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Tribe Happenings: Indians are winning, but lack connection

Tribe Happenings: Indians are winning, but lack connection
September 8, 2013
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Some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

A serious disconnect

The Cleveland Browns kickoff their season today.

I’m a huge Browns fan and will certainly be watching their game (I have season tickets), but you better believe that I will be paying just as much attention to the happenings down the street at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario. These are the days where I am thankful for smartphones and how easy it is to keep up with the events in other games while you are attending one.

Unfortunately, I don’t feel like a great many Cleveland fans care much beyond the fact it is Browns opening day. This is no doubt a football town and it dominates the TV, radio, print and web coverage, but the Indians are certainly a team that has been forgotten by a lot of fans.

How else do you explain some of the awful attendance numbers from the past week on this homestand? On Monday they drew 15,020 vs. a good Orioles team and wildcard contender and then followed that up with 9,962 on Tuesday and 11,522 on Wednesday. On Friday night, a fireworks night, the Indians drew 15,962. The saw an uptick on Saturday with 21,453 in attendance, but it was also a jersey giveaway.

Yes, Friday night is high school football, but high school football is not played only in northeast Ohio. A bad Cubs team drew 25,351 and an equally as bad Twins team drew 27,044. The Reds drew 33,778 from the very same state.  Heck, the Marlins even drew 25,011 fans to the park!

For whatever reason there is just no connection between the Indians and the fanbase. Fans will complain that the team is boring, which may be true, but if you watch most any other team - except maybe the Tigers and Red Sox - on a nightly basis you might come away feeling the same way about those team too. For as much as people may say the Pirates are this or the Reds are that, the Indians have outscored those teams to this point in the season. Pitching is what is leading these teams, and good pitching but low run scoring on a nightly basis is not something that appeals to the average fan – but it is what wins games.

Right now the Indians are 27th out of 30 teams in attendance average 19,862 fans a contest. They are averaging just about 250 more fans a game than the lowly Astros and about 600 more fans a game than the fan-hated Marlins. The Rays are the worst in baseball in attendance, which is no surprise because since day one of their existence they have had attendance issues because of the poor location of their baseball stadium.

I’ve heard every excuse as to why fans are not showing up. “The games cost too much”, yet the Indians are one of the five cheapest tickets in baseball. The “food costs too much”, yet again, the Indians are one of the most affordable teams when it comes to buying concessions at the ballpark. “They are boring”, yet, like I said, they have scored just as much as most other teams but I don’t hear fans from other teams making that excuse.

What it all comes down to is some serious fan apathy toward the front office and ownership, something that I don’t think at this point can be repaired. I don’t think even a World Series championship parade down East 9th could change things all that much.

There is some serious animosity toward the ownership and front office, some that makes absolutely no sense and some where the anger is with good reason. Some are still upset because they think ownership is cheap, but I just don’t see it as this ownership group has spent as much and more than the previous owner Dick Jacobs ever did. Some dislike the front office because of draft failures, an inability to get to the playoffs, and the constant roster turnover, yet through all that they rebuilt the team one time and had one of baseball’s top teams from 2005-2008 that failed because of manager ineptitude and have since rebuilt again and look to be setting themselves up for a strong showing these next few years.

The Indians made a big commitment in the offseason spending money on several free agents and brought in Terry Francona. They are contending for a playoff spot and are just one game out of the playoffs with 21 games to go.

But instead of a feel good story this season, it has been a bumpy ride where people are ready to bail at the first sign of trouble. Even with the team winning some fans almost seem to be waiting for the failure just so they can say, “See, I told you so”. I’ve lost count how many times over the course of this season how after the Indians went through a tough stretch of play where fans said “the season is over” yet here we are today with the season hardly over.

Winning baseball seasons don’t come around all too often. Enjoy them. Ask the Pirates and Royals how often winning comes around.  But then again, in the world where people over-react to each game and pitch because of social media and talk radio and the negativity spews nonstop, this is what happens.

Barring injury, the Indians future suddenly looks bright. It all starts with starting pitching and with Justin Masterson,Corey KluberZach McAllister, and Danny Salazar potentially anchoring the rotation next year, and maybe evenScott Kazmir if they extend him, that’s a pretty formidable starting five the way things look at the moment. And they have several solid pieces in the lineup with Jason KipnisMichael BrantleyMichael BournNick Swisher, andCarlos Santana, and some good depth on the bench with Yan GomesMike Aviles, and Ryan Raburn.

Are there holes? Sure. But they have some internal options to fill some of those holes next season or they could go out and make some changes via free agency or on the trade market.

Others may disagree, but it is a fun time to be an Indians fan right now. They are competing quicker than anyone could have imagined. Who was predicting they would have a shot at 90 wins and a playoff spot at the outset of the season? Wasn’t the end of last season the absolute low point in years? Decades?  Look how much they have jumped forward since and in just one year.

The feelings toward ownership or the front office shouldn’t even matter at this moment. It is fine if people don’t trust ownership or have faith in the front office. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But for goodness sakes, enjoy the moment of winning and worry about chastising ownership and the front office for the offseason. The Indians are in a race for a playoff berth and all energy should be focused on that.

Jimenez’s rebound has been huge

Cleveland Indians right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez has been red hot since the All Star break as he is 3-5 with a 2.22 ERA and 9.8 K/9 in eight starts since the break.  Overall this season he is 10-9 with a 3.79 ERA and 9.0 K/9 in 27 starts.

That is a distinct turnaround from the struggling pitcher Cleveland fans got so used to seeing from the day he was acquired in July of 2011 through the first month of this season. Many have already wiped away the bad memories which were his 2011 and 2012 starts with the Indians, but just to recall he went 4-4 with a 5.10 ERA in 11 starts with the Indians after being acquired and that poor performance carried into the 2012 season where he went 9-17 with a 5.40 ERA - which included a brutal post All Star finish where he went 1-10 with a 6.62 ERA in 14 starts.

I never thought I would say it, but Jimenez has made me a believer this season. His stark turnaround with his performance this season is a big reason why the Indians have had much more success as a team. With fellow right-handed starter Justin Masterson possibly out for the rest of the season, Jimenez will now have to carry an even bigger load the rest of the way.

