Jun 17, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis (22) at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Weekly Wroundtable 3.5: Most Valuable Contracts

Hey readers, it’s time for another edition of the Weekly Wroundtable.  Joining us is special guest Joe Coblitz from Burning River Baseball.  This week’s question is as follows:

Which three Indians contracts are the most valuable? (i.e. which 3 would likely bring the biggest returns in a trade?) Use any stats or opinions you want.

Michael Chaney:  The Indians have a plethora (isn’t that a fun word?) of young players still under team control for a long time, so there are a number of different answers I could give to this question. But I’ll start with the most obvious one: Michael Brantley. Even before the breakout season he’s put together so far this year (which seemed inevitable), his contract looked like a solid bargain. He’s a really good hitter. He has good speed. He plays defense well. He has a cannon for an arm. And he’s continuing to develop power, already setting a career high in home runs. I try not to get too obsessed with All-Star Game voting (it’s just a popularity contest), but Brantley certainly deserves a spot in the starting lineup. Paying him only $25 million over 4 years (with an $11 million team option for a 5th) is a ridiculously good deal. Assuming he can stay healthy and continue to build on his success so far this season, there aren’t many more attractive contracts in all of baseball.

Another attractive contract is that of Jason Kipnis. His numbers this season aren’t amazing, but he’s capable of much more. He also missed a chunk of time on the DL, and hasn’t gotten as much of an opportunity to show what he can do this season. But even when he’s not hitting, Kipnis draws plenty of walks. He has a tantalizing combination of power and speed, and he’s already been named to the All-Star team. The Indians control Kipnis through 2019 for a total of $52.5 million (the Indians also hold a $16.5 million team option for 2020). For a player with the abilities Kipnis has, that seems to be another great deal.

I’m going to cheat and list two more instead of one: Yan Gomes and Carlos Santana. Gomes is already a fan favorite, is regarded as a solid defender who can handle a pitching staff, and isn’t a slouch on offense. He has decent power, and even though he won’t walk too often, he’s becoming a solid hitter as well. Considering the Indians control his rights through at least 2019 for loose change and a bag of Cheetos (he’s actually due $23 million over that time), it shouldn’t be too difficult for the Indians to justify his contract (as long as he stays healthy). The Indians also have two respective team options worth $9 million and $11 million for 2020 and 2021, which still seem affordable. Unlike the other three (who all signed their extensions before this season), Santana signed his extension before the 2012 season. He signed a 5-year deal worth $21 million, with a team option for 2017 included in the deal as well. You’re probably not too intelligent if you evaluate Santana based on his batting average, but he has solid power and is one of the best in baseball at drawing walks. Even if he isn’t hitting, he still gets on base at a well above average rate. He doesn’t provide much value when he’s not hitting, but he’s a solid offensive contributor and has proven to be worth the money that he’s making.

It seems unlikely that the Indians would trade any of these players, but an attractive contract can go a long way in trade negotiations. Part of the reason the Indians gave the Rockies so much (it seemed like a lot at the time) for Ubaldo Jimenez was because of the team-friendly deal Colorado had signed him to. Even if the Indians don’t trade any of these players, the front office has done a great job of extending important players to team-friendly contracts, and the team should have a longer window for contention as a result. It definitely worked for them in the 1990s.

Joe Coblitz (Burning River Baseball)Corey Kluber is the most valuable player under contract for the Indians right now, although it is only a one year deal. Unlike more players, like Justin Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera who are free agents after this season, Kluber isn’t eligible to become a free agent until after the 2018 season when he will be 32. While he will make some money in arbitration, it will be nowhere near his fair market value, so whatever team controls him will have one of the better pitchers in the league for cheap through his prime seasons.

The second best may be the most obvious with Jason Kipnis. He signed a team friendly extension this Spring and is set to make $52.5M over the next six seasons. Second base is one of the most difficult positions to find a multi-tool player at and Kipnis brings plus defense in addition to a little power and a lot of speed. It has already been seen what an older player like Robinson Cano can command on the free agent market and that number is likely to rise over the next few seasons. By buying out his arbitration years, the Tribe likely saved a ton of money and any team (except maybe Seattle, Boston or Houston) would be happy to have Kipnis at this value.

