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.