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With New Browns Owner on the Horizon, Indians Front Office Has Some Work to Do to Win Over Fans

 

 

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Not since 1999 has there been as much optimism in Cleveland about their beloved Cleveland Browns future. With ownership of the team set to be transferred to billionaire Jimmy Haslam III on October 16th, fans are already a buzz about news that came out of a meeting between Haslam and Cleveland City Council this week where he discussed the possibility of putting a retractable dome roof on the current stadium to make it viable as a candidate to host much more than just football. Combining that news with the fact that Haslam has a ton of cash and he doesn’t appear to be afraid to spend it to make not only his team but the entire city better, the ball is now in the court of the Dolan family, owners of the Cleveland Indians, to prove that they are willing to do the same to spark an interest in their fledgling ball club.

For nearly a decade, the Cleveland Indians were the franchise to see in Cleveland. From the day that they moved into Jacobs Field back in 1994, there was a huge shift in both the make-up of the ball club, and the product that they were putting out on the field. Fans became excited to see the team play in the heart of downtown Cleveland in a family-friendly setting, and the team responded by winning multiple Central Division titles and appearing in two World Series over an eight year period of glory and dominance in the American League. At the same time, Art Model was pulling the Browns out of Cleveland and moved the team to Baltimore prior to the 1996 season. The NFL promised Cleveland a new franchise, and the Browns returned in 1999, however the team has been a laughing stock since their rebirth, and have appeared in the playoffs only once in the past 14 seasons. Yet somehow, the fans in Cleveland have shunned the Indians over the past decade and have embraced the Browns, and to a slightly lesser extent the Cleveland Cavaliers of the NBA, as the fan-favorite franchise in the city.

Much of the blame concerning the fans increasing discontent and disinterest in the Indians is placed on their owner Larry Dolan, who in the fans eyes is completely unwilling to take any chances with the ball club, and refuses to spend the money that it takes to sustain a successful Major-League Baseball franchise in today’s market. It doesn’t take a lot of digging to find the root of the fans’ anger, after-all, the team traded away consecutive CY Young award winners in 2008 and 2009 in CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee because they knew they wouldn’t have the money to sign the two at the end of the season. They also traded away Victor Martinez for the same reason and will likely do the same with right fielder Shin-Soo Choo at the end of the 2012 campaign. Instead of spending money trying to fill the voids left by dealing away such high talent through free agency, the Indians instead relied on their farm system to develop and hoped to restock using the prospects they got in return for the big named talent that departed. Unfortunately for the ball club, the experiment has largely failed with most of the players received in the Sabathia, Lee and Martinez deals (Matt LaPorta, Justin Masterson, Jason Knapp, Jason Donald) have not developed into every day, MLB caliber players.

Now with the Indians’ 2012 season drawing to a merciful end, the ownership is facing the real possibility that their ball club will lose 95 games and finish the season in last place, something that seemed inconceivable just three months ago when the club sat in first place and was looking to make some moves at the trade deadline to bolster the team as they headed towards the playoffs. Now they will have to make some difficult decisions this winter when it comes to potential free agents both on the ball club (Chris Perez, Roberto Hernandez, Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, Ubaldo Jimenez and several others could be on their way out of town) and ones that they could go out and land with the money that could be saved by letting some of their aging veterans walk away. If the Indians don’t make any big moves this offseason, it is very likely that their fan base could lose faith in the team completely, especially with the future looking as bright as it does for the Browns.

 

 

By Robert Gonzalez
Cleveland Indians Correspondent

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