The way Jimenez is pitching right now is exactly what the Indians envisioned they were getting when they traded for him. They felt like he would become the anchor of the staff from the day he was acquired, but faith was quickly lost in him as a starter going into this season because of a significant loss of velocity on his fastball and the high amount of baserunners he allowed every time he pitched.

One of the greatest pickups the Indians made in the offseason was to assign Mickey Callaway as their pitching coach. He has done a magnificent job with the pitching staff – most notably the starting rotation – and he has really helped turn Jimenez’s career around with the adjustments he made to his pitch usage and delivery.

Callaway got Jimenez to eliminate several pitches in his seemingly endless repertoire of pitches and got him to be quicker in his delivery. The biggest change was getting him to significantly cut the use of his curveball (8.8% in 2012, 3.2% in 2013) and changeup (13.0% in 2012, 8.8% in 2013) and increase the use of his slider (15.8% in 2012, 24.4% in 2013) and splitter (4.9% in 2012, 10.2% in 2013).

That slight change with his delivery and modification with his repertoire hasn’t helped Jimenez’s command as he is still walking a good amount of hitters (4.8 BB/9 in 2012, 4.6 BB/9 in 2013) but where it has helped is get him more swing and miss (7.3 K/9 in 2012, 9.0 K/9 in 2013) to put hitters away, limit hits (.271 AVG in 2012, .231 AVG in 2013) and induce weaker contact (38.4% groundballs in 2012, 43.2% groundballs in 2013).

These changes have made Jimenez into an effective, reliable middle of the rotation starter and one the Indians no doubt are going to lean on heavily these last few weeks of the season. If the Indians do make the playoffs and have to play a one-game wildcard playoff game, you can bet that Jimenez would be given strong consideration to make that start based on the confidence the team has in him right now.

Jimenez will be tough to retain

Conveniently, Jimenez’s turnaround coincides with him being in a free agent year.

Indians fans should be elated Jimenez is pitching so well this season as it helps them win now, but they also should know that with every good start he puts up down the stretch the odds of him returning beyond this season become even less likely.

The Indians have a mutual option for $8 million on Jimenez for next season, one they will surely pick up; however, because it is a mutual option and not a club option it means Jimenez can decline it - he very likely will - and enter free agency where he is going to get a pretty hefty contract.

The free agent market is tough to predict at this time, but one thing we always know is that teams overpay for starting pitching in free agency. Even average starting pitchers. I think it is debatable as to whether he is an above average starter, but all should agree he is at worst a league average starting pitcher. Another thing to remember is pitchers who have proven to be durable over the past several seasons and are still relatively young (Jimenez turns 30 in January) get paid a good amount of money.

Take for example the deals that Jeremy Guthrie (3 years, $25 million), Edwin Jackson (4 years, $52 million) andAnibal Sanchez (5 years, $80 million) signed last offseason. These are three very good comparisons for Jimenez and likely the ones that his agent will use when attempting to establish his market this offseason. Guthrie’s deal is probably the floor and Sanchez’s deal is probably the ceiling whereas Jimenez could ultimately end up with a contract similar to what Jackson got last year – probably slightly less.

Remember, teams are getting a large influx of cash from the new national TV contract, an amount of what I have heard to be at least $25 million a season. If that is true, there is going to be a lot more money for teams to throw around this offseason at free agents, and in the past when teams have had more money to spend and not had to be so frugal with their finances it has led to some crazy spending sprees. This offseason could very well be one of those, which means a guy like Jimenez could cash in big time.

The Indians will be faced with a tough decision on Jimenez as to whether they decide to offer him the qualifying offer or not. If Jimenez declines his part in the mutual option and the Indians pick it up, they can still extend the qualifying offer. The gamble with that is if he accepts it and forfeits his free agency status for this offseason it means the Indians would have to pay him about $14 million in 2014 before he becomes a free agent after next season.

That’s a significant chunk of change to give to anyone, especially when the team will have limited resources to improve the roster this coming offseason, but a gamble they may take to try and retain him or to at least ensure they get draft pick compensation if he signs elsewhere.  As we saw last offseason, no team wants to lose a first round pick to sign a player, and that is what a team would lose if they signed Jimenez if he is given the qualifying offer by the Indians and he turns it down.

Bottom line, the Indians may ultimately have to pass on Jimenez long term. If he accepts his option for next season then fine, but paying him $14 million next season when they need to make improvements to the roster is a tough call. Also, the Indians will need all available resources for the following offseason because Masterson is up for free agency after next season and he is far more important to resign.

In the meantime, keep rooting for Jimenez to dominate down the stretch. His price tag this offseason may continue to go up with each great start, but at the same time he is improving the Indians chances of making the playoffs.

Parting shorts

Indians Director of Scouting John Mirabelli was recently inducted into the Pro Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame. He began his scouting career as a Tigers area scout in 1990 and served that role until 1997 when he was promoted to national crosschecker. After the 1999 season he joined the Indians as the Director of Scouting and has held that role ever since. … Justin Masterson is still shut down from his strained oblique and the Indians will reassess him this coming week. If he is symptom free he could begin throwing again and return this season, but if symptoms remain he might be done for the season. … Outfielder Michael Brantley is away from the team this weekend for the birth of his child in Florida. … Juan Diaz and Tim Fedroff cleared waivers on Saturday and were outrighted to Triple-A Columbus. As I understand it, Diaz is eligible for minor league free agency in the offseason but Fedroff is not and will be under the Indians control in 2014 as a non-rostered player.

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

Rick
September 11, 2013 - 3:10 PM EDT
About the Rays. You are way off. There is plenty of money in Tamp/St. Pete. They are just trapped in this pit of a stadium. You need to understand - every franchise, every venue is unique. These aren't shopping malls Seth.

I live in Arizona. We are a similar market for sports as Florida.
Besides the Cactus and Grapefruit league similarities, besides the high volume of retirees, there is a lot of transenence in the population. One out every 4 people that move to Arizona (and
Phoenix/Maricopa County is about 80% of the state) don't stay more than 3 years.

It presents a unique challenge to forge a sports brand when the majority of consumers grew up elsewhere and rooted at one time for someone else. And a lot of people are literally passing through. Making it even harder in Arizona, unlike Florida, we don't have nearly enough of the ONE PERCENT. We have our upper class - just barely any billionares. Florida is doing fine, we are not.

