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?