Indians ownership continues to foot the bill for the front office's aggressiveness in a time of potential contention. Considering the history and perception of that group, that is something that hasn't – and shouldn't – go unnoticed.
It started a little more than a year ago, with the trade-deadline acquisition of ace reliever Andrew Miller. Since that time, Paul Dolan's checkbook has essentially had as much impact on the club as anything – and, it has been for the right reasons.
The Indians knew they were building something that could be a winner. Bringing in Miller was costly in terms of the prospects they had to ship away, but it was also costly financially. The club took on Miller's $9 million contract – a hefty number by historical standards for a reliever, even one of Miller's caliber – through the 2018 season.
This winter, Dolan's checkbook again was put on the table. Carlos Santana quickly had his $12 million club option picked up for the 2017 season. Then came the largest free-agent contract the club has ever handed out – $60 million guaranteed (which could reach $80 million with a club option) going to Edwin Encarnacion.
A few weeks later, Boone Logan was added to the payroll with his deal for $6.5 million guaranteed.
It pushed the Indians' total player salaries north of $120 million for the first time in their history. And, this week, it was pushed even higher.
At this year's nonwaiver deadline, the Indians didn't find the blockbuster move like in 2016, but they did add Joe Smith for a reasonable return. Injuries, then, deteriorated their outfield situation. Lonnie Chisenhall's calf injury has been slow to heal, and Michael Brantley was placed on the disabled list with his second right-ankle sprain this season.
All of a sudden, the Indians needed to respond. They were interested in the New York Mets' Jay Bruce, but reportedly, so were the New York Yankees.
And one of the reasons Bruce was sent to Cleveland instead of simply switching jerseys in New York? Money. According to reports, the Yankees wanted the Mets to cover some of Bruce's remaining salary. The Indians didn't make that requirement. Dolan signed off on it, and it was done.
Does that mean the Indians made a smarter move? Not really. Perhaps the Yankees weren't willing to give up any more value based on what they project Bruce to do the rest of this season. But it does, however, point to the Indians continuing to show the kind of aggressiveness many fans have craved for years.
It has been appreciated by the front office as well.
"As I've said consistently, ownership has been incredibly supportive in trying to put the best team possible on the field and give us a chance to earn a postseason berth and advance to the World Series," president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said recently. "This is just the most recent example of what's been a consistent track record for them in trying to do that, and providing us the necessary resources to try to make that happen."
The Indians era in the mid-2000s was mired with frustration, especially for fans. In 2005, they won 93 games, but it wasn't enough to make the postseason. They got in two years later and were on the cusp of a World Series bid – until Terry Francona and his Boston Red Sox won three consecutive games to take the series before going on to win it all against the Colorado Rockies.
But, on paper, the outlook remained bright.
Then came the trades of Cy Young winners CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee in 2008 and 2009, respectively, as fans watched a wave of potential possessed by that core group of players wash away, as if an oil spill had turned a white, sandy beach into a disaster zone. Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner struggled to take their careers in a positive direction. Victor Martinez was dealt. Some high-level prospects like Matt LaPorta never materialized as it was thought they would.
But the trading of Sabathia and Lee, over any perceived chance of an extension for two of the best pitchers in the game at that time, is what seems to have stuck with so many fans for so long. Perhaps it is part of the reason why attendance is just now beginning to trend in the right direction, even though the Indians have been a constant postseason contender since 2013.
It left scars that took a long time to heal.
Regardless, the story of this era has been different. The Indians were aggressive in locking up their core players to long-term deals and, once that foundation was built, went to work adding in the free-agent and trade markets. In the last year or so, Dolan has been in the background, willing to sign the checks Antonetti has asked him to write.
Perhaps it will not last, and once this current wave falters, the Indians will again jump ship financially. Perhaps this recent run only makes up for past perceived sins instead of making any real headway.
But the Indians made one of the major moves at least year's deadline, followed that up with one of the biggest splashes this offseason with the signing of Encarnacion and, although in a very small way, just outbid the Yankees.
It might feel foreign to baseball fans in Cleveland, but some benefit of the doubt is slowly being warranted.