There are a lot of options for the third most valuable player, including Yan Gomes and Michael Brantley who were recently extended. Of players who are not currently on the 25 man roster, the most valuable trade pieces would be Danny Salazar, Francisco Lindor and Clint Frazier, who are all under team control for some time. Of those currently on the MLB roster, however, Carlos Santana may be the best. He signed his extension in 2012 and the power hitting catcher/DH/first/third baseman will make just $6M in 2015 and is under team control through 2017. Much of the Indians success in the near future will depend on the development of players like Santana, Kipnis and Kluber, but if things go as expected a slugger under contract for less than $15M per season could be in very high demand.

Of course, I don’t think the Indians should deal any of these players. The reason they are valuable is because they are high ceiling, cheap players, just what the Indians need to be successful. They will never get a fair return for any of them as there aren’t players that are better available. If the Indians are going to be dealing at the deadline, they should try to decrease salary (Swisher or Bourn), get something for exiting free agents (Masterson or Cabrera) or deal from MiLB strengths, like any number of A through AAA middle infielders.Brian Heise:  In terms of value in a trade it’s for sure Brantley and Kipnis. For a third, I’m tempted to say Yan Gomes. All three are locked up at a reasonable price for the foreseeable future. In the case of Kipnis and Brantley, they’re all star level talent and only going to get better as they enter their primes. In a trade they’d probably bring back quite a haul. As for Gomes, he’s shown how valuable he can be defensively in shutting down the run game and for a catcher he’s an above average offensive talent. Like Kipnis and Brantley, he’s only going to get better at a premium position.

Jeremy Klein:  Jason Kipnis: Five years, $48 Million remaining with a $16.5 Million option for 2020.

Count me among the people that aren’t worried about Kipnis’s somewhat down season thus far. Regardless of what you peg the cost of a win on the free agent market, Kipnis will produce enough value to generate surplus wins in relation to his salary. This contract is also helped by the concept that a six-win player is worth more than three two-win players because the six-win player only takes up one roster spot.

There are also some soft factors at work here. Kipnis is a fan-favorite, and it’s just plain fun to have a player on the team that can legitimately be considered a “star”. That may not be worth any extra wins, but either way, this is a very nice contract to have on the books.

Michael Brantley: Three years, $19 Million remaining with an $11 Million option for 2018.

This has been mentioned elsewhere at Wahoo’s On First, but my personal feeling is that Michael Brantley’s ability to consistently put the ball in play is not well-captured by some advanced metrics. In today’s high-strikeout era, having a guy that can put the ball in play with some pop has a unique value compared to a three-true-outcomes slugger. It’s why I always get a little annoyed when commentators say Brantley isn’t a “traditional RBI guy” or something stupid like that. His contact skills make him the epitome of an RBI guy. Anyway, the reason this is a really nice contract is that Brantley is a great bet to retain his value throughout the length of the deal. His unique skill set should age well, even if the power regresses a bit, and the money due to him is modest enough to make him a good value. The $11 million option is a nice little bonus.

Nick Swisher: Two years, 30 Milliahahaha just kidding.

Corey Kluber: Arbitration eligible in 2016, free agent in 2019.

Everyone loves it when the team signs a player to an extension covering his arbitration years and a year or two of free agency. Seeing fans get so excited over something like cost certainty is an interesting phenomenon to say the least.  Nonetheless, there are benefits to locking up a player through his arbitration years, especially when the team gets a potentially reduced price on a free agent year or two on the back end.

But there are also benefits to going year-to-year with a player (just look at the Padres and Jedd Gyorko), and Corey Kluber may be a prime example of a player that should be dealt with on year-to-year basis.

Kluber will turn 33 in April of 2019. He’s a very good pitcher right now, but he’s probably not the ace people thought he was when he was striking out the world in May (although designations like “Ace” are pretty useless). Combine that with the fickle nature of pitchers in general, and perhaps the Indians would be wise to address Kluber’s contract on a yearly basis. But as is stands right now, having Kluber at the minimum salary next season, when he will be 29 years old and likely at the peak of his prowess, is a bargain.

Honorable mention goes to Trevor Bauer (arbitration eligible in 2017, free agent in 2020). He’s going to be cheap for a lot of years, but I’d have to see him perform well over an entire season before calling his contract one of the best three on the books. I also considered Lonnie Chisenhall, but I’d still have to see him perform well over a longer stretch, plus his status as arbitration eligible this offseason limits the value of his contract situation.

Tags: Cleveland Indians Jason Kipnis Michael Brantley

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