CLEVELAND — With Thursday’s news of two Cleveland Indians fan favorites – Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco – being traded away, many fans are convinced the Dolan family should put the team on the market.
However, is it possible they’re also preparing for a move? Fans say there are signs it’s on the horizon.
"When it comes time to pay guys some big dollars, it always seems there’s no chance we’re going to be able to do it," Jeremy Werden, a lifelong Cleveland sports fan, said. "It certainly would appear to be going down that avenue for big change, like selling the team or something like that."
This is not the first time the team has traded away big name players, but Werden highlights some other signs that make him worry.
First, at the moment, 23 baseball players have an individual salary that is higher than the entire team's payroll. Second, attendance at Cleveland baseball games is among the worst in the league, even when the Tribe was a World Series contender from 2016-19. Third, a team name change is in the works.
But the final clue? The Indians lease of Progressive Field expires in 2023, although there are extensions they can choose to exercise.
"With the stadium lease coming up in 2023, those all seem to be pointed towards one direction which would may be selling the team," Werden said.
We all remember when the Browns left town after the 1995 season – Art Modell taking them to Baltimore and ripping out the hearts of fans in the process. It was that decision that lead to state legislators, lead by former Cleveland mayor and then-State Sen. Dennis Kucinich, to enact a new law that would attempt to protect cities from sports teams that might leave them high and dry.
"I was absolutely determined to find a way to protect Cleveland and other cities in Ohio from ever being in a position where we were at the mercy of a professional sports team just picking up and going," Kucinich said of his efforts.
The Modell Law, as it’s called, is designed to give cities some protection by requiring teams to give cities a heads up before they go and an option to keep the team in town.
"If a team is in a tax-supported facility or given any kind of tax support whatsoever, they can’t move that team," Kucinich explained. "They have to give the city the ability to purchase the team, either directly or through a group of investors."
It’s a unique law that you won’t find in many places. In fact, no law of its kind has ever been put to the test in court – although it was the basis for a lawsuit filed by then-Attorney General Mike DeWine against owners of the Columbus Crew when they wanted to move the MLS team to Texas back in 2018.
That issue was resolved without court involvement after Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam purchased the franchise along with some investors from Columbus. The Crew rewarded their efforts last year by winning the MLS Cup, and a new stadium is also in the works.
According to Forbes, the Indians are worth $1.15 billion as of April 2020. That’s nearly four times the $323 million the Dolans paid back in 2000 when they purchased the team from Richard Jacobs.
To be clear: While the Dolans aren’t dishing out money by any means, they’re not publicly expressing a will to get rid of the team either – no matter what fans desire. The family also has deep roots in the city as fifth-generation Clevelanders, making any desire to move the club out of town unlikely.
Last month, when announcing the team name would change, Paul Dolan talked about the ballclub's legacy:
"While I have often associated these unforgettable memories with the name Indians, I sincerely believe Cleveland is the most important part of our team name."
Hopefully, those words are a sign ownership is committed to The Land for the long-term. Then again, we thought the same of the Browns before they skipped town in the '90s.
Only time will tell.