Tribe Salaries to be Determined as Arbitration Commences

Earlier this week, Mark Shapiro admitted in an interview with WTAM’s Mike Trivisonno that the Indians have financial restraints holding them back from making too many big moves during this offseason. The statement can hardly be called “news”—the Indians are notorious for having a low payroll and being a small-market team—yet it can serve as a slap in the face to fans who have been hoping for something, anything, that will make their team better than it was before.

Thanks to hefty contracts like those of Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, the Indians are virtually stuck in the position they are in now. They added Brandon Moss, sure, and bumped themselves from one of the lowest to number 23 in payroll in all of Major League Baseball. Unless the Indians talk another team into a sweeping trade for a big-name bat, there is little to no wiggle room to sign a big name to a big contract that will make a big impact.

The Indians finances will be brought to the forefront again as arbitration agreements or, possibly, hearings, reach their peak point of tension this week. The Indians six arbitration-eligible players filed their agreements earlier in the week, and the Indians are at the point where they must meet that offer, propose an alternative, or move into arbitration hearings to determine the salary.

Arbitration hearings are rare in Cleveland, and the team went into their first hearings since 1991 last winter when they negotiated salaries with Vinnie Pestano and Josh Tomlin. Michael Brantley and Justin Masterson were both able to reach agreements with the team without necessitating arbitration hearings. Pestano and Tomlin both lost their battles.

Last year, the Indians awarded Masteron a one-year, $9.8 million contract, which was the midpoint between Masterson’s request of $11.8 million and the Indians offer of $8.05 million. The one-year deal worked in the Indians favor, as Masterson became easily tradeable once he started showing his decline throughout the season.

Brantley, who was eligible for arbitration for the first time last year, skipped the process altogether when he and the Indians agreed to a four-year, $25 million deal, a decision which is sure to make fans happy after watching Brantley breakout as a star player last season.

Pestano sought $1.45 million last year, and could not reach a middle ground with the Indians prior to his hearing, which was decided against the pitcher as three arbitrators sided with the Indians’ offer of $975,000 for the 2014 season. The Indians did not have to worry about that deal for the whole season, though, as Pestano was traded to the Angels last summer.

Tomlin, who is arbitration eligible again in 2015, requested $975,000 in 2014 but was awarded $800,000 when arbitrators decided against him last year. This year, Tomlin’s case could be an interesting one to watch. He is one year more removed from Tommy John surgery, which means he is possibly one year closer to regaining his dominance on the mound. He struggled throughout last season, at times showing the pitcher he used to be (for example, against Seattle in June), while, at other times, showing signs of wear and tear. Tomlin’s 2015 performance is really not guaranteed either way. Since he shows signs of solidity, the Indians could possibly offer him a friendly, fair contract and shop around for teams willing to buy into it and trade for a player who could contribute offensively. With the addition of Gavin Floyd to the Indians’ pitching staff, an arm is available should Tomlin find himself traded elsewhere. However, a friendly contract could also benefit the Indians, as if Tomlin regains momentum this season, the Indians could be paying relatively little for a player who may suddenly contribute quite a bit.

Along with Tomlin, Bryan Shaw, Carlos Carrasco, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Marc Rzepczynski were all tendered contracts in December and are eligible for arbitration now. Shaw and Carrasco contributed heavily to the pitching staff last year, with Shaw setting a Tribe record with 80 appearances in 2014. After struggling in the rotation to start the season, Carrasco ended up shocking fans by excelling out of the bullpen and, at the end of the season, in the rotation again, as well. Rzepczynski provided solid left-handed support out of the bullpen and ranked fifth in the American League with 73 appearances. Chisenhall’s season is best described as inconsistent, as he had strong performances in the first half of the season when he did not play every day and then faltered when he became a regular on the field.

All players eligible have filed for arbitration, and the Indians will compare numbers throughout the week, coming to a decision in the near future.

The decisions made this year will likely not affect the Tribe roster to the extent they did last year — no player is of Brantley caliber, for example — but provide some excitement during an otherwise quiet hot stove in Cleveland.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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