contention into late September for two straight years. This is clearly a team that is close to a championship contender. The Tribe was nipping on the heels of the new American League champion Royals for almost the entire season.

If there were ever a time to take Gilbert’s approve and try spending money to make it, that would be now. The Indians could be viewed as a real title contender with the addition of one truly great bat and one truly great starter.

Let’s hypothetically say the Tribe threw $40-$45 million a year at Victor Martinez to hit  and backup at first and Max Scherzer or Jon Lester to come in as the team’s ace or No. 2 starter behind Kluber. That would be instant fan interest.

First you would have the return of Martinez. He was arguable the Tribe’s most popular player in the mid-200s and quite possibly most popular player since the team’s late 1990s heyday. Clevelanders would rejoice at his return. It would be on a smaller scale than the return of King James, but still be an amazing comeback story. He’d fit in nicely in the middle of the batting order with Brantley and Carlos Santana.

As for adding a Scherzer or Lester, it would give the Indians as good a 1-2 punch as any in baseball atop the rotation.

Additions like those would give the Indians credibility on the national scene and local one. It might not be as large of an impact as adding James and Love, but it would help.

Cleveland fans have always proven that if you try, they will show up and bleed your colors. When the Cavs struggled the last four years, the Q was still full on a lot of nights because the struggles were not for a lack of willingness to spend and try to put as good a team as possible on the court.

The Dolans are afraid to role out a team with $100 million-plus payroll for a fear it will backfire and they will lose money. The $80 million payrolls, however, have not generated a lot at the gates over the years. It may be time to try spending beyond the budget in the hopes of getting back in terms of fan interest and attendance.

It is unlikely the Dolan’s approach to spending and team-building will change anytime soon. However, it would certainly be nice to see a payroll and talent as seen in Detroit.

Gilbert is loved in Cleveland for his approach and willingness to add salary to a good, young core. Here’s to the hope, though it is faint, that the Dolans were watching what happened yesterday and last night and were taking notes.

Photo: Marvin Fong/

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  1. You’re entering the dangerous world of “woulda, coulda, shoulda.” The team needs to spend (and be ready to lose money) in order to make money in the long-term? No one is coming to games; wins are the only thing that translates to butts in the seats, as witnessed by the sellout crowd for the Wild Card game. Even by offering Martinez a contract that would pay out $40-45 million total (not per year), he’s playing DH and occasionally backing up at first. You already have Swisher and presumably Zach Walters taking DH bats, and Santana entrenched at first. So you’d be investing $30 million a year in two DH’s that split ABs? No one is taking Swisher’s contract off the Dolan’s hands (and probably not Bourn’s either). As for slotting Lester or Scherzer in behind Kluber, that’s a pipe dream. Based on open-market value over the past umpteen years, both pitchers are going to command near $20 million a season and are both legitimate number ones. Kluber is going to eat away at some of the remaining self-imposed cap the team has set aside with an extension (if we’re lucky.) Always spend on arms, because you can never have enough quality arms in a rotation/pen. But, overspending on a number one to give a one-two punch, while idealistic, wouldn’t make sense for a team that has finished near the bottom in attendance every season. You cannot, in fact, spend money to lose money in a market that doesn’t routinely support the team. While it’s a catch-22, sure, you have to make your mark via trades (which Antonetti has been borderline brilliant at) and stay the course until you have a team that plays together and gets lucky (i.e.-the Royals). No team that has went out and spent, spent, spent in the last ten years has won a World Series (minus the 2009 Yankees), so what good will it really do to break the bank just to appease casual fans who will still stop coming if the team plays like junk?

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