Now keep in mind that transenece isn't always bad. And this demographic has nothing to do with either legal or illegal immigration. It's not just about a shop girl migrating from LA to give Phoenix a chance. We have a healthy population of very rich and successful people who only live here for short periods - ex-athletes, rock stars and movie industry types, among others.

The Rays are an outstanding organization top to bottom. They survived being perennial losers to being now year in and year out contenders. They are not in trouble. They just need a quality venue like the Marlins - and make no mistake - if they got THEIRS FIRST they wouldn't have screwed it up like that owner Loria.

In Arizona, six months out of the year is perfect weather. During baseball season? The Cactus league has just about set records every year. But the Diamodback's have their work cut out for them because ONE THIRD OF THE POPULATION LEAVES - and worse - they are the cream of what could be your fan base. They leave not just because of the hot weather -but because they are wealthy enough to do other things and not endure average 110 temp for three months.

Besides that, in Florida, and even in those 110 degree days in the summer, you are always competing with the magnificent outdoors. And in Arizona you are only an hour away in any direction from the biggest concentration of State and Federal Parks - the majority of the state IS OWNED BY THE DEPT OF INTERIOR.

That said, the D'backs are doing ok but just ok. And the Rays? Don't worry, they will be fine.
Rick
September 11, 2013 - 2:33 PM EDT
Seth you are lashing yourself to a lifeboat in the Perfect Storm.

The flat-line valuation I refer to is dated, but not that dated. My first reference was Sportsfolio on Bloomberg, but I read others afterward. All of it dates to the follow up after the Pirates falsely clamed losing money.

There was lots of reporting about the health of baseball franchises - NONE OF IT, NOT ONE IOTA, GOOD ABOUT CLEVELAND.

What else was happening at the same time? It was the lead up to the new collective bargaining agreement we now have. There also was a lot of lobbying by and on behalf of small market teams to up the revenue sharing or come up with new ways to bolster small market clubs competitively.

As for Forbes, ok. Sure $529 million - given that its year one of that healthy TV contract you mention - 400 million is not anything to sneeze at - AND The Dolans have executed their investment in Goodyear as promised - plus have continued the excellence established by the Jacobs brothers with their minor league operations - certainly improving their international reach especially in the Dominican and other academies in Latino countries.

I've said I agree they are excellent owners, owners who have done everything humanly possible to maintain membership in good standing in the exclusive club of baseball ownership.

So what?

You can't believe your lyin' eyes because Forbes, on a yearly basis, does a for public consumption state of the state of professional sports franchises including a guesstimate valuation?

The fundamental question is - are the Cleveland Indians worth $529 million if YOU ARE REQUIRED TO CONTIUE PLAYING IN CLEVELAND.

You are free to believe that. I don't. To the contrary I believe the only reason you buy this franchise is to move them. Because I believe it is impossible to maintain a going concern other wise. Period.

One last thing. Columbus is also perfect because the final reason why the Indians leaving makes the ONLY SANE ECONOMIC DECISION; Its good for both the BROWNS AND THE CAV'S.

When Art Model took the Browns to Baltimore, the Indians thrived. Before that the Gund's got a stadium as part of the deal to move back to the city. Then the Jacobs Bro's. got one.

Arts reason for leaving - more than just an excuse no matter how painful it is to consider? No stadium for Art.

It was politically and financially impossible for Cleveland to deliver a third stadium - even during what were considered good economic times.

Don't kid yourself that the City wouldn't have loved to accommodate Model. Look at the associated capital projects moving the central market to provide building the stadium provided. It led to a revitalization of the superior corridor over near 105th - not just a new home for those vendors displaced -dozens of new residential homes. Hundreds of millions in jobs - including federal subsidies. With the Cleveland Clinic and others as a partner.

It was an era where they were developing all over the city Seth, lasting most of the decade. The Galliria - the Powerhouse in the Flats - most of all the high end condos - spilling out onto 6th ave halfway down lakeside to City Hall - all of it was in part driven by these large sports areana/decisions. All of it included federal subsidies.

But even given that, everybody knew those good times weren't going to last forever. Everybody knew CLEVELAND COULD NEVER MAINTAIN THREE PROFESSIONAL SPORTS TEAMS SETH! This is no shocker.

That said, nobody was going to object to getting every single possible job they could at the time just because the long term projections were dismal. Take the jobs and anything you can get. After all what is the worst that can happen?

MAYBE IN 20 YEARS YOU LOSE A SPORTS FRANCHISE.

Now we are at a bridge too far time.

Well before it was football fans who got punched in the stomach. At least the NFL made good on its promise to return.

Unfortunately that was the worst possible outcome for baseball fans.

Seth
September 10, 2013 - 1:46 PM EDT
Also, this: http://www.forbes.com/teams/cleveland-indians/

What is it that makes you think the value of the Cleveland franchise has flatlined? Because Forbes, who actually spends a lot of time investigating these things, thinks the value increased from $292 million to $559 million between '04-'13. Still an estimate, but I doubt they're off by $300 million. I really don't think you have any understanding of the impact of TV dollars, both local and national, and what that has done to MLB revenue and team value.
Seth
September 10, 2013 - 1:42 PM EDT
Rick, Cleveland has a 10 year, $400 million rights-fee contract with Fox sports. The ratings are actually pretty immaterial until that contract is up for renewal, but the 400 million dollars is not. That's actually not huge in terms of recent local TV contracts, but it's far from the worst, and far better than the Rays and Braves, for two, and $10 million more than the Reds get. The point is, even with their attendance woes, which are partially demographic but also due to coming off 3 down years, there are easily 4-5 teams that are in worse shape revenue-wise due to a combination of attendance that's similar to Cleveland's, but compounded by being in even smaller markets with worse TV deals. If there's a reason to move Cleveland, there's a reason to move at least 5 other teams. MLB doesn't want any of that. The Rays, who don't have much of a history or any kind of national fanbase, could definitely be in trouble, because I think Rays ownership would be supported by MLB in a move if they don't get a new stadium. You move Cleveland, you just ditch Progressive Field, which is still one of the better ballparks in the league, and Dolan, what, pays off Fox Sports by walking away from the TV deal? Not even sure how that would work.
Rick
September 10, 2013 - 1:11 PM EDT
Ok, where to start. The easiest first.

