MLB Lockout Would Stall, Not Kill, Momentum Tribe Has Gained

Fresh off an unexpected run to the World Series, the Cleveland Indians have finally seemed to have regained the good will and following of a fan base that seemed to have lost a lot of interest in the last decade.

Following a 2007 trip to the American League Championship Series, the Tribe was a hot team in town. However, Cleveland fell out of contention in 2008 and began selling off key players from that roster. That included trades in consecutive years of Cy Young Award winners C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee. The fans turned on management for jettisoning those loved athletes, along with catcher/designated hitter Victor Martinez. Attendance went into a nosedive as the Indians struggled from 2008-2012. Fans stayed away from the ballpark even as the Tribe turned in winning seasons from 2013-2016, which included a pair of postseason runs.

Finally, this year the Indians made the city of Cleveland take notice of its team that plays on the corner of Ontario and Carnegie. The club was fun to watch, with a lot of younger players. A deep and exciting run through the playoffs brought Indians and baseball fever to a degree not seen in Cleveland since the great run of the mid-to-late 1990s Tribe.

This year, in a lot of ways, felt like 1994. In ’94, the Indians were able to erase years of losing and begin a run of winning not seen since the 1950s. Then-Jacobs Field opened that year and as the Tribe was heating up, fans started noticing the ball club and its potential to be a winner. The only thing that may have derailed a run to a World Series that year was a players strike that began in August and proceeded to wipe out the end of the regular season, the entire postseason, and delayed the start of the 1995 campaign.

However, once the game returned to the field, so, too, did the Tribe’s winning ways. As the strike hurt attendance across Major League Baseball, the game was thriving in Cleveland, with a fan base eager to see a winner on the diamond.

Now, as was the case back in the mid 90s, the city seems poised to get back into a strong relationship with the team that plays in that same ballpark, only now called Progressive Field. The digs do feel fresh as two years worth of renovations have made the 22-year-old stadium feel a little newer.

Fans packed the ballpark through this postseason run, with tickets selling out for an entire series within minutes of going on sale. Truly, it had a feel of the 90s to it as the fans are ready to embrace a team that has its core players locked up for the next three-to-five years, anchored by a CY winner in Corey Kluber, who will not be going anywhere any time soon.

The only thing that could hurt the momentum and good vibes would be the first bout of labor unrest in nearly 22 years. Since the strike ended in 1995, there has not been a labor stoppage. It has been the game’s longest stretch of peace between the owners and the players union.

However, there could be some stormy seas ahead for the game. The two sides are currently in negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. The owners have put a December 1 deadline for an agreement to be in place, or at least closing in on one. Otherwise, owners have said they will lock out the players at that point.

Reports this past week say negotiations are going well and the union and owners are making progress. That is good news. What would be bad news is if talks were to stall and break down when the two sides get back to the negotiating table today or tomorrow.

If there is a lockout, it obviously would not affect games being played at the moment. However, it would stall the momentum the Indians organization has gained since the start of October.

December is when the offseason hot stove really starts to heat up. Clevelanders have a renewed spark toward seeing what their American League Champion baseball team will do between now and the start of spring training in February.

No, the Indians are not going to be major players in the free agency market. However, it is still intriguing to see what a team that went to the World Series and rekindled a spark with the fans will do this offseason.

There are plenty of questions that need answered. Will the Indians resign veteran free agents Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis? They are the club’s only two key players the Tribe stands to lose this winter. They are both in their mid-30s and could command multi-year deals after surprising 2016 showings. Maybe the Indians will let them walk and seek the type of veteran-on-the-rebound, one-year deals that both those guys signed last winter. Either way, it will be interesting to see where the organization goes.

Also, the Tribe will be looking to add pitching depth. Clearly, the Indians are in a good place with a strong starting five locked in to go with assurances for at least five members of the bullpen. However, if this past year showed anything, it was that a team can not have too much pitching. Cleveland’s rotation suffered greatly with late-season injures to Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar and was compounded further by Trevor Bauer‘s postseason drone-induced pinky issues.

Just what rocks will the Indians turn over to unfurl the next diamond in the rough for its pitching staff as the found the last two years with key relievers Jeff Manship and Dan Otero?

These are all fun questions for Indians fans to see get answered as they eagerly await a new season and the hope of another fun summer and postseason run. That gets taken away if there is labor unrest on December 1.

However, if the worst did happen and a lockout wiped out a chunk of the hot stove season or, worse, lingered into spring training, history says the Indians would be fine. Fans were hungry to see a winner in ’95 and are dreaming of a November parade in downtown Cleveland once more.

Another similarity to the strike situation as that Cleveland sports fans have other things to take their mind of what should be happening with their successful baseball team. In 1994, as baseball went away, the Browns were enjoying a strong 11-5 season that included a playoff victory. The city had Browns frenzy to take its minds off the labor strife.

These days, the city has the Cavaliers to fill that void. The defending NBA champions are running roughshod over the league so far this year and appear poised to another march into June basketball. Tribe fans have another successful squad to occupy their rooting interests for now.

While a lockout would stall the positive vibes the Indians have regained in the city, it would probably not be a killer. Of course, here’s hoping we do not need to find out just what would happen and there will be labor peace come Thursday. Indians fans could weather the loss of offseason action. However, it would be a lot more fun and continue the momentum for the Tribe’s front office to be able to continue its offseason magic of the last couple winters that helped to shape a title-contending roster.

Photo: David Maxwell/Getty Images

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