OPINION: Backlash over Dolan’s comments justified

Henry Palattella headshot

Henry Palattella

The past three years have been good to the Cleveland Indians. Over the past three seasons, the Indians have won 287 regular season games and came within a game of winning the World Series in 2016.

So, with the 2019 season in its infancy, you’d think that there’d be a sense of optimism surrounding the Indians, as Cleveland has the best pitching rotation in baseball, two of the most exciting players in the game in Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez and play in one of the weaker, if not the weakest, division in baseball.

That, however, isn’t the case. Maybe it’s because fans are still shellshocked from the Astros’ ALDS sweep of the Indians in last year’s postseason. Maybe it’s because Lindor and Jason Kipnis are starting the season on the Injured List. Hell, maybe it’s the fact that Tyler Naquin batted in the three hole on Opening Day (A column for another day, however.)

One reasons there seems to be less optimism surrounding the Indians this year compared to years past is because of owner Paul Dolan.

Dolan spoke with Zack Meisel of The Athletic last week to discuss the Indians’ payroll strategies and Lindor’s future. The 25-year-old Lindor, who will make $10.9 million this year, is under the Indians’ control for the next three seasons. That control hasn’t stopped Indians fans from beginning to worry whether or not Lindor will spend his prime in Cleveland however, a topic that Meisel broached during his interview with Dolan.

Here Dolan was, a chance to speak on the record about Lindor

“Enjoy him,” Dolan said about Lindor. “We control him for three more years. Enjoy him and then we’ll see what happens.”

Well, okay then.

Dolan’s comments caused some outrage with a large portion of the Indians’ fan base, and for good reason. The Dolan family has owned the Indians since 2000, and in that time have earned a reputation for caring more about the bottom line than winning. This past offseason Dolan and the Indians’ traded away catcher Yan Gomes and slugger Edwin Encarnacion, two solid producers, in what essentially equated to salary dumps. They also reportedly floated the idea of trading Trevor Bauer or Corey Kluber — the two aces at the front of their pitching rotation.

These trades, combined with the aforementioned injuries to Lindor and Kipnis, meant that the Indians’ lineup for the time being is one that is pedestrian at best.

These moves have not fared well in the court of public opinion and for good reason. The Indians’ success as a small market team over the past three years has been a breath of fresh air for a sport that’s dominated by big market teams.

At face value, Dolan telling Cleveland’s fan base to enjoy Lindor isn’t something that off-kilter. The baseball season is a 162-game marathon, and the almost daily occurrence of games make it tough to truly appreciate the talent of baseball’s stars. 

Lindor is a once in a generation talent who plays like he knows that he’s making millions by playing a child’s game. Every time Lindor steps on the diamond he has the chance to do something spectacular and almost single-handedly makes the Indians must-watch TV.

Now to give credit to Dolan, some of the comments he made in his interview with Meisel are justified. He’s right in saying that the small market teams can’t keep up with the market set by bigger teams (see: Bryce Harper’s 10-year, $330 million contract he signed in the offseason). It’s still hard to feel sorry for Dolan, who decided to scale back when the Indians have as good a core as anyone in baseball. You could argue the Indians came into the offseason a piece or two away from being part of baseball’s elite. Instead, they took a step back.

The Indians signed Encarnacion to a $60 million contract two years ago in what has been the biggest signing of the Dolan era. Harper’s contract makes that looks like peanuts. FWIW, the Indians considered trading for Harper last season, but that was when he was signed to a $21 million contract.

Last season it was reported that Lindor turned down a $100 million contract extension from the Indians,  and It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Lindor’s next contract could exceed that number. The Indians will never be able to sign anyone for a bank-breaking contract, but Dolan essentially punting on any chance of resigning Lindor was a gut punch for a fanbase hungry to break baseball’s longest championship drought.

Things will get better. Lindor and Kipnis will come back. Carlos Gonzalez should get called up from AAA sometime soon. The warm May weather should thaw out their frozen bats. They’ll probably make a mid-season trade or two for an impact bat.

That said, it’s understandable if Indians fans see a ticking clock above Lindor’s head every time counting down his time as the face of the Cleveland Indians.

Until then, as Dolan so bluntly put it, enjoy him.

Henry Palattella is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].