Why would I discount TV money? Why would you believe that a 20 or 30% uptick from oblivion (Which is what Sports-time represents) makes much of a difference?

How many hot dogs, beers and polish boys do you and Luke BUY sitting on your couch or at the bar stool? How many impulsive trips do you make to the Club Shop? How many Santana bobble-heads can you buy at home Seth?

Oh boy and aren't the Indians Fans in Cleveland SMART SHOPPERS because they saved all that money - as well as the 'pirates ransom' of the cost of parking.

Yeah they are frugal all right. So is Youngstown fellas.

Baseball is unique among professional sports. IT IS THE MOST FAMILY FRIENDLY - EASIEST ON THE FAMILY BUDGET - ENTERTAINMENT ON THE PLANET.

When you see a game on TV and a foul ball heads for the seats what do you see? Hip hop hooligans in their bling bling slurring some word? No, you see kids, with their parents, with gloves hoping to take home a ball and a moment that lasts.

And that my friends, DOESN'T SELL IN CLEVELAND.

Since the vast majority of fans, and according to Seth, rightly so, are 'paying' the Dolans by sitting on the couch at home listening to Rick Manning.

Gee Seth, why have a stadium with 40,000 plus seats? Why pay for all that overhead and the vendors too? Just to give the food away to charity after nobody shows?

Right now the Cleveland Indians franchise is unique. The last twenty years have been far and away the most lucrative in the history of the sport. We now know what everyone suspected a few years ago when PIttsburgh claimed a pittance of a loss - after all they have just ended 20+ years of LOSING.

Well they fudged the books big time. They didn't loose money. And, the Dolans claims a few years ago echoed the same.

The difference is that the Dolans own the ONLY FRANCHISE WHOSE VALUE HAS FLATLINED FOR THE ENTIRETY OF THEIR OWNERSHIP.

Think just how astounding that is. Everybody makes tanker loads of money for decades - everybody's investment rockets - except for Cleveland.

Why? Well it isn't their fault and everyone in baseball (or anyone with half a brain outside of baseball) knows it. Not because they are cheap, don't spend, don't hire the right people, no none of it.

They assembled a great product this year - a product whose future is better than it's been for decades. And emphatically, the fan base of Greater Cleveland IS REJECTING IT WITH EVERY EMBARASSING HOME GAME.

And everywhere you go on the blogs there are people with excuses. Well there isn't anymore time for that. No more excuses. The reasons are not that complicated.

They don't want it. Not in Cleveland, in Bedford, in Mentor, in Lakewood ....ect....ect...ect.

I float Columbus not because I have the inside scoop, but because I see it as a perfect solution. Columbus has the demographics and money to be a Big League city, not just now, but for decades going forward.

It breaks my heart but Cleveland is a cross between Buffalo and Youngstown - and rapidly what passes for 'leadership' is hurtling its sorry carcass towards Detroit.

It's as painful to say as it is to watch. And it isn't personal fellas. It just is. Professional baseball doesn't have a prayer in Cleveland BECAUSE IT IS A TRIPLE AAA TOWN. Period.

By the way, Pittsburgh was NEVER IN DANGER OF LOOSING THE PIRATES. The reason, even with all the losing and being second fiddle to the Steelers (and at times 3rd to the Penguins) is that during those twenty years the good shakers and movers of Pittsburg did everything right while the same namesakes in Cleveland did everything wrong.

Today, draw a 50 mile circle around Pittsburgh and it is considered the 4th most vibrant and successful region in the country. Best place to raise and educate your kids - top five.
Best corporate philanthropic infrastructure - the same. Best place to work - again the same.

Forty years ago their problems were just as Cleveland's. Just like after 9/08 - deep recession, terrible economic times.

The difference was they had dynamic individuals who rose to the task and beat back the hurdles and made their version of paradise.

Which by the way is synonomous with being a Big League town.

That is what the Cleveland of my youth was and it sadly doesn't exist anymore. Oh there still are gems that reflect the once proud glory of Millionaires row and the art deco architecture of the prosperous (for then) 30's and 40's - be it downtown or Cleveland Hts or wherever. Yes they have world class medical facilities.

What you don't find is a sustainable baseball fan-base willing to pay for the best family friendly entertainment money can buy on the planet.

And finally, two other reasons why Columbus is perfect.

Columbus is perfect because it punishes least those not responsible for why baseball will leave. The fans that have been supporting the team will get over the shock of losing it, and GET IN A CAR AND DRIVE TWO HOURS TO SEE THEM LIVE.

And Seth and Luke will do what they always liked to do most anyway. Stay at home, watch them on TV, spend a buck six eighty for beer and pizza, and most of all....

COMPLAIN.

Oh, and it's likewise important that Politics is among the top business done in Columbus. Politics is a crucial factor in how these kinds of issues play out.

It's not personal fellas, its only business.
Joe Chengery
September 10, 2013 - 12:39 AM EDT
I find it very disappointing that the fans of Cleveland are not supporting this team in contention, especially when they (including the local media) throw all of their time, money, and attention toward a football franchise that has done virtually nothing in the 14 seasons they've returned, and really aren't much closer to winning a Super Bowl than they were when the team returned in 1999. It's frustrating also that the fans hold the Indians to such a standard that the Indians must excel at all times, and any sign of a slight dropoff will lead to the fans bolting. Yet, the Browns franchise has come close to going winless several different seasons since their return, and they still sell out the stadium. If this team went 0-16, I still think they'd sell out the stadium. It's amazing the double-standard the fans hold when it comes to the Indians and Browns, especially when the Indians are light-years better than the Browns and much closer to a championship than the Browns are.

Whether the fans have been spoiled by the 90s or not, I'm not sure. I remember the 80s and early 90s, so I fully appreciate the fall and rise of the Indians, and while there have been some frustrating periods over the last decade, this organization is still light-years better than it was in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Never mind the fact that the Indians' next window of contention is just beginning (provided there's good health and fortune, of course). I read another blog yesterday that hinted and pretty much said that the Indians' window of contention is closing and that's one of the reasons the fans aren't coming out. I'm like, "Huh?" Are the rest of the fans believing this as well, because that is certainly not the case. You can see it with Salazar, Ramirez, Kluber, and McCallister, never mind the fact that others like Lindor, Anderson, Moncrief, and Aguilar are knocking on the door.

