Restoring the rosters: No. 13 – Cleveland

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This is part of a series of articles examining what every team’s roster would look like if given only the players it originally signed. I’m compiling the rosters, ranking them and presenting them in a countdown from Nos. 30 to 1.
No. 30 – Cincinnati
No. 29 – Kansas City
No. 28 – San Diego
No. 27 – Milwaukee
No. 26 – Baltimore
No. 25 – Chicago (AL)
No. 24 – Chicago (NL)
No. 23 – Pittsburgh
No. 22 – Detroit
No. 21 – Tampa Bay
No. 20 – New York (NL)
No. 19 – Houston
No. 18 – Oakland
No. 17 – St. Louis
No. 16 – Florida
No. 15 – San Francisco
No. 14 – Texas
The Indians had a history of producing stars as frequently as any team during the 90s and the early part of this decade. The problem is that a few of those guys were actually ex-Expos and some of the rest are starting to get old now. As a result, the Tribe doesn’t rate as highly as one might think.
CC Sabathia
Fausto Carmona
Jeremy Guthrie
Aaron Laffey
Bartolo Colon
Rafael Perez
Brian Tallet
Danys Baez
Edward Mujica
Jensen Lewis
David Riske
David Huff
The rotation would have looked a whole lot better two years ago, with Carmona and Guthrie emerging as quality young starters and a solid Paul Byrd replacing Laffey. Byrd was still considered for the last spot over Colon, as were Tallet, Huff, Scott Lewis and Jeremy Sowers. As is, it’s CC and a bunch of guys who haven’t contributed this year. Tallet has pitched better than most of them, but I still think he’d be more valuable in the pen.
SS Marco Scutaro
1B Russell Branyan
C Victor Martinez
LF Manny Ramirez
DH Jim Thome
3B Jhonny Peralta
RF Luke Scott
CF Ben Francisco
2B Maicer Izturis
OF Ryan Church
INF Kevin Kouzmanoff
INF John McDonald
C Wyatt Toregas
While the pitching staff is a mess, the lineup remains awfully nice. Brian Giles is out, but there were still more legitimate alternatives for the team in Willy Taveras and Ryan Garko. Center field is the weakest position, and Church might deserve a chance to start over Francisco against right-handers. He lacks range in center, but Francisco isn’t exactly a Gold Glove contender either. Against lefties, Francisco should hit second, with Branyan exiting the lineup in favor of Kouzmanoff.
Of course, Victor, Manny, Thome is one of the best 3-4-5 combinations in the game. It’s the middle infielders enjoying career seasons that really boosts Cleveland’s lineup, though. Scutaro’s defense allows Peralta to be played at third, where he’s likely a more valuable player. Izturis has always been pretty solid, but he’s topped his career OPS by 70 points this season.
Indians prospects have been relative disappointments lately, as should be evident from the team above. The only players on the roster to come along these last couple of seasons are fringe guys. The system has plenty of talent now, but much of that is a result of deals that cost the team Sabathia, Martinez, Cliff Lee, Casey Blake and Mark DeRosa. The Indians are a mid-market club these days, so it’s imperative that they start having better drafts. As is, they haven’t hit big with first-round pick since Sabathia in 1998.

MiLB president Pat O’Conner says teams would contract if minor league players had to be paid more

Minor League Baseball
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As Craig mentioned earlier, a new law is likely to pass as part of a Republican-led spending bill that amends language in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. The result of that will make minor leaguers exempt from being owed minimum wage and overtime pay, meaning that teams can continue to pay them very little. Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball lobbied Congress to do this, as MiLB president Pat O’Conner readily admits, as Josh Norris of Baseball America reports.

Why all this effort? In 2014, former minor leaguer Aaron Senne filed a lawsuit along with Michael Liberto and Oliver Odle, alleging that the minor leagues violated state and federal minimum wage laws. In many cases, minor leaguers earn less than $10,000 a year and only a small percentage of players can be buoyed by their signing bonuses.

O’Conner said, “When the lawsuit came out two or three years ago, we started to put a strategy together. We’ve been lobbying Congress since June of 2016. … We had 94 people in Washington in June of 2016 walking the halls, talking to the elected officials.

