The offseason is finally fun here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario.
While last hot stove season was full of shock and awe from year one of the Chris Antonetti and Terry Francona regime, year two could provide the real push towards a serious playoff run.
What’s the difference?
The 2012-2013 offseason provided the foundation for a team that was trying to build a roster in quicksand after the 2012 collapse. The offseason provided big splash free agents, and a trade that was the talk of the winter meetings. What happened between October and February of 2012 and 2013 turned the Indians from a laughingstock to a team that had a shot at the playoffs.
What should Indians’ fans expect during the 2013 and 2014 offseason? There should be less surprises. The Indians won’t take many risks on long-term free agent signings based on a couple of factors.
First off, their first round pick is no longer protected, as they weren’t one of the five worst teams in baseball in 2013.
Secondly, while I think the Indians will spend more than the conservative many believe they will this offseason, they clearly don’t have as much in the coffers as they did last year.
I don’t have exact figures on the Indians’ payroll heading into the 2014 season, but with likely arbitration-year bumps, the Tribe will have $85 million or so in salary based on the current roster.
The big adjustment in that figure of course is the loss of Ubaldo Jimenez and his near $6 million, as well as Joe Smith ($3 million), Matt Albers ($1.75 million) and Scott Kazmir ($1 million). That’s an initial savings of $12 million off the books.
That figure is virtually wiped out though thanks to a balloon in Michael Bourn’s salary. His current salary is at $7 million, but will nearly double to $13.5 million next year. You then have to add arbitration bumps to Justin Masterson, Drew Stubbs, Marc Rzepczynski, Lou Marson, Michael Brantley, Josh Tomlin, Vinnie Pestano, Chris Perez and Carlos Carrasco.
You also have to include minor bumps in pay to all of the non-eligible arbitration players that remain under control for the Indians. That’s what carries the salary over last year’s $80-$82 million figure.
There’s a lot more to ponder though as we head through the offseason. There is no way Chris Antonetti wants his starting point to be above last season’s salary number. Yes, I firmly believe the Indians will push their salary number to $90 million or above, but even that only gives us $5 million to play with if the current roster stands pat. That’s not nearly enough to compensate for the losses of Ubaldo Jimenez, Scott Kazmir and Joe Smith, unless you think Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and any number of relievers can fill those roles.
That’s likely what the Indians were hoping for when they made the trade that brought over Trevor Bauer, but Bauer appears to be a long way away from the Indians rotation.
Of course, who woulda thunk that Scott Kazmir and Corey Kluber were going to become effective starters in 2013.
The Indians won’t bank on that.
So what might the Indians do to help alleviate that $85 or so million?
Start with Jason Kubel, who is likely forgotten. You remember Kubel. The Indians traded for him prior to the August waiver deadline, then did absolutely nothing with him. He had 18 fruitless at bats, with three hits and a double in his tenure.
He has a club option for $7 ½ million in 2014, with a $1 million buyout.
They’ll take the buyout, which will drop that estimated $85 million below the $80 million threshold.
Then there is Chris Perez. His contract for 2014 will likely end up somewhere in the realm of $10 million (that’s what I figured, anyways). If there was ANY doubt heading into the offseason that the Indians would do everything they could to get rid of Perez, there shouldn’t be.
Antonetti has no doubt been calling everyone he can think of, trying to work out some sort of deal for their mercurial closer. In a best case scenario, Perez will be dealt for something…anything…worthwhile.
That won’t happen.
Instead, the Indians will non-tender Perez prior to the season, freeing up that ten million. That will get the Indians down below $70 million.
There are certainly other moves that could happen that could really give the Indians some room, should they want to really work some offseason magic, but they would all be stretch. They could non-tender or trade Drew Stubbs and his $3+ million. They could deal Michael Bourn and his $13.5 million. They could deal Asdrubal Cabrera and his $10 million. Yes, they could even deal Justin Masterson if they feel that they won’t be able to sign him.
As unpopular as that last move is, it is likely something that they are discussing here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, if they know that he’s a lock not to come back after the 2014 season. They would certainly have to weigh the potential of receiving a first round pick vs. any return they could get for him in a trade. They would also have to weight what happens with regards to Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir as well.
The Indians obviously wouldn’t make all of those previously mentioned deals, but it’s likely the braintrust will be pondering any and all possibilities if they think the return could make the team better. This is what makes the Indians a different team in the past.
Their moves are still about money, but they are also about improving the team. That’s why I think the Indians will still make some splashes this year. I know that the common thought is that they’ll stay away from free agency outside of their own players (Kazmir, Jimenez, Joe Smith, Matt Albers), but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Indians went out and signed a specific player if that player addresses a specific need, and gives the team some control.
I also think there will be some surprise deals as well. At this point, any deal involving Asdrubal Cabrera would be a surprise, but I still feel like a deal could get done. There are teams that are desperate for shortstops. I know that the St. Louis Cardinals are one of those teams, but they won’t be idiotic enough to deal away a potential stud starter for a player like Jimenez.
He could still bring value though, just not as much as he possible could have brought a year ago.