For the record, Cincinnati didn't have a good attendance tonight either, and barring a major collapse, should be in the postseason. Whether the fans are just waiting for the postseason or are just bored with baseball and prefer football, I'm not sure. Is it perhaps the day and age we live in that is the digital age of fast action and information where fans prefer a lot of action, which often occurs in football more than it does in baseball? Is this why more fans seem to gravitate toward football rather than baseball, across the country, across Ohio, and across Cleveland? Just something to consider.

Oh, and another reason to support the Indians: Tigers' lead is 4.5 games, and Cabrera got thrown out of tonight's game, a game that Scherzer didn't go far and lost. Think the Tigers might be feeling the pressure, especially after losing that late lead in '09 to the Twins? Go Tribe- keep on winning- both the Wild Card and division are still up for grabs in my opinion, especially with that last weekend series in Miami looming for the Tigers. If the rotation sets up right, there could be some strong young pitching going against the Tigers in that series, so that series will likely not be as easy as it might look on paper. If the Indians are still in striking distance (or ahead) by that series, it could be really interesting that final weekend, not just for the Wild Cards, but for the Division itself as well.
Seth
September 9, 2013 - 7:14 PM EDT
Rick, why would you discount TV money? You have teams like the Dodgers raking in over 200 million PER YEAR in local TV rights fees. You take 42000 fans paying an average of $20 for a ticket over 81 games, and that's about $65 million. There is WAY more money in TV than attendance. The Indians are not in Dodgers territory , but they are getting $40 million/year on their local TV contract. Cleveland's local revenue is likely about equivalent to the Atlanta Braves, who are only getting 10-20 million on a hideous long-term contract, with the Indians' local TV revenue cancelling out the Braves' current attendance advantage. The Indians attendance woes have only been serious for the last couple years, which coincides with some bad-performing teams. You might as well talk about MLB contracting Atlanta. It's ridiculous.
Jerry
September 9, 2013 - 6:05 PM EDT
If the 90s had not happened, this winning team would have drawn much better. There are simply too many "fans" who compare any Indians' team of position players to the Thome, Belle, Ramirez, Baerga, Lofton, Alomar, etc, of the 90s. There is, in my opinion, no team since then who could compare positionally to this team, except for maybe this years Angels team on paper, ironically enough. So, the fans have been forever spoiled by the drug that was that team of the 90s.
No. 9 - Luke Easter
September 9, 2013 - 2:45 PM EDT
Rick:

You've said that I'm being too emotional, but your statements here are far more emotional than anything I've said. I certainly never went as far as attacking anyone on this board as having "delusions," but okay -- fine -- if trying to belittle me helps you to make your point, go for it.

Clearly one of the factors involved in a franchise's viability is how big its television market is. I'm a financial journalist who specializes in the business of media , and Nielsen's Designated Market Area rankings are the standard used by advertisers and others to determine the size of TV markets. There's no comparison whatsoever with the New York Times Bestseller list.

Yes, teams do move. The Washington Senators moved to Texas after the 1971 season. The Expos were moved after 2004. If franchises still moved as frequently as they did in the '50s and '60s, this would be a different discussion. But MLB moves very, very slowly on these matters, and whatever you want to believe, Cleveland is not the first candidate on a possible relocation list.

And fine -- take out my statement about the complex emotions involved in moving a 113-year old franchise. Just stick with the cold, hard facts as they relate to territorial claims. Want to move a team to northern New Jersey -- a huge, very appealing market? Okay. Here come the Yankees, Mets and even Phillies claiming territorial rights. Sacramento? The Giants will have a few things to say about that. Portland? The Mariners at this moment have the entire Pacific Northwest to themselves, and they're going to want to keep it that way. Yes, you could move a team to any of those places, eventually, but it isn't like moving the Astros to the A.L. the year after the team was sold.

I am no blind optimist when it comes to the Indians. I haven't said they could never, ever move.

I've only said that there are teams that are seen as more problematic than the Indians because they have won more frequently in recent years and still cannot draw.

The other issue for both Tampa Bay and Oakland is that (unlike the Indians) they don't have the modern stadium that Selig and Co. see as being such a basic part of the baseball infrastructure in this era. Remember, the last time the Indians were truly in danger of being moved, in the late '80s and early '90s, one of the main talking points was that Municipal Stadium had to be replaced, and that if Gateway hadn't passed, the alternatives were dire. When the Expos were moved, one of the things people pointed to immediately was the inadequacy of Olympic Stadium.

To swoop down and remove the Indians before addressing the ongoing, and more critical, stadium concerns in these markets wouldn't make a lot of sense. And yes, I know -- MLB doesn't always do things that make sense. But indiscriminate franchise shifts have generally not been among its crimes, with only two exceptions since 1972.

Anyway... I don't want to have an argument about any of this, so this is the last I'll say about it. Take whatever shots you will.

Thanks to Tony for an interesting article.


Rick
September 9, 2013 - 12:53 PM EDT
Dear Luke; If your biblical namesake spread the gospel in such a way we would all be branches of Coptic Christians at this point.

...'creating territorial issues that are very emotional and complex...' Yeah it's a point - like 79th out of 100 maybe.

And NEILSEN RATINGS as far as TV? Are you kidding. That's like trying to say the NYT Best Seller List is going to somehow magically reverse the current creative destruction dismantling the publishing business today.

Luke is exhibit A in the case WHY Cleveland is going to lose it's baseball team. Because Luke is letting his emotional attachment get the better of his logic - and not surprisingly is using antiquated - relevant but not decisive info - to bolster his own delusions.

This game is about money - and it has been a very good past 20 years. Sure the Dolans had a steep learning curve when taking over from the Jacobs, a family that literally raised professional Baseball from the dead, but the Dolans have put good product on the field since buying - which has been competitive for post season play - for OVER A THIRD OF THEIR REIGN.

People have avoided them like the plague. And because they have this franchise has been targeted - because having a professional sports franchise is a highly lucrative state, local and regional prize, and thus much desired.

In the past Tony has made some cogent posts about the uniqueness of the period when the Jacobs bros bought - noting the exodus of the Browns for a period being the most vital of several other unique circumstances.

At the time I too want to shoot them down - entirely out of emotional attachment. Well that was then and this is now.

