The Great Payroll Debate

Four years ago, the lowly Kansas City Royal had a payroll of just $35 million. This past year, the defending AL Champions, the Royals had a payroll of $87 million.  This situation is very similar to the Indians.  In 2011, the Indians had a payroll of $49 million, which then expanded up to $87 million in 2013 (the year which the Indians made the playoffs).  Funny how that works, when you spend money, you tend to win.  The Mariners, Orioles, Pirates, and Royals have all expanded their payroll substantially, since the 2011 season.

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The Royals used all that money they made from their improbable World Series run, to sign the likes of Kendrys Morales, Edinson Volquez, Kris Medlen, and Alex Rios.  However, they did lose Billy Butler and James Shields, but the expected leap from young players such as Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, and Yordano Ventura should make up for those losses.  Then again, the Royals have consistently ranked towards the bottom of the payroll barrel over the last 14 years, having only exceeded the $70 million mark 4 times since 2000.

Now let’s move over to our beloved Cleveland Indians.  The Indians actually peaked in 2013, with an $87.3 million payroll.  But, even with a playoff appearance in 2013, ownership still didn’t feel the need to add to the team; as they let over 400 total innings in pitching leave through free agency.  The Indians down-sized in 2014, and it showed, as they dropped 7 wins from 2013 to 2014.  This offseason, the Indians are expected to add to the payroll, but not by much.  The main reason for the raise in payroll is due to the many players who are expecting a raise in their contracts, such as Brantley, Gomes, Santana, and Kipnis.  The Indians did, however, add the $7 million contract of slugger Brandon Moss and potential “innings-eater” Gavin Floyd got a $4 million contract.

The Indians payroll over the past 14 years has fluctuated many times over the years, but has never exceeded the $94 million mark, here’s a graph representing the Indians payroll since the 2000 season.

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So while every team, yes, even including the Astros and Marlins, are expanding payroll, the Indians are quickly falling behind.  The Tribe currently has the lowest project payroll in the AL Central for 2015, and it’s not even close.  Even the last place Minnesota Twins have a payroll projected at $106.8 million.  Only 4 teams are currently projected at a lower payroll in 2015, the rebuilding Astros, the Billy Beane A’s, the firesale Marlins, and the penny-pinching Rays are the teams that make that list.

If there is one thing I have learned from doing the Indians All-Decade series, it’s that the fans never really went out in droves to watch the Tribe play.  Excluding the 90’s teams, the Indians have rarely drew crowds that ranked in the top half of the league.  Yes, attendance matters a lot in determining payroll, but so does an owner with deep pockets, just look at Dan Gilbert and Jimmy Haslam.  Both of those owners have expressed their desire to spend money to help win games.  And yet the Dolan’s say they will spend the money when the team is ready to win.  The 2015 Indians are a team on the cusp.  If there was any time to add a bat or arm in free agency, it is right now.

Indians Decade teams:

1900-1909

1910-1919

1920-1929

1930-1939

— Chris Sladoje (@CST_Doje)

Photo by Mark Duncan/Associated Press

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