The clock is ticking loudly around Major League Baseball as teams have until Friday night (8 PM ET) to decide whether or not to tender contracts to arbitration eligible players.
The decisions for the Cleveland Indians may be fairly easy this year, but keeping all seven of their arbitration-eligible players will shrink what little financial wiggle room the organization has all the more.
The Indians set a franchise record for salary spent last season, and with a significant amount of money due to returning players already because of the way many of the existing contracts on the roster are structured, Cleveland is already on the brink of equaling last season’s payroll, and that includes money subtracted by the culmination of the contracts of Jay Bruce, Carlos Santana, Bryan Shaw, and other free agents following the 2017 season.
Compounding the problem are the number of raises forthcoming to returning veterans under contract. Jason Kipnis is due an increase of $4.5 million from $9.167 million to $13.667 million. Edwin Encarnacion’s spot on the books increases $4M to a 2018 rate of $18.667M. Cy Young winner Corey Kluber will earn $3M more in 2018 than 2017, while Michael Brantley ($2.625M), Jose Ramirez ($1.86M), Carlos Carrasco ($1.5M), Yan Gomes ($1.45M), and Roberto Perez ($950,000) are also looking at big money coming their ways.
Cleveland has five pitchers (Cody Allen, Trevor Bauer, Zach McAllister, Dan Otero, and Danny Salazar) and two position players (Abraham Almonte and Lonnie Chisenhall) who qualify for arbitration this offseason. The Indians could decide to non-tender any of the seven players, making them free agents. The team could also free up some money by trading them away.
Bauer looks to be in line for the largest jump in pay for the 2018 season. The 27-year-old came into his own this past season, giving the Indians a career-best performance on the mound. He went 17-9 on the season in 32 games (31 starts), posting a 4.19 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP while averaging a career-high 10.0 strikeouts per nine innings. He fell just four strikeouts short of the 200-K mark and did so in 176 1/3 innings of work.
Bauer made $3.55M last season and is arbitration eligible for the second time in his six-year MLB career. MLBTradeRumors.com estimates that the right-hander could slot in at a $7.7M figure for the coming season, more than doubling his pay from 2017 with a $4.15M increase.
Allen figures to be the highest paid player of the bunch. The 29-year-old late inning specialist is entering his final season of arbitration eligibility and looks to be paid handsomely. He made $4.15M in his first year of arbitration and saw that figure jump to $7.35M last season. MLB Trade Rumors projects that Allen could see money in the range of $10.8M for 2018.
Allen went 3-7 in 69 games during the 2017 season, finishing with a 2.94 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP while earning 30 saves in 34 opportunities.
Allen and Bauer both could be players that the club looks to lock up on longer term deals, especially in the case of Allen, as the bullpen is already facing potential losses of free agents Shaw and Joe Smith this winter, while Andrew Miller, like Allen, will be in the final year of his contract in 2018.
Salazar remains a curious case for the Tribe. He made $3.4M in 2017 in his first year of arbitration eligibility and per the educated guesswork at MLBTR, he could make something in the range of $5.2M.
It is more than an affordable figure for a quality starting pitcher in the game today, but the 27-year-old one-time All-Star has been a conundrum on the mound. He was limited by injuries again last season and found himself excluded from the postseason rotation and even worked out of the bullpen at times during the regular season. With several other candidates for spots at the back end of the starting rotation, including Josh Tomlin, Mike Clevinger, and Ryan Merritt, Salazar could be an attractive trade piece for an Indians team lacking the financial flexibility to replace the offense potentially gone via free agency. The Indians have needs at several positions around the field and do not appear to have the money to throw at all of the glaring areas of concern.
With several years of control remaining, Salazar would be enticing for some clubs willing to take a shot on him while his stock is down some. He went 5-6 with a 4.28 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP in 23 games (19 starts) in 2017.
Relievers McAllister and Otero would also appear to be tender candidates by Friday night. The Indians bullpen took a hit when Shaw and Smith hit the open market, and with Allen and Miller potentially gone following the 2018 season, it leaves few trusted and reliable arms in the bullpen for the years ahead. McAllister, who was a fringe non-tender option last season, saw his salary jump from $1.3M in 2016 to $1.825M last year.
The soon-to-be 30-year-old is projected to make $2.4M in his final season under contract with the Indians. He was 2-2 for Cleveland in 2017, appearing in 50 games with a 2.61 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP, the best mark of his career.
Otero has arbitration eligibility for both this coming season and following the 2018 campaign. The 32-year-old made $1.05M after his first year of eligibility last year and is in line for a raise to the $1.4M mark. He worked in 52 games for the Tribe in 2017, going 3-0 with a 2.85 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP in a second strong season of work in Terry Francona’s bullpen.
On the position player side, Chisenhall could be entering his final year with the Indians. He put up good numbers overall in another season shortened by injuries. He appeared in just over half (82) of the team’s games, slashing .288/.360/.521 with 17 doubles, 12 homers, and 53 RBI while working at all three outfield spots and first base. Given his flexibility in the outfield and the club’s potential hole at first base, Chisenhall should be safe for a return to Cleveland in 2018.
Chisenhall made $4.3M in 2017 and is estimated to see that number grow to $5.8M for 2018.
Almonte may be the biggest question mark out of the group. He is arbitration eligible for the first time, but he is coming off of a second consecutive injury-shortened season for the Tribe. While he displayed a better eye in 2017, his batting average took more than a 30-point hit and his power numbers were down by nearly half. The switch-hitter also struggled against left-handers, limiting his platoon opportunities.
While Almonte, 28, could be seen as a non-tender candidate due to a generally crowded outfield, he projects for a small salary jump from $544,200 to $1.1M, making the possible savings for the Indians insubstantial.
Last season, the Indians offered contracts to eight of their nine arbitration eligible players, opting to non-tender right-handed reliever Jeff Manship.
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