There is a lot of counter intuitive info in this business. Detroit makes no sense at all, until you drill down into the facts and realize their owner Illitch HAS NEVER LOST A PENNY - and he has thrown a lot of money at people like Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman besides paying fat salaries to Miggy and Verlander.

He's a smart businessman who happens to be a good owner. Every thing he and Dombrowski have done has made perfect economic sense. He's not some obsessed rich old fart who is throwing away his fortune to buy a championship.

There is a lot of counter intuitive info when it comes to demographics. So what Columbus is 32nd under Nielsen - its those surrounding communities were the gold lies - the kind of wealth that 40, 60 years ago USED TO BE IN GREATER CLEVELAND. And it doesn't hurt economically that its the states Capital,

Yes MLB has a natural resistance against moving thus making buying then moving a team difficult. But every team is a unique situation, and over the years, teams have and do move.

Why not KC or Pittsburgh? It is the wrong question, nothing but comfort food for thought.

As for Tampa the money is there - it's just that Loria and the Marlins have royally screwed the entire league with his hamfisted mis-management of how he got Maimi to finance his stadium.

Detroit is a bankrupt city - and Cleveland isn't far off - you can argue it is Detroit 1999. But Detroit TODAY is not a bankrupt media market - because REGIONALLY it supports one of the most healthy and successful BASEBALL FRANCHISES.

The numbers explain that - if you know how and where to look.

Cleveland is the opposite. Its on life support. And as painful as it may be to look at, THE NUMBERS EXPLAIN IT.

And yes it would make a difference if they moved up just 5 or better 7 positions in home attendance. Because it would give them the chance to pitch that someday they may have a 2-4 year run where they draw could draw 2 million again.

And finally, as for the national brand - as in ex-Clevelanders who show up in numbers at visiting parks - you are sadly mistaken as well. The Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs? Yeah. Cleveland? Comon.

Our merchandizing rank is better than our attendance - but not enough to make a difference.

What does make a difference is money, demographics and DYNAMIC INDIVIDUALS. We have some of the last on the field.

But we have NONE of these vital ingredients fighting to keep the Indians in Cleveland. And in the end it won't be the owners fault. In the one way that the fans could make a difference - they didn't.

On the business end emotions don't factor much if at all.
No. 9 - Luke Easter
September 9, 2013 - 10:31 AM EDT
Norm,

I can see your argument, certainly, but if the decision were that simple, Kansas City (a smaller market than Cleveland) would have been moved in the early 2000s, around the time Montreal was relocated.

According to Nielsen's rankings of the 210 designated media markets in the U.S. for 2012-13 (which I've linked to below), Cleveland ranks 18th, behind Tampa Bay, but a larger market than Kansas City (31), Columbus (32) -- since that's a place people seem to think they're headed -- and some teams that are outdrawing them -- Milwaukee (34) and Cincinnati (35). But relocation is a huge pain for MLB. When it moved the Expos, it went through a lot of trauma with the Orioles, who had considered D.C. their territory for decades. Most of the other places that might be viable relocation sites -- Northern New Jersey, Portland, Sacramento, and yes, Columbus -- create territorial issues that are very emotional and complex. If on top of this, you factor in that, unlike the Expos, Selig and the gang would be moving a charter A.L. franchise, one that has, within the last 20 years, demonstrated that it would support a consistent winner.

Look, we all know the external factors that came together to make the 455 straight sellouts possible, but the fact remains that when the Indians put a consistent winning product on the field, fans showed up. Sometimes people point to the fact that they were 24th in attendance in 2005 when the team won 93 games, and 21st in 2007. True. But in 2005, they were coming off three years of terrible baseball. '05 happened, and I think people were excited about '06, but the team tanked. Then came what looked like a watershed moment in '07, getting within one game of a World Series appearance. Since then there has been little to celebrate until this year. Again, I'd love to see more people support this team. Let's enjoy the rest of this month. But before we begin this countdown to relocation, let's see what happens if the team can put together two straight years of real contention, and what kind of development we see from Brad Grant's last couple of drafts, which have been better.


(http://www.tvb.org/media/file/TVB_Market_Profiles_Nielsen_Household_DMA_Ranks2.pdf)
Norm
September 9, 2013 - 2:30 AM EDT
Luke, I think you are absolutely right-if that is all they look at. But that is not the case. Cleveland has a big strike in demographics. It is in Ohio versus the others. It is low income by comparison and trending lower in both population and income. Figure out who is going to buy more of those TV ads. Who is supporting three sports?
No. 9 - Luke Easter
September 9, 2013 - 12:27 AM EDT
Hold the phone, folks. Let's be clear about a few things if we're going to have a discussion about relocation. If MLB decided that Cleveland was a lost cause, they would have to reach the same conclusion about Tampa Bay, which is dead last in attendance as of today, and has never drawn well despite very strong teams in recent years. Oakland's stadium situation and related attendance problems have been a thorn in Selig's side longer than any difficulty in Cleveland. Attendance in Kansas City may be better than the Indians' at the moment, but it certainly isn't outstanding, and if the Royals stumble in 2014, that's a fan base that won't be very happy. Attendance in Pittsburgh was an area of concern until all those years of high draft picks finally paid off in this year's dynamic club. Yes, more people should be going to Indians games. But we shouldn't frame this discussion as though the Tribe has been winning for several seasons and getting poor support. After losing 90+ games in three of the last four years, they have put together a solid 2013. If the Indians can follow up this season's improvement with another full year of contention in 2014, the attendance would increase. Would it be 3 million? No. But it would be closer to the middle of the pack than it is right now, alongside several other comparable franchises.
Norm
September 8, 2013 - 10:38 PM EDT
I think you are fighting an uphill battle guys. Although Cleveland's fate was relatively easy to predict, it is painful nonetheless even from the far reaches of California. This is not Cleveland of the past. It is a Cleveland(and Ohio) of the decaying rust belt with little to recommend it for investment. This includes people which are leaving consistently. It is not the only place this happens to. Time marches on and Ohio has been slow to adapt. It happened to saddle manufacturers.

Frankly, I hate to see good Indians like AsCab and Perez have to go but there are replacements that are less expensive even if they are less proficient. The trouble with having a good year in Cleveland is it is insisted upon every year and no allowance is made for the off year which bring one back to average performance. But such is the way of the game.

