Invest in Your Own Players Beats Free Agent Frenzy for Tribe

The Indians haven’t even played their first game and already 2015 feels like a really good year.

Despite where your projections are for the season the Indians made serious moves toward stabilizing their core on Sunday. The Tribe signed reigning Cy Young award winner—and tonight’s Opening Day starter—Corey Kluber to a five-year, $38 million dollar option and Carlos Carrasco to a three-year extension for $22 million. Kluber is now signed through Kluber is now signed through 2019 and Carrasco through 2018. With team options, Kluber could be controlled through 2021 and Carrasco through 2020. For a pair of pitchers at 28-years old, it’s the biggest deal they’ll sign in their big league careers.

For the Indians, it’s the biggest deals they’ve signed in possibly 20 years.

When Kluber won the Cy Young last fall the jokes started immediately, when would he be traded. Cleveland holds the unfortunate distinction to be the only franchise to trade a reigning Cy Young award winner, and they did it in consecutive years when they traded C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee in 2008 and 2009. While the Indians already controlled Kluber’s rights for the next four years, Sunday they established his salary and made a long term commitment. This marquee pitcher isn’t leaving Cleveland any time soon.

The Carrasco deal may be a bigger risk, even though it’s a smaller contract. Carrasco has great stuff and all the potential, but just six solid weeks after three inconsistent years. For the Indians, it’s a risk, but one worth taking since they know the player and believe in the player. To the Indians’ credit—or fault—they believed in Carrasco when no one else, including Carrasco, may have believed in him. Committing to a player for four years based on the last six weeks is risky, but when you’re the Indians you always feel like long term investments are a risk.

Cleveland always wears the bad stigma of being a franchise short on payroll and poor at keeping their own players. However, you can’t really fault this era of Indians baseball for not believing in their players. Sunday’s signings give the Indians a core of Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Yan Gomes, Kluber and Carrasco all signed long term. Carlos Santana was signed at the beginning of the 2012 season and is locked in through 2016 with a club option for 2017.

Not counting Santana, the Indians have committed $161 million to five players since 2014 spring training. Originally criticized for not signing Justin Masterson to a long-term deal, it appears their money has been spent wisely elsewhere. Even if every deal doesn’t work out, it’s fair to believe had the Indians signed the struggling Masterson, they would not have had the payroll to sign all five of the other players.

Furthermore, the Indians can tout a commitment to their organization and their core players. Despite a poor defense, the organization is investing in a core that is solid defensively and at key positions. Assuming Francisco Lindor makes his Major League debut at some point in 2015, and potentially signs a long term deal in the next year or two, the Indians could establish a long term core of players up the middle of the diamond.

Fans who now proclaim they don’t attend games because the Indians’ best players will just soon leave town, only demonstrate their ignorance and lack of knowledge of the team. For better or worse, the core of this team is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Even more importantly, compare the $161 million invested in the Core Five over the last 13 months versus the $111 million invested after the 2012 season. That winter the Indians spent good money on Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Brett Myers and Mark Reynolds. Neither Myers or Reynolds completed the year with Cleveland and much of the Indians’ recent success has been in spite of Bourn and Swisher, not because of them. Both Bourn and Swisher are trying to rebound from injury and searching for their first quality seasons in the third year of their four year deals.

The lesson is very clear. Long-term contracts are always a risk, but the importance of a quality farm system and evaluation of young players are key in a small market franchise. Investing in the players you’ve groomed and got to know as they develop is a better investment than over-paying for another team’s successful players.

Pay for players in their 20s who have succeeded, rather than players in their 30s who succeeded in their 20s.

And only time will tell if this core will be near the same level as the core John Hart invested in about 20 years ago, but the intent and commitment is there from the organization. Now, all the five core players—and Santana—have to do is go out and prove they’re worthy of the investment like Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Jim Thome, Charles Nagy and Omar Vizquel did a generation ago.

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