Here’s the good news: Add up all of these salaries
- Brett Myers 7 million
- Mark Reynolds 6 million
- Ubaldo Jimenez 5.75 million
- Chris Perez 7.3 million
- Asdrubal Cabrera 6.5 million
- Joe Smith 3.15 million
- Matt Albers 1.75 million
- Rich Hill 1 million
- Scott Kazmir 1 million
- Jason Giambi 1 million
Those are all salaries from the opening day 2013 payroll that most experts don’t expect to be part of the 2014 payroll. At around 40 million dollars, that’s nearly half of the team total. That gives Chris Antonetti the flexibility to fill the remaining holes that stand between this team and a championship.
The bad news is that the deals signed by Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher were back-loaded, so they will get big increases next year. Also, many players will be eligible for arbitration and will receive significant increases. While some of those players, such as Drew Stubbs, may end up elsewhere if their salaries end up exceeding their expected contribution, one must assume that 15-20 million will need to be set aside for salary increases for current players. That number will go up if the Indians are successful in negotiating long-term deals for any of those players. Justin Masterson, Jason Kipnis, and Michael Brantley are the most prominent players that the team may be interested in signing to multiyear deals.
Add it all up, though, and there will be 10-15 million sitting around to spend without increasing payroll. So where will that money be spent? The first issue is determining which of the players who are leaving will need to be replaced. Myers and Reynolds have already been replaced, so cross them off. There are four relievers on the list, but by the end of the year there were fifteen guys in the bullpen, so there are obvious internal candidates for those spots, and a team with the Indians’ payroll constraints cannot overspend on middle relievers, although if Joe Smith can be had for about the same salary as last year I would consider it. Giambi will be missed more for his dramatics than his actual contribution; his two hundred or so at bats can be absorbed by other already on the roster. I would expect a veteran shortstop with a good glove to be signed to a one-year deal at a low salary to replace Cabrera as a placeholder until Francisco Lindor is ready.
That leaves Jimenez and Kazmir. It seems likely that someone will offer Jimenez a huge deal based on his second half. That will probably take him out of the Indians’ comfort zone, and they should resist the temptation to overspend on him. I would offer a three-year deal for 30-35 million and see if loyalty inspires him to accept. Anything more is too risky, given his history. As for Kazmir, I have this idea going through my head that his career path is strikingly similar to that of Dennis Eckersley. I’m not sure if bringing him back will be feasible, but if he is affordable I would consider him to fill the closer role.
The Indians will be looking to have seven or eight viable candidates for the five rotation spots, as they always do. Four of those spots are reserved for Masterson, Salazar, McAllister, and Kluber. Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer will be in the mix, although Carrasco may be moved to the bullpen. Josh Tomlin should be healthy enough to contribute somewhere, but he may begin the year in the bullpen or Columbus until he shows he is all the way back. I would expect the Cardinals to offer a rotation-ready young pitcher for Asdrubel Cabrera, which would throw another arm into the mix, and you can expect Antonetti to do his usual dumpster diving in hopes of finding another Kazmir. Add all that up, and the Indians should be able to fill out their rotation and maintain some depth without dipping into the free agent market. Free agent pitchers are generally overpriced; the only time you can sign someone for less than twelve million or so is when they have an issue with health or performance, and the Indians want someone with issues they can keep their own guys and pay them less.
That leaves the offense. Kipnis, Swisher, Brantley, Bourn, Santana, and Gomes seem certain to be everyday players somewhere for the Indians in 2014. Raburn and Aviles will have roles to play, but they will be much more effective with 300-400 at bats than with 500-600, so let’s hope the front office resists the temptation to expand those roles. Drew Stubbs is much the same, although he may end up too expensive for a part-time role and not productive enough for the salary he will command in arbitration. So there may be an opportunity to upgrade the offense in right field, at shortstop, or at third base.
One name that will be available that could play any of those positions is Jhonny Peralta. He may be inclined or forced to take a one-year deal to prove he can be productive without PEDs. As a right-handed hitter, Peralta could platoon with Lonnie Chisenhall, back up Aviles at short, or share right field with Raburn. Personally, I have never been a fan of Peralta. His recent heroics notwithstanding, he has always struck me as one of those guys who drives in five runs when your team wins 18-4 but never comes through when you’re down a run in the ninth. If he came on a deal similar to what Mark Reynolds signed last year, I would consider it, but my preference would be to sign one guy who could hit fourth or fifth rather than sign multiple guys who would be a stretch in those spots.
Another guy who will be available is Curtis Granderson. He is from Chicago, so the media there is already talking about the Cubs and the White Sox going after him. The Yankees will already have enough holes in their lineup without creating another one by letting Granderson leave, so they will be in the bidding. Granderson is at the age where he is hoping for one last multiyear deal, and he has enough power that someone will likely give it to him. By 2016 the Indians will already have Swisher and Bourn making big money in their mid-30s; adding another guy like that to the payroll seems like it would totally destroy the coveted payroll flexibility, but if Granderson’s injuries and strikeouts knock his market value down to where he will take a one or two-year deal I would think about it.
Nelson Cruz would also be interesting. He is a legitimate power hitter with slash numbers that would fit in the middle of the order. His PED issues may drive his price down to where the Indians can take a shot, but guys who can hit thirty home runs are becoming rare enough that he will be in demand. The big negative with Cruz is his defense. While he has a strong arm, his range in right field is poor.
There are other guys out there too. Brian McCann would have trouble finding a position unless Swisher can play right field; I would rather keep Swisher at first, where he played better than I expected, than risk reinjuring his shoulder making throws from the outfield. Carlos Beltran has already turned us down once. Shin Soo-Choo will probably look for a deal similar to what Hunter Pence got, which is more than the Indians can afford. The bottom line, though, is that there are enough guys available that the Indians should be able to find someone in their price range that will upgrade the offense.