Thursday, February 23, 2012

Paul Dolan Buzzkill Interview

Recently Paul Dolan sat down with Andy Baskin and Jeff Phelps of 92.3 The Fan for an interview to talk Cleveland Indians baseball. The interview started off discussing the upcoming Indians season and the hopes for a memorable year. This was going to be a softball interview and was an opportunity for Paul Dolan to discuss his team, his players, and how the team is going to win games and bring the pennant to Cleveland in 2012. 

Instead, there was very little discussion of the Cleveland Indians upcoming season and certainly with 25 minutes of air time a fan like myself should have walked away from the interview optimistic about baseball not angry at the Chairman and CEO of the team. 

Dolan seems to know more about the Detroit Tigers finances, what would be good for them, and the negative impact of their offseason moves on MLB than he does about the contract status of the Indian players. He also spends a lot of time complaining (close to whining) about the lack of a salary cap and unfair revenue sharing in the game. Paul Dolan rather than play the role of David and set up the large revenue teams as Goliath chooses to send the message of unfairness, inequality, and the only way the Indian could be a competitive franchise is if MLB steps in and weakens the Goliath's. 

The one thing that Paul Dolan hasn't managed to completely eliminate from the Cleveland Indians is the fans enthusiasm for winning baseball. The team wins, the fans will flock to the stadium, tune in on the radio, and watch the game on television. As long as this enthusiasm exists the Indians franchise can flourish even under this ownership group. If the Dolan family continues to allow Paul Dolan to be a spokesman for the team than that fandom/winning bond will become more and more fragile.

This critique is in no way a reflection on what the Indians did this past offseason or an attempt to suggest that the team will not or can not be competitive in 2012. It is simply a look at at the CEO who somehow manages to turn a softball interview into a negative response from the listener.

The interview begins with a question as to how he is looking forward to the season. 
He talks about how excited he is about the 2012 season. He says that there is great optimism because last year going into the season there were very low expectations and we (Indians) were the best team in baseball for a good portion of the season. 
Best team in baseball for good portion of the season? On June 15th the Indians had the AL's best record at 34-25. Some, including myself, may argue that 59 games out of 162 which is slightly over 36% of games does not constitute a good portion of the season. Maybe he meant days in first place in the AL Central where the Indians were in first place for a total of 85 games which is slightly over 50% of games? 

He says that the key to the 2012 season is staying healthy and the young players perform the way they can this could be a special year. He is asked if he wishes that if injuries were to hit the team that they would be able to rebound quicker. 
Dolan responded that is true of most clubs. Looking north to Detroit who made a lot of noise with the signing of Fielder but that they have 3 guys and if one of those guys gets hurt it's a different club. So they have to stay healthy too. He says one of the keys of their success last year was that they stayed healthy throughout the year and that the Indians need to have that kind of luck and success and we'll be right there.
While it's true that the Tigers stayed healthy and had that luck factor on their side. The front office also moved quickly to add quality pieces to their team. On July 20th they traded for Wilson Betemit who responded with by hitting .292/.346/.521 an OPS of .871. On July 30th they traded for Doug Fister who over his final 10 starts went 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA.  On August 15th, the front office struck again and traded for Delmon Young who finished the year hitting .274/.298/.458 an OPS of .756. The Delmon Young pick up proved to be very valuable as starting outfielder Brennan Boesch was lost for the remainder of the season at the end of August.

Dolan was asked how difficult is it to know that you can't outspend the Detroit, New York,  Boston, the Los Angeles Angels - how do you deal with that as an owner?
Dolan responds that every team operates on a budget. You can't operate a team, you can't operate a business  without some sort of budget. The challenge is that the amount of revenue varies from club to club but whether your in Cleveland or New York you're operating under some budget
The best answer to this question is while he is aware of what the Tigers did this offseason - the Indians still need to focus on how they are going to win ballgames. Getting Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson to perform at the top of their games, seeing Grady Sizemore and Shin Soo-Choo together for most of the season, watching the development of Chisenhall and Kipnis, and watching the bullpen mafia put teams away in the late innings. These are the areas we as an organization need to focus on. We have 162 games to play and we plan on coming to the park every night with the idea of winning. Short circuit every question about the Detroit Tigers or any other team by discussing the players you do have. Keep the conversation on the future.

