More Money Not Always the Indians Answer to Success
Mike B. | On 10, Aug 2015
It seems often the Indians organization tells fans it’s early and encourages them not to panic, however, it only took them three weeks to take the roster in a new direction.
On July 20, we analyzed and explained the Indians roster and payroll problems for 2016. The Indians were facing a potential $100 million payroll to bring back a roster that could lose 90 games. Cleveland has never broken into that salary threshold before, and it would make very bad business sense to do it for a group that has underachieved and—according to Jason Kipnis and others—has players who don’t always hustle or seem distracted.
But in less than three weeks, Chris Antonetti has shed approximately $25 million off the 2016 projected payroll. David Murphy was traded to Los Angeles, Brandon Moss to St. Louis and Marc Rzepczynski to San Diego before the trade deadline. Those three moves helped shed about $15 million. Still, that left the Indians at a projected $85 million for 2016, which seems to be the number they have operated around since 2013.
Cleveland and General Manager Chris Antonetti may have hit the tipping point in the re-tooling process when they traded Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn to the Atlanta Braves for Chris Johnson. Both teams swap underachieving players on large contracts. Atlanta is willing to take on the Swisher and Bourn deals because they likely expire after 2016. The Braves want all the payroll possible cleared from their budget before they open their new ballpark in 2017. The Indians are happy to assume Johnson’s salary, as it is roughly the same amount as either Bourn or Swisher, but spread out over two seasons.
As Anthony Castrovince tweeted Saturday evening, the Indians sent Atlanta about $15 million in cash along with Swisher and Bourn. The money will cover the remainder of Swisher’s contract for the 2015 season, and all but $4 million for 2016. Cleveland assumes the financial responsibility of Johnson’s contract ($7.5 million in 2016, $9 million in 2017) and Atlanta assumes the responsibility of Bourn ($14 million in 2016). The Indians did save some money in the deal, but more importantly, they financed their previous poor decisions so that the roster has some flexibility to be re-tooled this winter and moving forward.
Cleveland now has about $10 million in available payroll to improve the roster for 2016. There is probably some more payroll to be freed up if Ryan Raburn’s option is not picked up, or Josh Tomlin is not tendered arbitration.
And while it is easy to see available payroll as a license to spend money on the free agent market, fans and the organization should proceed with caution. The free agent spending spree of 2013 that cost $113 million to Swisher, Bourn, Mark Reynolds and Brett Myers was an epic disaster and one that will have ramifications on the roster through 2017. Considering Antonetti has never signed a free agent of any significance that turned out to be worth the money, it might be advantageous to take a different approach heading to 2016.
Cleveland finds themselves searching for offense and defense in center field, right field and first base or designated hitter (wherever Carlos Santana is not playing). The Indians and Terry Francona have been reluctant to give young players an opportunity, but now seems like the time that they have no choice. While Abraham Almonte and Lonnie Chisenhall seem to be receiving the first chances in the outfield, Tyler Naquin and James Ramsey should not be far behind.
Naquin suffered a concussion two weeks ago and is still recovering and Ramsey has not had as strong of a season at Triple-A Columbus as the Indians would like, but the final two months of 2015 and 2016 is the time to find out what the organization has in each. The Indians will likely explore trades this winter to acquire outfielders, but spending on the free agent market seems like a poor investment when Bradley Zimmer may be a season away and Clint Frazier possibly two away.
Cleveland always places high value on young players with control for several years. It’s time for them to let those players play before heading to the free agent market.