How Cleveland’s guards are escaping spending shame
Before the start of the 2022 season, the Cleveland Guardians signed star third baseman Jose Ramirez to their biggest contract in franchise history, extending it for five years at $124 million.
Even though the baseball world feels like Ramirez has been undervalued in his new contract (36th in total value, 26th in AAV), it’s actually their biggest deal in franchise history. . And not by a small margin.
Prior to Ramirez’s deal, signing Edwin Encarnacion for $60 million was the team’s biggest signing.
In fact, excluding Ramirez’s earnings this year, the Guardians’ payroll would rise from 28th in MLB to $2 million above last place in the league, according to SportsTrac.
But being at the bottom of the list in terms of league-wide payroll is nothing new for the Guardians, as for the past 4 years Cleveland has represented a bottom third team in terms of spending.
But why don’t we hear about them in the same tone as teams like the Baltimore Orioles or Oakland Athletics?
On the one hand, the team does not play at the level of its payroll.
After overtime, Ramirez and Bryan Shaw are the only two players on the Guardians roster who aren’t in refereeing or pre-refereeing. For comparison, the biggest spenders of 2022 (Los Angeles Dodgers) have 14.
Among this young formation (average age of 26.8 years), seven of their 14 pitchers in 2021 posted an ERA+ 100 or more.
Although there were only three hitters with an OPS+ of 100 or better, that was enough for them to fall just one game into a .500 season, at 80-82.
The only team to spend less than them last year? The Baltimore Orioles, who finished 52-110 while spending just $8 million less.
The Guardians are one of the best teams at developing pitching, which has been enough to keep them there since their spending cuts.
Thus, without a constant reminder of the team’s lack of talent due to a strong farm system, Cleveland played with house money when it came to franchise success.
Another way the media doesn’t bring up the Guardians when questioning their payroll is the lack of an outlier in AL Central.
This season, the salary expenses of their divisional foes are as follows. Chicago White Sox at 15th, Minnesota Twins at 17th, Kansas City Royals at 21st and the Detroit Tigers at 24th.
While the rest of those teams may have made a few acquisitions during the post-lockdown free agency frenzy, the White Sox (10-1 to win the World Series) find themselves the only team above than the MLB average.
That’s why an East Coast team like the Orioles or a West Coast franchise like the A’s sees more of this ridicule nationally, especially when they’re both surrounded by teams in their division that have shown recently that they are not afraid to sign. larger contracts.
COVID-19 Season Recovery
While spending was already on a downward trend for the previous two seasons, the COVID-19 pandemic really accelerated the trajectory.
The shortened 2020 season has been a hit for just about every team, but the lower you are on the local TV contract list, the bigger the impact when no fans are around.
Even though they made the playoffs, Guardians chairman Chris Antonetti told a press conference, “At the team level, the losses are in the tens of millions of dollars.”
The Dolan family, majority owners of the Guardians, are considered the 7th richest owners in MLB by net worth. That being said, since the family sold their cable television company Cablevision to Long Island in 2016, the Guardians have become one of the family’s main sources of income, if not the main one.
While the value of the team has appreciated by 258% since its purchase in 2000 (according to LA Times), we have seen that most teams that use the franchise as their main income were reluctant to spend during the 2021 season. .
From the looks of the 2022 payroll as we enter week two of the MLB season, it doesn’t look like that’s going to change.
But, positive roads may be ahead for the Gaurdians’ front office spending. According to Craig Edwards of Fangraphs in 2020, the Guardians are in the final year of their 10-year, $400 million contract with Bally Sports.
Given that TV deals have a significant impact on the amount of spend per Major League franchise, it’s safe to assume that after another year under the competitive tax threshold, a new deal presumably underway and a young roster with years of team control, the Guardians may be a landing spot for some higher-level free agents in 2023.