MONTVILLE TWP. — Paul Dolan, chairman and CEO of the Cleveland Indians, had to know the topic of discussion Thursday was eventually going to shift to All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor’s future with the team.
Dolan was visiting Medina County as the keynote speaker at the Greater Medina Chamber of Commerce breakfast at Blue Heron Brewery and Event Center, 3227 Blue Heron Trace, Montville Township. Dolan, 60, and assistant general manager Carter Hawkins spoke for more than an hour to a crowd of about 150 people.
The event was pegged as an opportunity to hear examples of the Indians’ success that can be translated into an office environment. But when you have a baseball owner in the room, you talk baseball.
With astronomical signings by Angels outfielder Mike Trout (10 years, $360 million) and Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper (13 years, $330 million), baseball experts predict it’s going to take that kind of money to sign Lindor.
He is sidelined with an ankle injury. Dolan said projections are that he’ll return to the lineup in “late April or early May.”
“We all know he’s one of the best players in the game,” Dolan said. “This offseason, the marker for those types of players have gone over the ($300 million level).”
Lindor won’t become a free agent until 2021, said Bob DiBiasio, the Indians’ senior vice president of public affairs, who served as a moderator at the event.
“We don’t know how that’s going to play out,” Dolan said. “Things change. I don’t know what’s going to happen with Lindor. I’m going to enjoy him for the next three years, and hopefully longer.”
The owner said Trout is known as the best player in baseball. Despite that claim, he’s appeared in the postseason just once in his career.
“That’s the challenge that we’ll have,” Dolan said. “Do we focus on bringing him back? We can have any player. The Cleveland Indians can afford any player. What we can’t do is pay premium dollar for the top player and build a championship team around him. Our goal is win the World Series. We’ll always focus on that.”
DiBiasio, who has been with the organization for 40 years, said the team invests heavily in players and watches them grow.
“We get to know these kids when they are 17,” he said. “They grow into men. They become husbands. They become fathers. Then they leave. It’s not easy for us. We spent a lot of time, energy and resources to (develop them).
“Players come and go. Of course, we don’t want Lindor to go anywhere. He wants a number. We have to find that number. If it’s respectful to him and it’s respectful to us to build a championship team, then (they’ll sign him).”
Whether Lindor remains with the club is yet to be seen. Manager Terry “Tito” Francona signed a two-year extension, which will run through 2022. Giants manager Bruce Bochy has announced he will retire after the 2019 season, which will leave Francona the longest-running manager in baseball. This is his 19th year in the big leagues.
“In our 20 years, we’ve had a few managers and I respect all of them,” Dolan said. “But until we hired Tito, I didn’t think managers could make much of a difference with wins and losses. Tito has changed all of that with me.
“When you bring in someone of his stature, it’s truly been uplifting to the organization. There are no barriers with him.”
DiBiasio has worked under 15 managers in Cleveland.
“Don’t tell Mike Hargrove, but Tito is absolutely the best,” he said. “He is the most remarkable guy.”
The Dolan family is now the longest-tenured ownership group in team history, DiBiasio said.
During its 20 years as owners, the Indians have had 10 winning seasons, eight seasons of 90-plus wins, five division titles and one American League championship. They’ve won more games than any team in baseball over the last six years.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years,” he said. “It seems like yesterday that we took over the team. It’s gone by with a blink of an eye.”
DiBiasio said the biggest change is the advanced role analytics now play in the organization.
Dolan said he’s never stopped being a fan.
“You never lose the fan part,” he said. “You wouldn’t be in this business if you didn’t love the game. It never goes away. The business part hits you in the face real quickly. You have to make tough decisions to make this team sustainable.”
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