Perhaps the Yankees are a team that may come knocking.
That’s really not the point of this weeks’ Corner of Carnegie and Ontario though, but more in just taking a look at what the Indians will realistically have to spend going forward.
With the Indians likely coming in at somewhere under $70 million, the real question then becomes what the Indians cap will be. Will they try and keep their salary between $80-$85 million, or will they bump it up to $90 million, or even slightly above.
My guess is that the salary ceiling will be fluid, depending on the return they can get. This team wants to be playing for the World Series in 2014, and if a deal becomes available as the offseason carries on that can improve the team in an area of weakness, I think they’ll make it.
Before anything is done though, the Indians really have to assess what they have right now, and which specific trajectories these players will be going in 2014.
There are so many questions:
Will the Indians starting rotation find internal help in 2014? The big question for me are the guys that are already there. Can Zach McAllister continue to be the pre-injury pitcher he was in May, or has he permanently regressed to the post-injury pitcher of August and September. Can Corey Kluber continue to be a viable top-to-middle-of-the-rotation candidate, who was dominant prior to his injury? Can Trevor Bauer step up and be a cost-effective starter, or is he going to be an answer to a trivia question?
Will Danny Salazar become the best pitcher in the rotation? Look, he has that type of talent, and let’s not forget that he pitched over 150 innings this year. There’s been a lot of speculation on his health, but my bet here is that he’s turned that corner. He has the arsenal and demeanor of an ace, and he shouldn’t be anywhere but at the front of any rotation.
If Danny Salazar is the best pitcher for the Cleveland Indians in 2014, and don’t kid yourself, he very well could be, then the Indians will be marching to the postseason.
Will Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher become the standard for this team, or a cautionary tale? Both had their moments in 2013. While many are slamming Bourn’s performance, at the all-star break, his splits were .290/.331/.366, which are certainly comparable to his career .271/.335/.362. He dropped off considerable as the season carried on, thanks to injuries, and wasn’t the lead-off provider that he could have been.
Swisher had his moments as well, but for much of the season, just wasn’t the producer that many thought he’d be.
The big question there is whether or not these two are regressing based on age, or did they just struggle with their new surroundings.
Bourn will be an interesting watch, as it was his first in the American league. Both Swisher and Bourn struggled with injuries this year.
Can Vinnie Pestano and a slew of young relief arms provide the bulk of the Indians bullpen? There’s no doubt that the Indians will have to address the back-end of their bullpen with the likely departure of Chris Perez, but the real question will be if the Indians can internally fill the important back-end slots voided by Perez and Joe Smith.
Cody Allen is certainly a guy that can take on some of that burden, but if Vinnie Pestano can return to form, the Indians could look at less valuable options outside the organization to fill up the pen. To me, Pestano’s return to form may be the biggest question/answer heading towards 2014. His dominance could stretch out this pen.
Is Yan Gomes on the precipice of greatness, or was he a one-hit wonder? That’s another big question that could really be a big momentum shift in the 2014 season. If he’s more than a one-and-done, or avoids the sophomore slump, than the Indians could have the beginnings of a superstar.
There are a lot of folks pointing to metrics as a precursor to a giant regression.
Here’s my question. Where’s is his body of work that provides you with the meat of your argument?
When the Indians dealt for Gomes, there were several insiders pointing at Gomes as the key to that deal. I thought they were crazy.
I was wrong.
If Gomes continues his progression and avoids a drop, as many are predicting, he again could provide the glue to the seams of a team looking to find a middle-of-the-order bat.
No, they shouldn’t count on him as the answer, but he could provide an unexpected one if things work out.
What will happen to Asdrubal Cabrera? He can’t play defense because his range is about five feet, and his offense is terrible. I know that his averages at the end of the 2013 season were similar to 2012, but c’mon…it goes so much deeper than that.
His offense was so empty. I’ve never seen a player look SO BAD in important situations. He hit .197 with runners in scoring position, and .233 with men on period. Some point to a September that saw improved numbers as a good sign, but c’mon. Did you watch him play?
Cabrera isn’t all that good right now, and there are two top prospects now waiting in the wings in Jose Ramirez andFrancisco Lindor, that can both take over now if they had to. I know there are plenty that would argue that, but they are flat wrong.
I could easily see a scenario in which Ramrez and/or Lindor take over the position early, rather than later, becoming a Dustin Pedroia like move into the line-up that Francona made in 2007 with the Red Sox.
What about Lonnie Chisenhall? I want to write him off. I want the Indians to make a move for an everyday third baseman…but there’s something about me that wants to give him one more chance.
Could Chisenhall figure it all out and become something more than a platoon third baseman?
I doubt it, but I suspect the Indians will be taking a look at him one more time to see.
These are but a few of the questions that the Indians will be tackling over the next two-to-three weeks as the Major League season heads towards its conclusion, and there’s no doubt that they have already answered a few of them already.
You see, this new regime is proactive, with an offensive approach to improving their team…
So don’t be surprised when the Indians make the necessary moves to be contenders in 2014.