One of the first things I learned when I moved from San Diego to Cleveland was how similar the two cities are when it comes to sports. San Diego sports teams have yet to win a major sports championship. Cleveland teams haven’t won a major sports championship since before San Diego had major sports teams. To root for the home teams in either city is to be a tortured sports fan.

As baseball towns, the similarities continue. Neither the Padres nor Indians are the main sports attraction in town. The Padres rank second in San Diego behind the Chargers. The Indians play third fiddle in Cleveland, behind the Browns and Cavs. Although both franchises have beautiful downtown ballparks, they also both struggle to fill their seats, mostly because of their inabilities to consistently win baseball games.

Neither team has made the playoffs in the past 5 seasons.  The Indians have averaged less than 73 wins a year over that span, with an attendance average of less than 22,000 per game. Things haven’t been as bad for the Padres, but it’s close. They nearly made the playoffs in 2010, but they’ve still only averaged 75 wins the past 5 seasons. The Padres have fared better in attendance as well, averaging over 26,000 a game, but much of that difference likely can be attributed to a newer ballpark and perhaps the two cities’ differences when it comes to weather.

In a sport dominated by market size and media contracts, the Padres and Indians once again rank very similarly. No matter the method for calculation, they’re both in the bottom third for media market size, and both teams have similarities in their media contracts. As we all know, the Padres have a new 20 year, $1 billion contract with Fox Sports which, starting last year, will gradually increase from $30 million a year to $70 million.

The Indians got their new Fox Sports contract this offseason, opting for a shorter term 10 year deal worth $400 million. The Padres’ deal is more of a boom for the franchise, as their previous deal was a disaster netting them less than $15 million a year. The Indians’ previous deal was getting them about the same as what the Padres are getting now, and they are only making about $7 million more per year under their new deal.

So yeah, these two franchises are pretty similar. The Indians get a bit more revenue in their media contract. The Padres get a bit more through their attendance. It all just about balances out, and in terms of team revenue, according to Forbes analysis of the 2011 season, the teams were only separated in revenue by $15 million. During the 2012 season, with the Padres’ new media contract and higher attendance, the gap is likely to have narrowed. Neither franchise has won anything the last 5 years. Both franchises are coming off disappointing 2012 seasons and are looking up at a team that’s been dominating the division the past few seasons, the Giants and Tigers, respectively.

This is where the similarities end and the tale of two offseasons begins.

This is a list the 40 man roster changes coming from outside of the organization made by both teams since the end of last season, in chronological order:

November 17 – Padres trade LHP Andrew Werner and INF Andy Parrino to the Oakland A’s for RHP Tyson Ross and minor league 1B AJ Kirby-Jones.

December 9 – Indians sign free agent infielder Mark Reynolds to a 1 year, $6 million contract.

December 11 – Indians trade OF Shin Soo Choo, INF Jason Donald, LHP Tony Sipp, and 1B Lars Anderson for OF Drew Stubbs, RHP Trevor Bauer, RHP Matt Albers, and RHP Bryan Shaw.

December 23 – Indians sign OF Nick Swisher to a 4 year, $56 million contract.

January 2 – Indians sign RHP Brett Myers to a 1 year, $7 million contract.

February 8 – Padres claim RHP Fautino De Los Santos off waivers.

February 11– Indians sign OF Michael Bourn to a 4 year, $48 million contract.

Unless I’m missing a waiver claim or two made by the Indians, that’s the whole list. The Indians changed managers, bringing in two-time World Series winner Terry Francona, then completely retooled their starting lineup and filled holes in their starting rotation, while the Padres traded one starting pitcher for another and claimed a reliever off waivers.

The Padres talk about building from within and maintaining their core players. This offseason that involved failing to go outside of the organization to fill holes. The Indians tried this path and grew frustrated that it wasn’t working. Players like Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner, who they’d hoped would be cornerstones for perennial contenders, had become injury-prone underperformers, and by the end of 2012, they’d turned into expiring contracts.

This isn’t to say that the Indians don’t have a core to build around. Players like C Carlos Santana, 3B Lonnie Chisenhall, SS Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B Jason Kipnis, OF Michael Brantley, and SP Justin Masterson are talented young players. Starting pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Zach McCallister are just beginning to show their potential. It’s just that the players they had built around this core weren’t all that good.

The Indians saw the holes they couldn’t fill from within and went out and aggressively attempted to improve their team for years to come. They did have some advantages. Their first round pick was protected, so they could feel free to sign any free agent they chose without losing their most valuable draft commodity. The Padres didn’t have this luxury, but I’m not sure it would have made a difference if they did.

The Indians also had several expiring contracts, so unless they wanted to start the year with a payroll near that of the lowly Astros, they were going to have to add at least a little. Most of the money the Indians spent went towards replacing the salaries of the players they lost or traded away. Even after the Nick Swisher and Brett Myers signings, they were looking at starting 2013 with a payroll slightly lower than last year’s $78 million. Then they signed Bourn, a move that will put them into the mid-to-high $80’s come opening day, and a move that really solidifies them as potential contenders for the AL Central division crown.

As GM Chris Antonetti would say, “Our ownership really stepped up.”

Indians fans have to be feeling better about their chances. They’re no longer trotting out Shelley Duncan and Aaron Cunningham as starting outfielders. They’re not starting Jose Lopez at first base. They’re not hoping and praying their best players come back from injury to give the team a boost. This is a full roster, and bench players will be sitting on the bench.

There are still concerns that the Indians pitching staff might not be good enough. Well, maybe it doesn’t have to be. Right now, they’re looking at starting Brantley in LF, Bourn in CF, and Stubbs in RF. This would move Swisher to 1B, and keep Reynolds’ horrible defense off the field as the DH. Whatever you do, don’t hit anything in the air to that outfield. And if Stubbs struggles on offense again, they can move Swisher back to RF and Reynolds to 1B. The Bourn signing gives them that flexibility.