He then says this about Detroit:
Detroit is unique and I frankly I don't fully understand the dynamic up there--what they did in signing Fielder was extraordinary--whether it was smart or not is a question that will be answered over the course of time but no question that adding Fielder in the wake of the Martinez injury puts them as the hands on favorite for at least this year in the central division. 

The host follows up the last question with  a statement about competing with an 80 year old owner who has sold a lot of pizza's. My translation of the question is "How do you compete with someone who is willing to spend whatever it takes to win, regardless of amount of revenue coming in?"
Again, I'm not really sure what the dynamic is there. They were the worst team in baseball - on an historic basis - as recent as 2004 and Illitch came out and said that he's going to spend until they compete or win - I'm not sure of what he said but no question that they have spent in ways that sort of belie any kind of reasonable budget and it's different than any other franchise in baseball. And its certainly different than any other ownership   group in Cleveland's ever done. It may or may not work for them, they got one division title under their belts. I'm not sure it's good for the long term health of the franchise - it's not really good for baseball - but at this particular moment its gotta feel pretty good to have Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera in your lineup. Maybe not in your infield (chuckle) but in your lineup.
The questions I have about these two statements is why did Paul Dolan open up the conversation to how the Detroit Tigers do business relative to the Indians? Why did he discuss whether the signing was good for the long term health of the franchise or how it is bad for baseball? Was he trying to be coy by remarking about how bad the Tigers were up until 2004, how they only have one division title, and how it won't be too fun having Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in the field together? None of the snide little insults and barbs do anything to make Indians fans feel better about the 2012 season. The fans don't care about whether the signing was good for the future fiscal strength of the Tigers, or whether the move was good for baseball or not. Again, Dolan needs to direct the conversation away from the Tigers and on to the 2012 Indians.

Dolan is asked about the fans who think that signing Prince Fielder will bring the fans to the park. In your mind, do you say to yourself, hey can we go get Prince Fielder or how does that play out over at the offices?
The reality is that someone like Prince Fielder who is going to test the very very top of the market that's going to be a challenge that's going to be very difficult to meet for the Indians. Our guys commented when we heard about the Fielder deal that the reality is our ballpark is not big enough - we don't have enough seats - to sell to even come remotely close to covering the cost of a Fielder. It's just a different dynamic, a different economics--the elite players that are going to get the 200 million plus contracts are going to go to just a few markets -- unless you have an  outlier and Detroit has been a bit of an outlier.
Every stadium (with the exception of maybe Yankees Stadium) that has been constructed over the past two decades has been smaller than the one it replaced. If number of seats in the stadium was a driving force to payroll this wouldn't be the case.

The Tigers only averaged 32,618 per game last year and their payroll was $105,700,000. The argument that the Tigers are "way overspending" is kind of blown out of the water when we look at the Chicago White Sox who averaged 24,705 per game and had an estimated payroll of $127,789,00 and the Minnesota Twins who averaged 39,113 per game and had an estimated payroll of 112,737,000. Progressive Field seats over 41,'s not the number of seats in the park and Detroit certainly isn't the outlier.

This would  of been a good jump off point to bring up the model used by the Tampa Bay Rays. How the Indians are going to benefit from building a strong rotation from within. Talk about Scott Barnes, Zach McAllister, Jeanmar Gomez, Austin Adams, and the eventual return of Carlos Carrasco. Come right out and say it: If the Cleveland Indians are going to have a Prince Fielder on the roster it is going to come either through the draft or by finding a guy like the Rays found in Carlos Pena. 

