Should Indians Shop Salazar or Sign Him Long Term?

The Indians have proved that they are committed to their future over the last two seasons. In the last two offseasons, the Indians have extended contracts to Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes. The next guy who could be in line for a contract extension with the Tribe is flamethrower Danny Salazar.

The pitching staff for the Indians is already fantastic. The big three in the rotation consist of Kluber, Carrasco and Salazar followed by Trevor Bauer and a mixture of Cody Anderson and Josh Tomlin. Salazar initially started the season in Triple-A Columbus, but was inevitably called up to Cleveland following an injury to T.J. House early in the season. After his callup, Salazar went on to post an ERA of 3.45 in 30 games. He had a record of 14-10 and ended up striking out 195 batters, just five batters shy of striking out 200, which would have given the Indians rotation three pitchers with over 200 strikeouts.

Coming into 2015, Salazar knew that he had to improve his repertoire if he wanted to be successful at the MLB level. Having a power fastball is great, but he still needed more pitches to work into his arsenal. He was able to accomplish such feat.

Out of the three pitches that he tried to add, his changeup ended up being one of his most effective pitches. Throughout the season, Salazar threw his changeup 559 times, and he struck out 97 batters with it. It was the most out of all of his pitches, even his fastball, but he also threw his fastball 1,564 times. The fact that he was able to work his new changeup into his rotation, and use it to strike out almost 100 batters, is extremely impressive.

After having a rough spring, Salazar knew that he had to perfect his offspeed pitches. He took his demotion to heart last season and began working on these couple of pitches, but his time in Columbus this season really kicked that into gear. He spent his small amount of time there in 2015 to make sure he was ready to go when he was to be inevitably called up. As a result, Salazar put up a phenomenal season, and has established himself as one of the better pitchers in the MLB.

Was this season good enough though for him to warrant a contract extension from the Indians though?

It’s been pretty clear that teams have been interested in taking Salazar from the Tribe this winter. Alongside Carrasco, the pair have been linked to virtually every team in need of pitching in the trade market. The Indians have been adamant in saying they’re not looking to move any of their young starters, since that is the strength of the team. That being said, if the Indians are not looking to trade Salazar, then they should be looking to extend him as soon as possible. Even though Salazar doesn’t hit arbitration until the 2017 season, he’s going to start getting expensive quickly. The Indians have been fortunate enough to sign both Carrasco and Kluber to long term deals at extremely team friendly deals. I don’t believe that Salazar will come as cheap though.

The big reasons that Carrasco and Kluber signed such team friendly deals is mostly due to the fact that they’re both older. With Salazar only being 25, he’s already guaranteed to net a larger contract than the two. His skill level is comparable, but with less experience than them. Another knock against Salazar is that he has had Tommy John surgery in the past. Even though it’s not exactly common for the injury to reappear, there’s always a chance that he could injure himself again and have to get the surgery again, which would essentially knock him out for a year or more for recovery. That sort of issue shouldn’t negate the Indians from actually giving Salazar an extension, but it is something to keep in mind when negotiating the contract.

It’s fairly difficult to figure out what type of contract should be given to Salazar. He has only 247 major league innings under his belt, and 185 of them came from 2015. It may be smart for the Indians to give him one more season to see if his body holds up for an entire major league season, but if he performs better than he did in 2015 then it will be more difficult to sign him long term. This is where it gets tricky for the Indians.

With so many contracts already on the books through 2020, the Indians are crunched for money. Brantley, Kipnis and Gomes all get significant raises going into the 2017 seasons, and it continues to rise through 2018. If the Indians are looking to extend Salazar, I would expect it would be a more backloaded contract to bring the cost up more towards the end of the deal than the beginning to help offset the contracts that are already on payroll.

If Salazar was to get a contract, I would expect it would be comparable to what Chris Archer got from the Tampa Bay Rays. The two both have the same amount of experience, but Archer had less innings under his belt than Salazar did when his extension was given to him. I would guess the contract could go north of 40 million dollars, maybe close to 50 for about six years. That would give the Tribe the chance to keep Salazar, but also start to really pay him after Brantley, Kluber and Kipnis are off the books.

If the Indians choose to wait on Salazar, his contract could almost double in price, based on the type of contracts pitchers are getting in the free agency market. Signing Salazar now would only benefit the Indians for the future, unless they don’t trust his body to stay healthy going forward. Keeping Salazar in Cleveland would essentially lock in the big three pitchers in their rotation for the next six years.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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