One must remember, when looking at TV contracts, is MLB does not care who watches s long as they watch. Franchises fall all the time. When reading about the attendance glory of the Bay Area, remember that Oakland is in the Bay area too.
matt
September 8, 2013 - 9:43 PM EDT
Nice article Tony, and I can hear the subtext: "how long will the Indians remain in Cleveland?" Low attendance not only impacts the payroll, but draws the attention of Selig and puts more pressure on ownership to fish or cut bait.

One thing you didn't address is the pretty hefty rise in tv viewership - more wins and and a team that stays in the race longer DOES get the attention of the fans. They just watch it on tv rather than go to the ballpark.

If ownership really wanted to increase attendance, they should make it a point to make Progressive Field the cheapest place in the league to catch a ballgame. Dynamic flex pricing, whatever - the fact that people are interested enough to follow the Tribe avidly on tv means there's an audience, just gotta get them to the park.

Fielding a good team is not enough. Its the biggest thing, but its not enough - have to make people come to the games, whatever it takes.
Robert
September 8, 2013 - 9:21 PM EDT
This team was on the verge of an attendance breakout when they had the four game series against the Tigers in early August. They promptly tanked the series.

Last week we were again on the verge - and tanked the 3 games against the Braves.

The damage of the last few years will take time to repair. A few wins against the Tigers would help.

Bob

PS: Two years ago I did the Indians Fantasy Camp. Let me simply say the Indians run a first class operation. I think the team has been a bit snake bit - eg the Sizemore and Hafner contracts. The Indians paid up - and got essentially nothing for their money.
Matt underwood
September 8, 2013 - 8:58 PM EDT
"Indians Director of Scouting John Mirabelli was recently inducted into the Pro Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame. He began his scouting career as a Tigers area scout in 1990 and served that role until 1997 when he was promoted to national crosschecker. After the 1999 season he joined the Indians as the Director of Scouting and has held that role ever since"

This is a horrible, horrible joke right? Mirabelli is seriously the biggest moron in the history of the world. Tribe drafts have been beyond awful for 10+ yrs.
shy
September 8, 2013 - 8:24 PM EDT
People commenting here that Cleveland is not a baseball town. Is Pittsburgh? Is Detroit? These are all storied franchises with history on their side, they are integral to the MLB in my opinion, if any of them close up, the MLB loses. Charlotte is a nice town, but they have college teams, minor league teams and NASCAR. You put a winner out there and a smart marketing team and the Jake will be packed. BTW have I mentioned yet today that the Indians need to drop Chris Perez aka Clown the Ripper? Who wants to watch a great 8 inning baseball game and see it ripped out and hung in the loss column? That's a bad feeling and it happens too much to engender return ticket-buyers
OhioBaseball
September 8, 2013 - 6:55 PM EDT
It's so MISLEADING saying that Dolan outspends Jacobs.

First of all, from 1995 to 2001, the Cleveland Indians were anywhere between 4th and 9th in MLB in total payroll. They average between 5th and 6th during that time period. In the most recent years under Jacobs, the Indians have been in the bottom 10 in the league, so in relative terms Jacobs far outspent Dolan. There's been a lot of factors that have increased salaries in MLB over the years, so it's really misleading using absolute dollar terms.

You've also got to adjust for inflation. Using a 2% inflation rate over the years (to bring them to 2013 dollars), these are the following salaries for the Indians' team; 2001 - $115,211,065, 2000 - $97,031,067, 1999 - $95,543,149.

Compare those totals to (years before 2013 are adjusted for 2% inflation) 2013 - $73,724,300, 2012 - $79,998,906, 2011 - $50,174,377, 2010 - $62,428,045

Indians fans shouldn't be lied to about what the owners spend. Sorry, but Jacobs clearly invested a lot more in the team than Dolan.
Norm
September 8, 2013 - 6:41 PM EDT
A very good article Tony. I enjoyed the reading and only disagree on one point which is possibly irrelevant. I don't think the ownership means diddly. Cleveland does not care about the Indians! Pure and simple! Doubt they will be missed when they are gone. I thought D J Sebastian hit the nail very accurately in his assessment and comments.

As for U J, I disagree only with the thought he will not get an offer if given a qualifying offer. And I do not care if he accepts. I would much rather see the Tribe brass work around the money issues in other ways. And I would not be too sure they won't extend Kubel as well. It might require some short term payroll sacrifice and letting go of some valuable pieces but keeping the core and future intact.

When it comes to relocation, look out if Dolan sells. MLB is subsidizing the Indians and I doubt they would waste money on "the mistake on the lake" otherwise. Sebastian may well be right when he anticipates a friendlier location such as Charlotte.
Seth
September 8, 2013 - 1:13 PM EDT
Baseball is not going to let Cleveland move. There's more money in TV now than in actual attendance. To move a team with Cleveland's history might help an owner, but it would hurt baseball. Half of the people who comment on this site live on the west coast, or elsewhere, and if they're like me, they're ponying up $25/month for an MLB.tv subscription. When Cleveland plays in Seattle, you have hundreds of Cleveland fans buying tickets to those games. You move to another city then that helps that local market, but hurts baseball as a whole, because you lose fans, and eyeballs watching TV. I certainly wouldn't follow MLB if the Indians were disappeared and wouldn't be buying tickets to Mariners games. The Rays, who don't have the history and the widespread fanbase of Cleveland, could be moved.
Rick
September 8, 2013 - 12:54 PM EDT
Westcoast-guy is right. Have said it here before. In five years the Indians will be playing in a start of the art new stadium in Columbus and the Clippers will inherit Progressive.

Everything points to such a move south. You've seen half of the corporate philanthropic backing exit with a shriveling economy and population. The City has remained a mess but the real problem is the loss of jobs and subsequent income in surrounding suburbs.

I have grown to like and respect the Dolans. They are good owners. But their first few years - and their wrongly held beliefs that they overpaid the Jacobs Bros for the club - really eroded any good will when they badly needed it in fallow times.

It's the 11th hour and the empty seats say it all. They haven't come because they don't care if baseball stays in Cleveland.

