CLEVELAND -- The Indians waited out the free-agent market long enough a year ago to reel in slugger Edwin Encarnacion on a three-year pact. Encarnacion signed for less than was previously anticipated, but it was still at the edge of the club's financial comfort level.A year later, it may not
CLEVELAND -- The Indians waited out the free-agent market long enough a year ago to reel in slugger Edwin Encarnacion on a three-year pact. Encarnacion signed for less than was previously anticipated, but it was still at the edge of the club's financial comfort level.
A year later, it may not be realistic to expect the Indians to have the resources to make the kind of free-agent splash ($60 million guaranteed) that they did with Encarnacion. That deal pushed the Tribe's payroll to its highest level in club history and continues to impact the bottom line. If Cleveland wants to create some payroll flexibility, it may have to consider the trade front, while closely examining its lot of arbitration cases.
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By 8 p.m. ET on Friday, the Indians will need to determine whether to tender 2018 contracts to their six arbitration-eligible players. The only player that looks like a non-tender candidate is outfielder Abraham Almonte. The other five (Cody Allen, Trevor Bauer, Lonnie Chisenhall, Zach McAllister and Danny Salazar) seem like locks to head into the arbitration process. Dan Otero was arbitration-eligible, but the reliever and the club reached a one-year deal before Friday's deadline.
Consider, though, that those seven players project to earn north of $30 million as a group via arbitration in 2018. Overall, the Indians' payroll for '18 projects to include roughly $30 million in raises over last season, factoring in arbitration and guaranteed contracts. All contracts considered (arbitration, guaranteed deals and pre-arb renewals), the club is already looking at a payroll in the neighborhood of $126 million before any external additions.
Last season, the Indians ended with a payroll in the $130 million range. So, even with players such as Carlos Santana, Jay Bruce and Bryan Shaw hitting the free-agent market, Cleveland does not appear to have as much monetary wiggle room as it did last winter. The team's ownership has stepped up in opportunistic situations (acquiring Andrew Miller and signing Encarnacion are recent examples).
"We've all seen what the past behavior has been," president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said at the end of this season. "Ownership has continued to give us resources beyond what we could have expected to try to continue to have a winning and championship-caliber team. When we go into the offseason, I know we have a lot of decisions to make and things we need to work through, but we have a roster that's still really talented and we'll find ways to complement it effectively."
And the Indians do have needs. There is uncertainty at first base with Santana on the open market and the club is still sorting through its alignment for second and third base, as well as the corner-outfield spots. With Shaw and Joe Smith testing the free-agent market, it may also be looking to add bullpen depth.
Looking at the Indians' arbitration candidates specifically, the most intriguing trade chip might be Salazar, who has flashed brilliance on the mound, but he has yet to realize his full potential due to health setbacks. Salazar posted a 4.28 ERA with 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings in 103 innings last season and spent time on the shelf with shoulder woes. Salazar's talent and years of control (through 2020) would surely attract trade partners.
With Shaw and Smith on the open market, McAllister does not look like a non-tender candidate this offseason. The right-hander posted a 2.61 ERA in 50 games last season, striking out 66 and walking 21 in 62 innings, and he was especially effective against righty hitters.
Almonte, according to MLB Trade Rumors, only projects to earn a touch over $1 million, so non-tendering the outfielder would only be a slight help to the team's finances. Cutting ties with Almonte would instead be more about the club having confidence in its outfield depth, which includes younger options like Greg Allen and Tyler Naquin. Almonte was limited to 69 games due to injuries last season and hit .233 with a .681 OPS for the Tribe while offering depth at all three outfield spots.
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.