The second part of my analysis (see part one, here) covers the current Indians roster and examines the salary situation for this off season and beyond. During the season, the young Tribe competed in the American League Central Division against the veteran, battle-tested Detroit Tigers. While the Tigers prevailed, the Indians now must build on the success of this season to prepare for 2012.
The challenges facing the Indians front office this offseason consist of arbitration cases with key players, club options of fan favorites and hunting in free agency to fill needs. In order for the Tribe to make a playoff run next year, owner Larry Dolan needs to raise the budget from this season’s near-$50MM to the $65MM-$70MM range. The Indians have $17 million locked up in contracts for next season with Travis Hafner and Ubaldo Jimenez. This leaves roughly $35MM-$40MM available for key arbitration deals and free agency.
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The arbitration process will probably result in much higher salaries for players such as Asdrubal Cabrera, Justin Masterson and Chris Perez. Shin-Soo Choo, Rafael Perez, Joe Smith and Jack Hannahan also are up for arbitration. All in, arbitration will, most likely, result in another $18MM-$23MM in salary obligations. That’s a steep number, but well worth the cost for these quality players. As a result, the amount of money spent in the 2012 season for accounted players will be around $35MM to $40MM.
But with player options on fan favorites Grady Sizemore and Fausto Carmona, Cleveland may have $9MM and $7MM, respectively, added to its payroll. Now, the total comes to $55MM-$60MM, a sum already higher than 2011. Talented, young and perhaps still needing an extra piece or two to complete the puzzle, the Indians are close to competing for the division title.
This budget scenario puts Dolan in a tough position. He’ll be expected to raise the payroll to the near $70MM mark this off season. For discussion sake, let’s say the 2012 Indians payroll will be between $64MM-$68MM. A big question to be answered: Do we let Sizemore and Carmona go, in order to make room for the missing pieces?
With an estimated 2012 payroll of $67.5MM, here are the contract commitments for current players.
SS Asdrubal Cabrera: signed through 2013, arbitration this off season
DH Jim Thome: free agent
1B Matt LaPorta: signed through 2015, arbitration along the way
3B Lonnie Chisenhall: signed through 2016, league minimum
2B Jason Kipnis: signed through 2016, league minimum
RF Shin Soo Choo: signed through 2013, arbitration this off season
LF Kosuke Fukudome: club must sign Fukudome to an extension by 11/14/2011 or release him
DH Travis Hafner: signed through 2013
CF Grady Sizemore: $8.5MM team option
C Carlos Santana: signed through 2015, arbitration along the way
OF Michael Brantley: signed through 2016
SP Justin Masterson: signed through 2013, arbitration this off season
SP Ubaldo Jimenez: signed through 2013
SP Fausto Carmona: club option, $7MM
SP Josh Tomlin: signed through 2016
SP Carlos Carrasco: Tommy John surgery
SP Jenmar Gomez: signed through 2016
CL Chris Perez: signed through 2013, arbitration this off season
BP Rafael Perez: signed through 2013, arbitration this off season
At first glance, Cleveland is in a good position to be competitive for the next three to four seasons. With key players locked in through 2015, the front office must manage a strict budget and find key free agents to fill holes along the way.
The issue at hand lies in the $16MM that may or may not be paid to Sizemore and Carmona. The front office will look long and hard into the value of extending these career-long Indians. Both are owed a hefty amount coming off disappointing seasons. Sizemore was plagued by injuries, once again, which seems to be a common occurrence in the past few years. Afer hitting .224 in only 75 games this season, he is now awaiting a decision from the front office on a $9MM contract for next season. Carmona, on the other hand, just never got it together — 7-15 and an ERA over 5.25 is unacceptable for someone asking for a $7MM payday this off season. Although both players show flashes of greatness, it seems hard to justify these large contracts.
Here is where the job of a MLB general manager gets tough. Both players have been with the Indians their entire careers; there are emotional attachments, fan hearsay and a strict budget — all things a GM must consider when your team is close to competing for a championship. As far as Carmona is concerned, it would be in the Indians best interest to re-sign him or at least pick up his $7MM option. He did manage to pitch an entire season and throw many innings. Although expensive for a fourth starter, Carmona allows the front office to search for hitters instead of veteran pitchers. If he comes prepared to spring training, Carmona will have the potential to be the best fourth starter in baseball. This is not a far reach, due to the fact that number-four pitchers are average at best.
Sizemore is a tougher topic. Far and away, he has been the fan favorite for the last five to six seasons. Despite his hard play and likable attitude, Sizemore has not been the productive center fielder the Tribe thought they were getting when they signed him to a four-year, $20MM-plus contract extension after the 2007 season. Sizemore earned his money in 2008, but has fought injuries and struggled mightily the last three seasons. He is owed $9MM this off season, or he becomes a free agent for the first time in his career.
This brings up an interesting scenario. What is Sizemore’s value on the free agency market? Is he valued as a top center fielder or as an injury-riddled player past his prime? My guess is Sizemore will not make more than $9MM next year, no matter what team signs him. So, my suggestion would be to pick up Carmona’s option and not Sizemore’s.
Why? Some team would be willing take a chance on a big pitcher with postseason experience and flashes of greatness. The Tribe shouldn’t take the risk with Carmona. Allowing Sizemore to hit free agency provides an opportunity to sign him to a new club-friendly contract. This would work out for both Sizemore and the Indians. A three- to four-year contract with Sizemore would provide stability for his tumultuous, injury-plagued career and also help the Tribe by keeping a fan favorite. The fans will love the fact that they have a reliable player who has shown he is capable of being an All-Star. This is a win-win situation. The fans keep their favorite and the team has a chance, and enough money in the budget, to sign a free agent that will bring the Indians to the postseason.
Another concern is Fukudome, who was acquired from the Chicago Cubs near the trade deadline. The Tribe must sign him to an extension by mid November or release him. It is yet to be determined if the front office thought Fukudome was a cheap asset for the final stretch of the season or if they have a long-term plan for him in Cleveland. The front office did not give up much to acquire Fukudome, which in any circumstance is a good thing. Fukudome is considered a potential All-Star, and Cleveland is the first team to make a decision on the Japanese outfielder’s future.
I would like to see him back in the Indians clubhouse. He provides stability to a young, injury-ridden outfield. He plays hard, gets clutch hits, plays solid defense and is a positive character in the clubhouse. But, this must come at the right price, which would be much less than his current $10MM contract. This was his first contract from the Cubs when he came to America. Big things were expected from him, and the contract proves that fact. He, unfortunately, underperformed this season, and his next contract will reflect that dramatically.
If the Tribe can sign Fukudome for two to four years, at $3MM to $5MM a year, I think both sides would take that offer. This would also provide the Indians with a solid outfield for a few years to come. Although not the top priority of the front office, Fukudome’s situation will be interesting to watch unfold, as it will say a lot about the front office, in general. This past season, they were willing to make a move to obtain him and raise the payroll in order to make a run at a championship. These actions show the willingness of Dolan to spend more freely, when the time is right, and provide hope that this offseason he’ll do more of the same.
Along with other decisions, such as keeping Thome and evaluating talents LaPorta, Ezequiel Carrera, Luis Valbuena and others, the Tribe’s front office will have their hands full. Based on what the Indians do with their arbitration cases and handling of the club options, the front office will know their budget going into free agency.
The next part of this series will look at available free agents, examine what the budget for free agency may look like and provide insight on potential free agent targets. The 2011 season has concluded, and now the 2012 season has begun.