Sorry but it's true. It breaks my heart. If they were in Columbus they would be at least drawing like the Reds.
westcoastguy
September 8, 2013 - 12:20 PM EDT
The key to any business having success is "location, location, location" The main thing wrong with the Cleveland Indians is Cleveland. Somebody needs to buy this team a move it to a place that is more economically viable. If you're from Cleveland, that is hard to hear. But when your team is winning, and still 27th out of 30 in attendance, you have to admit something is wrong with the location.
Walter
September 8, 2013 - 12:14 PM EDT
I thought Clevelanders are forgiving people, However the dislike for the Dolans is similar to Bengals fans are to Mike Brown, They both want to see results long term before they buy into them

I do believe Indians ticket pricing is out of range compared to other small market teams . For example the reds and Indians had fireworks night on Aug 9th. We looked to buy field box to see the Indians on my birthday, The cost was $57 per ticket. Instead we settled on seeing red/padres because the field box seat GABP was only $36 per ticket for field box for that night.
Seth
September 8, 2013 - 12:10 PM EDT
The attendance was a bit shockingly low, but maybe Indians fans just hold their team to a high standard. Watching them get pummeled by the Tigers any time they were making the division race interesting is reason to stay away. I don't think fans really buy into this team as a contender because of their failings against Detroit, and that's justified. You can't even really say you've made the playoffs unless you win the wildcard game, and then, they'd be up against Detroit and Boston, two teams they haven't shown, to the extreme, that they can beat. What are they, 5-21 against the Tigers and Red Sox? After that, it's just the reality of playing in Cleveland with its dwindling population. Those people who've moved to the suburbs will turn on the game but they're not going to routinely drive for 30-40 minutes to go see the games in person.
discollama
September 8, 2013 - 12:00 PM EDT
Personally, I think letting Jimenez walk is a good idea, that WHIP is ugly and he's always had control problems, I just can't look at his numbers and say that this is a rebound year, it looks more like a dead cat bounce. If he's willing to take a 2/20 or 3/30 maybe they should consider it, if not, then make him a qualifying offer and watch his market dry up. I'd much rather try to resign Kazmir.

On the topic of the fan base, I have to wonder if the inconsistency of the players from year to year is a cause for the fans to feel apathy. A-Cab looked like he was going to be an exciting player after 2011 but he's disappointed. Masterson has had two really good seasons, but the rest haven't been worth talking about. ANd talk about inconsistent, what about Jimenez and Perez? Santana has never exploded like everyone thought that he would. Bourn and Swisher are both having down years and Kipnis is again fading a bit in the second half while Chisenhall has yet to be productive at the plate (or provide the defense that other highly touted 3B prospects like Moustakas and Arenado have). Then you have Brantley who, while good, has never been a true star.

With players like that, there often isn't some one for the fan base to rally behind. Even in their down seasons the Dodgers had Kershaw and Kemp, the Reds have Votto, Bruce and Phillips, the Pirates had McCutchen and a plethora of highly ranked prospects. The Rockies have Tulowitzki and CarGo as well as fan favorite and possible HoF'er Helton. The Twins had well known favorites like Mauer and Morneau and the Marlins have Stanton as well as the always popular Morrison and up and coming pitcher Fernandez. Who do the Indians fans have to rally around right now? McAllister, Kluber and Salazar have been good this year, but not fantastic. While we do have many good young players to help keep the team winning for years, it's a bunch of guys that people don't know well outside of Cleveland and have enough flaws noticeable flaws to keep the fans from really getting excited about them.

This isn't an attempt to make excuses for poor attendance, because really there isn't any. But instead an attempt to understand what is keeping the fans from coming to the park.
Seth
September 8, 2013 - 11:53 AM EDT
It will be interesting to see what Ubaldo can get. With his recent history, I think a team would have to be absolutely insane to give him 4/50. Right now I'd think he'd be worth $10-12 million on a short-term contract, but for anything with length it would have to be lower per year to be mildly interesting. Teams do crazy things sometimes, but I would be shocked if Ubaldo netted more than $30 million total. And even something like 3/30 sounds crazy for a guy who's been worth 1.6 bWAR this year, and 1 combined over the past 2 years.

It seemed when they skipped him against Detroit and brought Salazar up, that was a bit of a wake-up call. Since then his velocity ticked up and with it, his effectiveness. Which is the thing, you can talk about him learning to pitch with less velocity, and he's done that to an extent, but the only time he looks better than a #5 starter is when he has the velocity. He averaged 94mph on his 4-seam fastball in his last start.

I think they should let Ubaldo walk and re-sign Kazmir. Kazmir's history should also preclude teams from offering him anything long-term, and I'd like to see what he can do with a normal off-season. His peripherals are fantastic this year, he currently has the 2nd-best K/bb rate of his career , and the fastball velocity is also right there with his best years in Tampa. If they can't agree with either in the negotiating period, then maybe you do make the qualifying offer to Ubaldo. It would be a little too much to pay, but it doesn't hurt you long-term.
DJ Sebastian
September 8, 2013 - 11:48 AM EDT
You hit it on the nose, Tony. There are no longer any excuses for fans to stay away from Progressive Field. Seemingly, it could be coming down to the fact that Cleveland is no longer a major league baseball town. If Art Modell owned the Tribe, they would be packing up and moving to Charlotte.

The Dolans, love 'em or hate 'em, are committed to the city of Cleveland. If they get tired of this and decide to sell the team, a suitor would definitely want to move the team... And Bud Selig would support the move. That, is my worst nightmare. I cannot imagine Cleveland without the Indians, or without MLB games at Progressive Field.
shy
September 8, 2013 - 11:28 AM EDT
I'm feelin' ya Tony on the sad attendance. But it doesn't have to be Browns OR Indians. People are crazy about the FortyNiners out here but that didn't stop 41,000 of them from showing up Friday nite to watch the last place Giants play the Dbacks. Some Triple A call-up guy Yasmiero Pettit went 26 outs into a perfect game and everybody had a ball. Not easy to build that fan culture, but I believe it can happen in Cleveland. I think they should start giving tickets to anybody under 18 and over 60 at half- price- every game and those seats will fill up. And as the oldsters fade , the youngsters will carry the torch. They try to make every night special out here, Filiino/American night, Italian/American night, Grateful Dead night, Carlos Santana and Huey Lewis night. Ok , I don't know how many Filipinos are in Cleveland so do Polish/ American nite and maybe have the old James Gang sing the National Anthem instead of the Dead.

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