As with any team dealing with mostly young, home grown players rather than free agents, arbitration is a big deal for the Tribe this year. While they have historically avoided the process by signing players before the deadline or committing to long term extensions that took the player all the way through his years of team control.
They are not, however, completely strict in their rule to avoid the process that allows a player to name his own salary and the team to name theirs with an arbiter deciding which is more reasonable. With 11 players reaching the requirements, the Mike Chernoff and the Indians front office will have a busy Winter sorting it all out. Only the Padres have more arbitration eligible players and only the Rays match Cleveland with 11. To simplify things here, we’ll break them down into a few groups.
Just because a player is eligible for arbitration doesn’t mean they are guaranteed anything and the Indians have a few on the list this year they are very likely to remove from the roster long before February. In fact, they may move them shortly to save room on the 40 man roster for the rule five draft. These include Chris Gimenez (in his third of four) and Michael Martinez, who will be arbitration eligible for the first time.
Both players filled a role on the team and were even included on the roster in the play-offs (Gimenez for just the ALDS, Martinez for the whole run), but they have obvious successors in 2017 and very little value to the team. Gimenez played well above expectations as he filled in for both Roberto Perez first, then Yan Gomes as injuries decimated the Tribe catchers, but both are healthy now and should be able to shoulder the load going into 2017. The Indians catching depth is still weak at the upper levels (Francisco Mejia ended 2016 in Lynchburg), but if they want to improve the position, they will likely do so in trade or possibly through free agency. They could also cut Gimenez and bring him back as a minor league free agent to avoid the process. This is more about the roster spot than the money although MLBTradeRumors projects Gimenez to earn just over a million next year.
Martinez is only projected at $600K, but like Gimenez, is taking up a valuable roster spot. Yandy Diaz is nearly certain to be added to the 40 man this year and is a better hitter and infield defender than Martinez with some experience in the outfield. Erik Gonzalez spent some time with the Tribe this year and is also a super utility guy with experience at essentially every position except pitcher and catcher. With those two ready, there is absolutely no reason to keep the worst active player in baseball on the team any longer.
Upcoming Free Agents
With just one more season under team control before hitting free agency, it will be interesting to see how the Indians deal with Bryan Shaw and Lonnie Chisenhall. Both made about $2.7M in 2016 and are expected to make about $4M next year, so cost isn’t a problem and the most likely course would be to sign them to one year deals and move on at the end of next season. It would be possible for the Indians to extend both, but Chisenhall remains a hot and cold player and the extreme amount of innings Shaw has pitched over the last few years make him extremely questionable, not in 2017, but if the Indians were to try to keep him around longer.
Relievers Dan Otero (first of three), Jeff Manship (second of four) and Zach McAllister (second of three) and platoon outfielder Brandon Guyer (second of three) are all likely to be signed by the Indians prior to February and most likely for just the 2017 season. MLB Trade Rumors projects Manship and Otero at $1.2M, McAllister at $1.7M and Guyer at $2M. These are all reasonable salaries individually, but when you consider that the Indians already have Andrew Miller signed for $9M, Cody Allen likely to sign for near that and Shaw set to make $4M, it is questionable whether the Indians can afford such an expensive bullpen. If they do want to make things a little cheaper, replacing Manship with the league minimum salaried Shawn Armstrong would be an easy way to save a million.
Three of the Indians most important players are also hitting arbitration this year as Cody Allen hits year two of three with Trevor Bauer and Danny Salazar each in year one of their four years of arbitration (granted due to Super 2 status). Both Salazar and Bauer are expected to make in excess of $3.5M, but the first attention should be paid on Allen, who is projected at $7.7M, but could easily argue he is worth considerably more than that thanks to the current relief market.
I’ve already discussed in length why the Indians should extend Allen, so I won’t repeat that here, but getting him on a guaranteed contract now could save them a little money this year and a ton down the line.
As for the two starters, things are bound to get extremely expensive in a year or two if they drag this process out each season. Given the Indians previous aggressiveness in signing Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco to long term deals, I’d expect them to offer a similar extension to Salazar this off-season. Bauer is another case as he hasn’t shown the promise or reliability of Salazar. The Indians may want to go one more season with him before they think about keeping him around long term. That way, if some of the younger pitchers like Ryan Merritt, Mike Clevinger, Adam Plutko or Rob Kaminsky prove themselves within the next year or two, they aren’t stuck with four pitchers under long term deals and no flexibility to add new blood to the rotation.