Some would debate the quality of the players the Indians added, and whether they were worth what they were paid. One thing is clear: the Indians located the holes in their roster and filled them with some of the best available options, unafraid to pay the market rate for the talent they coveted. The Padres publicly identified holes in their roster entering the offseason and then decided they really weren’t holes.

The Padres say they tried. They went after players like Edwin Jackson. The Indians were an actual finalist in the pursuit of Edwin Jackson, who eventually signed with Dreamboat Jed’s Cubs. The Padres? Not mentioned among Jackson’s final options. When the money got real, the Padres weren’t.

The Indians will likely start 2013 with a payroll more than $20 million higher than the Padres. They made aggressive decisions to improve their club in the short-term without dealing away their top prospects or their young talent. Their ownership stepped up. Padres ownership? Not so much. And that really leads to a worrisome question.  There’s no question the Padres won’t be able to spend with the big market teams like the Yankees, Dodgers, and Red Sox, but shouldn’t they be able to keep up with the Indians?

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  • “In case you haven’t noticed, and judging by the attendance you haven’t, the [insert team name here] have managed to win a few here and there, and are threatening to climb out of the cellar.”

  • The Padres TV deal was 1.2 billion, not 1 billion, right? Functionally, it’s 1 billion after the Moores/Moorad cut, but still…

    • Yes. I don’t count that $200 million. My theory is that it was added with the sole purpose of appeasing Moores and the Moorad group, giving them a golden parachute on their way out.

  • “When the money got real, the Padres weren’t.”

    I love this.

  • Jeff in Carlsbad

    My Padres will be lucky to win 70 games this year. Very sad.

    • They’ll win more than 70. It’s our lot in life as fans to follow a team that blows a shot at a top five draft position while still being bad.

  • Jeff in Carlsbad

    The reality is that the Padres will never sign a homegrown start to a long-term contract like other teams do. Going back to Ozzie Smith and Dave Winfield, and the more recent Jake Peavy and Mat Latos, this team will always trade their top talent right before they have to pay them. Chase Headley is next.

    I love watching the young players develop and rise through the farm system, but starting the season with a payroll that is over 200 million dollars less than the Dodgers in more than disturbing.

    • I think Nate’s whole point was that there’s no reasonable way you can compare the Padres payroll/revenue stream to the Dodgers. Because it’s never going to be equal.

      Comparing them to teams like Cleveland or Milwaukee, on the other hand, is more realistic.

  • This will be interesting to monitor throughout the season. I’ll be curious to see if the Indians spending translates to wins.

    • VM David

      Addressing needs gives them a better chance of winning than acknowledging you have needs and doing nothing about them. If it doesn’t work out, then it doesn’t work out. If you sit on your hands out of fear of failure, then why bother to begin with?

      • I’m not sure I agree with that viewpoint. Seems to me you’ve illustrated two different approaches. The Indians, who supplement their young core with free agents despite the price vs the Padres who are filling those holes internally. It’s worth monitoring which strategy works out.

      • So signing Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher did not give the Indians a better chance of winning than they had prior to signing Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher? Vegas moved their over/under 3 wins after the signings…

      • So $100 million in contracts gets you 3 wins. That’s not great value.

        Of course they are better. On paper. I’m curious to see what happens in practice. My guess is Cleveland will increase their win total. But until they do its only a guess.

      • That’s a purposely misleading way of presenting it. They’re paying $25 million in 2013 for roughly 9 WAR according to ZIPS. Vegas already anticipated some sort of offseason for the Indians — their offseason was three wins more than what Vegas expected is what the line moving means.

        Projecting any team right now is “only a guess”. But if you’re saying you’re happier as a Padres fan having spent $0 to improve the team than you would be if you were an Indians fan after they spent $25,000,000 this season to improve the team…in essence confirming you wanted the Padres to spend $0…that’s absurd. That’s on the same wavelength as hoping the hare is perfectly healthy and focused while rooting for the tortoise.

      • That’s not at all what I said. I didn’t say I was happier that the Padres spent basically no money (will disregard the extensions they signed). I simply said it will be interesting to see how this all ends up at the end of the year. Because that’s what this is about ultimately. Results. It’s great to “win” the offseason. The Angels won the offseason last year. But didn’t make the playoffs. I don’t doubt that the Indians had a better off-season than the Padres. I’m simply curious to see if that off-season translates into more wins.

      • By saying “despite the price,” are you implying that the Indians overpaid for either Swisher or Bourn?

      • Yes. But that was the market price and they went out and filled holes. I don’t deny that.

      • What would you have been comfortable paying them?

      • Also, it feels a bit misleading to call what they Padres are doing an “approach” considering that they fully intended to be active shoppers this offseason and were completely blindsided by the market.

      • Doing nothing is not a strategy. It is nothing.

    • One team on each side of the debate is hardly conclusive

  • It just hit me that if the Padres had said “we’re good” entering the offseason, the only criticism we could have of them is that they overvalued their current roster. But they explicitly noted offseason priorities and then failed to properly address them. It’s really their own fault for overstating what they’d accomplish, which is a mistake they said they didn’t want to make. Under promise, over deliver right? If only.

  • Thank you for an interesting comparison. Very well done. I can only hope that current Padres ownership learns from the past and from other teams in order to build a successful future for our team.

  • Kris

    It’s telling that the Daisuke Matsuzaka signing didn’t even register in the Indians top moves, whereas if the Padres got him it would have probably “greatly solidified our rotation”