The hosts asks if the Dolan family was prepared for the scrutiny of owning a city treasure.
We understood that the Indians were a civic treasure and that we were buying them at a very difficult time because you know - what had happened in the 90's wasn't sustainable that was clear when we bought them - there's other things that we fully didn't understand. We didn't predict what would happen in the economy and the like. Nor did we predict what would happen in major league baseball which has really been a positive. Baseball has gone on a great run since really the time that we bought the team and that's been good on a lot of different fronts but it's made from a competitive balance perspective its made it a little tougher on the Indians but in that context I think we've done pretty well relative to similar sized markets.
How have the Indians done well? Compared to what markets? Two seasons over .500 in a ten years and one playoff appearance? Those metrics, in my book, don't add up to doing well relative to any market.  

At this point in the interview Dolan has a good laugh at the expense of Fausto Carmona. He says "Who" and laughs when asked about Carmona. He refers to him as the former Carmona and says its part of the price of doing business in the Dominican Republic.When asked if he's 100% behind him he says as long as everything lines up properly so that the clubs interest are protected and in that context that they'll work on getting him back here. Whatever career he has left will be a successful one as Roberto Hernandez.
It would have of been a lot more professional to say "we were so excited to bring Fausto back that we picked up his 7 million dollar option. He is going through a rough time right now and we're here to support him and get him back to the states as soon as possible. We'll do everything we can to assist him and his family through this rough time." It's really not that difficult of an answer to give.

Asked about how difficult it is to make money without a salary cap?
That part we understood (the small non-revenue generating market) going in that you don't make money-
it doesn't cash flow positive to ownership while you own the team and that's how we've always operated it. You know the upside is the value of the franchise down the road. And it would seem more fair and rational to be like the NFL model but it is what it is. That part we understood. I think we're more concerned about some of the competitiveness imbalances like a lack of a salary cap and the lack of revenue sharing at an NFL level. So a team like the Indians or Pirates or whomever can put a 50 to 70 million dollar payroll out on the field and lose money and other teams can put out a 150 to 200 million dollar payroll and make money - and it's all - it's really all about numbers. It's demographics and in the long run maybe that's not the best way to put together a business.

When he was asked not having any player signed long term:
He says that he didn't realize we didn't have anybody under contract next year until asked by Les Levine (reporter). He looks at years of control and not who's under contract.
This admission surprises me. For some reason I'd want everyone from the owner to lowest level of the front office to know not only the service time, years of control, but also the contract status for each player at all times. He does acknowledge that he doesn't object to long term deals and that we will see some in the future.

When asked about the conspiracy theory says clearing the deck to sell the team. He was reminded that when his dad bought the team he said he wanted to pass it on to his son and on to his son. Is that still the plan.
He says "no, we--well- we stopped saying that early on like that - we didn't want to burden (Chuckle) generations of Dolan's with that"
The idea of not having  longer term contacts as being some  sign of a sale is frankly kind of silly if anything if you were to take that approach the better plan would be to enter into a lot of long term deals that are back at least be more successful in the early years and then sell it and let the next owner deal with the back end of those contracts its the formula that worked for our predecessor (chuckle)
First problem I have with the "burden future generations" comments is that it makes no sense. You have a city treasure and yet it is somehow a burden? This is one of the most offensive comments I've heard from an owner.

The second comment about how the former predecessor operated irks me as well.  The Indians payroll in 2000 was 73 million , in 2001 it was 77 million,and in 2002 it was 93 million. By 2003 the Dolan's had lowered the payroll to 49 million. The Indians drew over 3 million fans in 2000 and 2001 and 2.6 million in 2002. Any residual payroll left over from the previous owner was more than balanced by the residual fanbase who attended the park. Additionally, any representative of the current Indians who suggests that the Dolan family funded the largest payrolls in Indian history can look at this quote and credit Dick Jacobs for that as Paul Dolan himself just did. Sorry Paul - you can't have it both ways.

Asked about Sports Time Ohio's  future:
STO has been great. We are constantly looking for ways to improve it- to add to its value. It's a very dynamic market right now so - if there is some opportunity at any level frankly,  some of these rumors about the sale come because we're not afraid to talk about any kind of idea that might improve our ownership, might improve management, might improve television so we have discussion all the time. 

