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Tribe Arbitration Signings Send Messages About Team Payroll For 2012

| On 18, Jan 2012

 

By Mike Brandyberry

Yesterday, the Indians signed five players, avoiding salary arbitration, each for reasonable deals. The signings were no surprise since the team has not gone to arbitration since 1991. However, as spring training nears, the surprise may be where the Indians projected payroll is on Opening Day.

After a surprising 2011, and Chris Antonetti’s “all-in” move to obtain Ubaldo Jimenez in July, speculation swirled heading into the offseason that the Indians would spend some serious free agent money and build a winner for 2012. With Antonetti’s new direction and core players becoming free agents in 2013 and 2014, now was the time to act. Last season the Tribe had an Opening Day payroll of $49 million and the organization promised the 2012 budget would be much larger, but keeping the team’s core together can be more costly than one realizes.

The Tribe entered the offseason with commitments to Travis Hafner ($13 million) and Ubaldo Jimenez ($4.2 million) for this season. After exercising Fausto Carmona’s ($7 million) option, trading for Derek Lowe ($5 million) and signing Grady Sizemore ($5 million) to a more team friendly contract, the team had invested $34.2 million in five players.

Yesterday, the Tribe avoided arbitration with five players, signing each to one year deals. The deals for Shin-Soo Choo ($4.9 million), Chris Perez ($4.5 million), Justin Masterson ($3.85 million), Joe Smith ($1.75 million) and Jack Hannahan ($1.135 million) more than doubles the amount of salary the same five players made a year ago. Retaining your team isn’t always cheap.

With over $50.3 million invested in 10 players, the Indians still need to settle with Asdrubal Cabrera and Rafael Perez. MLBTradeRumors projected in September that Cabrera would earn $4.9 million and Perez $1.9 million. Yesterday, numbers were exchanged and it was speculated that if Cabrera and Perez went to arbitration, Cabrera would win (earning $5.2 million) and Perez would lose (earning $1.6 million), resulting in the same $6.8 million being spent by the ballclub.

Considering arbitration hearings are not scheduled to begin for a couple weeks, and the Indians disdain for the process, the club will most likely settle with each player. If the club fills the remaining 13 roster spots with salaries around the league minimum, the club is looking at a payroll between $63-65 million if no further acquisitions are made. That’s an increase of almost $15 million to the team’s budget to retain a .500 team and acquire a starting pitcher.

The common fan will be surprised the Indians didn’t spend money on big name free agents, pointing to Prince Fielder and thinking it is easy to spend $15-20 million a year additional for one player, but what they won’t realize is the team has spent in that range just to keep the team they have. Salaries escalate yearly when you have a young team.

The surprising message the team is quietly sending this winter is that they don’t have the money to take their team payroll to the $75-80 million range, but only the $67-70 million range, since they have not aggressively pursued free agents that could escalate the team payroll that high. Any discussion of high priced salaries, like Carlos Lee or Carlos Beltran, have been followed with the whisper the team would have to retool their roster and move salary.

Not exactly the all-in push we thought we would see only six months ago.

Photo: Getty Images