The Cleveland Indians are one win away from being World Series Champions for the 2016 season. Unexpected by most MLB pundits at the beginning of the season, the Indians are in the driver’s seat as games 6 and 7 (if necessary) will be played at Progressive Field (The Jake). The Indians have a nice young core of players in place that even if the Indians were to fail this year, the team has the potential to return the next few seasons to attempt to become champions again.
The Indians have this kind of exciting future because of years of rebuilding that is very common among small market teams. Unlike any other major sport in the United States, the MLB does not have a salary cap. Thus, the lack of salary cap has divided teams into two categories, small market and large market teams.
Small market teams are exactly that, a team that does not throw around a lot of money (relatively speaking) on the free agency market. The team can still be from a major city, but will more than likely look to trade a player to maximize a return instead of keeping them for the rest of the year if the team feels it cannot make a playoff run, especially if the team feels they will not be able to resign them in the offseason.
Small market team success is almost always cyclical, as the team will rise to a peak around a core group of players for a couple of seasons, only to lose said players to teams that can afford them once free agency hits. Losing these players will lead to down seasons until the team acquires a new young core to take the place of the old.
Large market teams are the teams that always feel the media pressure to win, and as such, tend to shell out more money once free agency hits during the offseason. Often found in the largest American cities, these teams tend to experience the most success and the biggest national brands. Money not being an issue for these teams may create more success for their fans, but oftentimes, large market teams draw the disdain of the smaller market fans because of the money.
Teams like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox can afford to take more risks on the market, handing out too much money on players who can bust and still not hurt the team too badly.
The Cleveland Indians fall into the category of the former as one of the many small market teams in the MLB. The Indians were one of the top American League teams through the late 1990’s before losing their core and starting the rebuild.
From 2002 through the end of 2012 (11 total seasons), the Indians finished with an above .500 record only twice (three times if you consider 2008 where they finished exactly .500). The Indians spent that decade signing and drafting the core in place now, trading away notable players like Bob Wickman, C.C. Sabathia, and Cliff Lee. In return, the Indians received many failed and fringe talents, but also received future studs like Carlos Carrasco and Michael Brantley.
Receiving prospects for proven talent is a tricky business in the MLB. Scouting is very important, as the majority of prospects never make it in the MLB. The MLB draft is important as prospects establish the core of every small market team.
So much can go wrong before these prospects make the majors, that said it can truly take some teams a decade or more for a true rebuild to occur. Modern medicine and scouting techniques have helped improve a team’s chances of landing a stud prospect, but sometimes luck is what a team needs more than anything.
The Cleveland Indians drafted Cody Allen in the 16th round of the 2010 amateur draft. Cody Allen is now a top-10 closer on a potential World Series champion team.
Small market teams must prioritize who to spend money on once free agency looms for their core. These teams can not afford all their players, so these teams must pick and choose who they can keep.
The Cincinnati Reds faced this dilemma in regards to their rotation when the team peaked in 2012. The Reds could only afford to pay one of their three stud pitchers of Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, and Homer Bailey. The Reds picked Bailey from the bunch, who has had a career marred by injuries since signing his contract extension.
The Indians will have some difficult decisions with their bullpen in the future as well. Picking the right players to pay will not be the only factor in keeping a small market team afloat, but it will expedite the rebuild and keep the excitement going for most fans.
The Indians appearance in the 2016 World Series gives faith to most small market teams, showing that their is a light at the end of the rebuild tunnel. Building through the draft and acquiring prospects may be hard for fans to watch in the early going, but when done effectively, will provide a core that will give the team an opportunity to win it all a few years down the road. The Indians construction of a young and elite rotation, a good core of hitters, and a dominant bullpen gives a recipe for other small market teams to follow. It is truly up to the scouting and development of each team to effectively implement the blueprint to succeed.
The Indians are not the first small market team to reach such success and they will definitely not be the last. Fans of small market teams, nevertheless, are happy to see the Indians in the World Series simply to reaffirm the belief that someday their team will be in the same spot once their process is complete. Having the Indians defeat a large market team like the Chicago Cubs would just be icing on the cake for most of these fans.