Monday, February 14, 2011

The Indians Aren't Going to Lose The AL Central Because Of Their Payroll

Paul Hoynes is a very good beat writer for the Indians and in general, I love and appreciate his work. But in his latest piece, filled with the typical feel-good quotes from folks within the organization that are typical of every team at this time of the year, he seems to insinuate that the Indians are going to have difficulty competing because of the payroll disparity that exists between them and the three front runners for the division crown.

Hoynes is good enough to point out that the Twins won the division six times in the past decade, and in none of those years was the biggest spender in the division. In fact, for at least five of those six division crowns, they weren't even particularly close - and for what it's worth, they opened last year still trailing the Tigers by nearly 40 million.

There are a lot of reasons why the Indians will have difficulty competing for the AL Central title in 2011. Money is one of them. A lack of revenue forced the team to trade away three of their biggest  stars for prospects. But that alone shouldn't derail a team. The Twins for example, went through many of the same struggles - stars came, and they left when they became too expensive. Either via trade or free agency.

Yet the Twins remained (and still remain) competitive and it wasn't because of payroll. It was via shrewd management. That means letting players walk when they become too expensive (Torii Hunter) or trading them away (Johan Santana) when necessity dictates. Of course, it also means that you need to make the best of scare resources. The Twins have done that well, making wise decisions in trades that have bolstered their franchise, and making good with their draft picks, consistently finding and developing Major League talent from within.

Currently, the Indians aren't significantly different than the Twins of the past decade in that regard. They are in a similar position of needing to maximize limited resources and ensure strong returns. To a large extent, they've failed. Their trades of franchise players C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee, and Victor Martinez have here-to-fore failed to produce a single all-star caliber Major League player.

Yes, there is still plenty of promise to be found throughout the system in the players the Indians brought back in those trades. But it's yet to become manifest. Prospects needing time to develop is part of a rebuilding process to be certain, but the fact that there was such a dearth of talent ready from within the system is still a by-product of less-than-stellar management.

To that end we ought to consider of the 45 players who were a member of the 2010 team, a mere 14 were drafted by the Indians (31.1%). Over the past decade, the Twins, be it in the lean times or the fat, have always had talent flowing through the system and homegrown players have constituted a significant portion of the roster. It was true in 2002 when they won 94 games with a 40.2m payroll and a roster composed of 28 players (66.7%) drafted and developed by the organization. It was also true last year when they won 94 games with a payroll of 97.3m and 26 home-grown players (61.9%).

The Indians will struggle to contend in 2011 for a lot of reasons, and yes one of those reasons is because they will have difficulty keeping up with their bigger spending AL Central brethren. But the problems facing the franchise are bigger than what you can read on a balance sheet. They're the product, at least partially, of poor scouting - both in terms of evaluating amateur talent and determining trade targets. It's a product of poor management too (Travis Hafner signing anyone?), and likely less-than-perfect player development.

To be clear there have been successes like trading for  Carlos Santana who has the makings of an amazing talent at catcher, or bringing along an undrafted free agent like Fausto Carmona and developing him into a very good pitcher. But those successes have simply been too far and few between.

Teams can compete and win with small payrolls, and the Indians don't have far to look to find a franchise they can try to emulate when it comes to winning on a small-budget. It certainly isn't an ideal situation - having money to retain your own players and bring in other talent via free agency or trades isn't a BAD thing. But for the Indians to compete going forward there will have to be a fundamental shift in how the franchise is constructed. Trading off players at the height of their value (and expense) needn't be a destructive force provided the scouting is good, and the negotiating forceful. Nor should losing them via free agency be a death-knoll, provided the compensatory picks are properly utilized.

I'm not one to cast blame, and though it may seem to be the case in this article, it's not my intent. I'm in no position to judge those who manage the Indians franchise. I don't know them personally and I'm not privy to their inner dealings - vital factors to consider when trying to evaluate any transaction.

But I am relatively positive that the Indians are not going to struggle because of their payroll - or lack thereof. They're going to struggle because the moves they've made in the draft, in trades, and in free agency simply haven't worked out very well.

Corey Ettinger is a proud contributor to both,, and He also provides extensive analysis of the American League Central Division at his own blog, AL Central In Focus. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @Coreyettinger for the latest updates and random thoughts.

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