When  asked if he believes in the concept of Moneyball?
Shapiro recommended DePodesta to Oakland. The premise of Moneyball from traditional scouting as sole way of decision making to introducing statistical analysis or quantitative analysis to make decisions is something we were one of the leaders in.
What the movie misses is that they had  Hudson, Zito, Mulder, Tejada, Dye and those are guys they got because they were bad for a long period of time and they were sort of the obvious draft picks. You know we haven't had the, it's a blessing and a curse, we haven't the #1 pick...we haven't been that bad and you kind of almost need to be that bad to become that good in the current baseball economics.
This is where Dolan steps in it again. The A's team that he is referencing did have 3 top picks...Eric Chavez, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito. The remainder of the team was either players signed as free agents from Latin America or acquired in trades. They weren't can't miss obvious draft picks as a matter of fact only 2 of the 5 players Dolan listed were top picks.

Ramon Hernandez amateur free agent.
Mark Ellis - Trade with Royals 
Miguel Tejada - Amateur free agent.
Eric Chavvez - First Round #9 overall
David Justice - Trade
Terrence Long - Trade
Jermaine Dye - Trade
Ray Durham - Trade
Tim Hudson - 6th round
Barry Zito - First Round #9 overall
Mark Mulder - First Round #2 overall
Cory Lidle -trade
Aaron Harang - trade
Billy Koch - trade

A fan question from Twitter asks what ownership could do to overcome the frugal owner label.
He says "I don't know the answer because the reality is we've spent. We spend - you know - we haven't made money, we lose money  typically on an annual year. Sometimes we make a little bit but it all goes back into the team when we do make something. So I don't know.

Says he's not being judged against Gilbert and Lerner just different leagues and different structures. Says some people don't understand the structure between NFL and NBA.

He says look at Pittsburgh - where the NFL team is a Super Bowl contender every year, the NHL team has won the Stanley Cup and has the best player in the game, and the baseball team can't even hit  .500 for 18-19  years straight. That's not- there's nothing wrong with ownership in Pittsburgh - that's the baseball system unfortunately.
Here is another major point of contention. If it was a case of being bad for a long time in Oakland and getting the obvious first round picks that made them good then why didn't being bad so long in Pittsburgh work for them? How many players from Latin America did the Pirates develop in the last 18-19 years? How many mid-round draft picks did they develop? How many players did they acquire via trades? Why is the failure in Pittsburgh a baseball system problem and the success in Oakland (and Tampa Bay) is a product of the same system.

What did the new CBA do and will it help the Indians.
It wasn't what we were hoping for. It didn't make major changes in the key things that are revenue sharing and a salary cap. There were some tweaks and the tweaks over time may or not be helpful. On the draft there was a significant change and that can be helpful over time but there aren't overnight changes ---nothing that going to help any franchise-small market franchise in the short term. In the long may help a little bit.

If the team is in contention is it time at the trade deadline to pull the trigger and spend some cash:
Dolan answers emphatically yes and uses the Carlos Beltran target and says they were prepared to sign (I'm sure he meant trade) and take on all of his salary but Beltran didn't want to come here and probably better that he didn't.

Host says "imagine if you get off to a start like you  did last year...."

Dolan mockingly says "that's what's in our budget"


  1. I recall in the first few years of the Dolan era a HUGE amount of payroll went to players on the injured list. So the full house that you speak of was offset by the Indians teams under performing because their stars did not play most of the season.

    If those being paid the most had performed to prior known levels, the team produces a better winning record, more fans stay, higher payroll.

    Lets not forget the Browns came back, and the Lebron James ERA did not help matters either.

    At the end of the day, what the owners say doesn't really matter if the players are too often injured.

    And I thought Dolan's last comment was funny.

  2. Which year? Which players? How many games did they miss? 2000-2002 specific?

  3. I'll name names, Travis Fryman, Paul Shuey, Bob Wickman (I think?), Matt Lawton, Einar Diaz (played though cracked ribs and eventually it took its toll). ESPN only goes back to 2002, and 2002 was the year we made a ton of trades.

    I'll have to check baseball reference.