Here’s what that lobbying effort looks like in graph form, via Maury Brown of Forbes:

O’Conner goes on, as he usually does, making disingenuous arguments to justify paying minor leaguers unlivable wages. He said, “To me, it’s fairly simple. If Major League Baseball experiences a tremendous increase in its cost of labor, it will reduce the number of players it offers to Minor League Baseball, or it will come to Minor League Baseball and expect us to pay a portion of that increase in cost. Either one of those are catastrophic to our business model.”

O’Conner went on, “If the cost of that talent is doubled or tripled, which could happen under an FLSA basis, MLB is not going to pay that much money for the talent. They’re not going to pay. They’re going to do one of two things: They’re going to say, ‘If 160 (minor league) teams is going to cost (this much), we’re just going to cut down on the number of teams. We’re not going to pay for 160. We’ll pay for 80. We’ll pay for 100.’ Then the other 60 or 80 that are left without players, if they want to stay in business, they’re going to have to pay for their own players. … You might lose half of the (league). You don’t know. You might lose leagues. You might lose cities in leagues. Nobody knows, but the fact of the matter is one of two things is very likely to happen: MLB is either going to cut back on the number of teams it provides, or (MiLB) is going to have to start paying salaries.”

Major league teams are responsible for paying the salaries of the players on their minor league affiliates. Minor league teams are only responsible for paying their own employees, including front office personnel as well as ticket-takers, ushers, concession stand workers, and such. But we’ve done the math on this before and giving minor leaguers a livable wage is a drop in the bucket to an industry that saw over $10 billion in revenue last year. The average Major League Baseball team is valued at $1.54 billion, according to Forbes. TV deals and MLB Advanced Media have a lot to do with that.

Let’s go over the math again just so we’re all on the same page. Most teams have six affiliates; some have seven or eight. Players will go up and down through the minors, so the teams are usually dealing with 50 or so players in any given year, sometimes in excess. But generally speaking each team has a 25-man roster. Six minor league teams at 25 players each comes out to 150 players. Guaranteeing them a $30,000 salary comes out to $4.5 million in total for six teams. Obviously, the total is slightly more for teams with more affiliates, and if you want to guarantee them a higher salary. $4.5 million is the cost of a free agent reliever. Fernando Rodney, Craig Stammen, and Jared Hughes signed contracts for exactly that amount this offseason. For the cost of a free agent reliever, every team could guarantee each of its minor league players a livable wage so they could pay the bills. $30,000 in the grand scheme of things still isn’t much, but in many cases, it would represent a pay increase of four or five times what they’re getting now. Teams valued north of $1 billion can easily afford an additional $4.5 million each year.

Furthermore, Matt Winkelman of Crashburn Alley brings up a good point:

As mentioned on, the Tampa Yankees, Springfield Cardinals, and Gwinnett Braves are examples of teams owned by their major league parent team. Which makes O’Conner’s fear-mongering all the more disingenuous.

Major League teams wouldn’t pass on the cost to their minor league affiliates not only because they might already own their affiliates, but also because they would be reaping the benefits of paying their players more. Being able to study film at home instead of working the graveyard shift as an Uber driver would, on the whole, make their players better. Being able to afford gas would allow them to more easily shop for fresh fruit and vegetables instead of constantly walking a block to a pizza shop or McDonald’s. Healthier players are better than unhealthier players, right? Being able to afford a quality mattress, instead of sleeping on a couch, would allow players to sleep better. Better sleep means better production in every industry. Better players means a better hit rate on draft picks, which means more talent making its way to the majors that is cost-controlled for six years. As we’ve seen with the evolution of free agency, teams vastly prefer cultivating their own talent rather than paying a premium for it on the free agent market.

What this comes down to is pure, simple avarice. It’s short-sighted greed on the part of team owners and the people that work for them. Their public justification falls flat and were they capable of feeling shame, that’s what they should be feeling. Beyond their labor, minor league players are the product being marketed to fans. Without them, the owners have nothing.