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Add Indians, Twins to list of teams defending payroll thriftiness

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Earlier, Craig wrote in depth about a handful of teams — the Dodgers, Braves, and Pirates — defending their thriftiness this offseason. He chronicled similar sentiment expressed by Tigers GM Al Avila, Mets owner Jeff Wilpon, and Padres ownership last week. That’s one-sixth of the league represented right there. But wait, there’s more!

On Saturday, Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com reported on the Indians and Twins cutting payroll as well. Here’s Chris Antonetti, president of baseball operations for the Indians:

We had franchise-record payrolls the last few seasons and ownership invested a lot in the team and the path we were on was unsustainable. So we did need to reposition ourselves financially, which we were able to do with a series of moves earlier in the offseason and provide ourselves that necessary financial flexibility that we needed (for 2019 and beyond).

We feel it’s an important element to provide young players an opportunity to contribute at the major league level. We feel there are places on our roster — whether that is in the bullpen, the back of our rotation or even our position player club — that some young players will take advantage of the opportunities in front of them.

The AL Central is, bar none, the weakest division in baseball. The 91-71 Indians ran away with it last season, outpacing the Twins by 13 games. The Twins, in second place, finished six games below .500. The third-place Tigers were 34 games under .500. The Twins and White Sox have gotten marginally better this offseason by adding some players — C.J. Cron and Nelson Cruz for the Twins; Ivan Nova and Yonder Alonso for the White Sox — while the Tigers and Royals have largely done nothing. There are no guarantees in baseball. The Indians no longer have Edwin Encarnacion, Michael Brantley, Cody Allen, and Andrew Miller. They’re a worse team now than they were on Opening Day last year, and as a result, they’re willingly leaving the division wide open, particularly for the Twins.

But the Twins aren’t interested in spending money, either. Per MLB.com’s Do-Hyoung Park, Twins GM Thad Levine said about potentially acquiring a superstar like Bryce Harper or Manny Machado that those acquisitions would be best for the club if the Twins were favorites to win the division and trying to put the division down, not when they’re trying to overcome another team (the Indians).

The Twins, arguably, would benefit the most from signing a bigger-name free agent. It doesn’t necessarily have to be Harper or Machado. Adding Dallas Keuchel to the rotation, for instance, would give the Twins one of the better rotations in baseball. Having signed a second baseman like DJ LeMahieu or Jed Lowrie would help replace the production lost from Brian Dozier, but the Twins instead signed Jonathan Schoop, who put up a .682 OPS last year. Levine and co. stared legitimate, no-doubt upgrades in the face and flinched, diverting their attention instead to the cheaper alternatives.

So we’re up to eight out of 30 teams publicly making excuses for not putting the best team on the field. That’s over one-fourth of the league. Now imagine the front office execs who are smart enough not to say this kind of stuff out loud! It’s important not to throw around the c-word — collusion — without clear evidence. But MLB team owners and front office execs need not maliciously and nefariously scheme amongst each other to upset what had, until recently, been described as “labor peace.” Free agency should not be as stagnant as it has become and, in general, players should be getting a larger slice of the pie. But the fans are losing out too, as many of their favorite teams aren’t putting the best rosters together. Fans work hard and pay good money for tickets, parking, concessions, and merchandise while seeing a substandard product. We’re all losing here. Everyone but ownership, that is.

Ron Roenicke fired by Red Sox after one season

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BOSTON — Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke will not return in 2021, the team said before its final game on Sunday, ending his tenure as a one-year, shotgun stopgap for a pandemic-shortened season with a last-place finish in the AL East.

Hired on the eve of spring training after Alex Cora was caught cheating during his time in Houston, Roenicke took over a roster that would soon shed 2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts and 2012 AL Cy Young winner David Price, who were traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ace Chris Sale (Tommy John surgery) and Eduardo Rodriguez (COVID-19) never threw a pitch for the team this year.

Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom also commended Roenicke for navigating the coronavirus shutdown and for holding the team together when racial protests interrupted the season.

“He did a tremendous job under really challenging and basically unprecedented circumstances,” said Bloom, who met with Roenicke in Atlanta on Sunday morning to give him the news.

“As you would expect, he handled it really well. Probably better than I did,” Bloom said on a Zoom call. “I think he is just an incredible human being.”

Sure to get attention as a possible successor: Cora, who led the Red Sox to a World Series championship in 2018, his first season as a major league manager. The team split with him less than a month before spring training after he was identified as the ringleader in the Houston sign-stealing scandal; Cora’s one-year suspension for that scandal ends after the World Series.

With Cora gone, the Red Sox promoted Roenicke from bench coach to interim manager. They removed the temporary tag in April, during the coronavirus shutdown, when Roenicke was cleared in the commissioner’s investigation into sign-stealing by the Red Sox during their championship season.

He was not given an extension on the one year he had remaining on the contract he had signed as a bench coach — fueling speculation that Cora could be welcomed back after serving his penalty.

The Red Sox dismissed such suggestions dismissed such suggestions at the time, but on Sunday Bloom refused to rule a return either in or out.

“I thought Ron deserved to be evaluated without anyone looking over his shoulder,” Bloom said, declining to comment further because “I don’t want to say anything about Alex that I haven’t said to Alex.”

Roenicke, 64, spent five years as the Brewers manager from 2010-15, winning 96 games and the NL Central title in his first season and finishing as runner-up for NL manager of the year. In all, he led Milwaukee to a 342-331 record in five seasons.

He was 23-36 with the Red Sox entering Sunday’s games. Bloom said he wanted to break the news to Roenicke before the end of the season.

“If Ron wanted the chance to look his players in the eye before we part ways … I didn’t want to take that from him,” Bloom said.

An infielder on Boston’s 2007 champions, Cora was mentioned 11 times in Commissioner Rob Manfred’s decision on the Astros, which said Cora developed the cheating system. Cora left Houston to become Boston’s manager after the 2017 season and led the Red Sox to a franchise-record 108 regular-season wins and the World Series title.

But fallout from the Astros investigation caused Cora and newly hired New York Mets manager Carlos Beltran to lose their jobs.