The collective baseball world marveled at the Cleveland Indians as they rattled off win after win; with no regard for probability. The consecutive victory total tallied up to 22 prior to a 4-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals on Friday night. Following the loss, Tribe players stumbled out of the dugout for a much-deserved standing ovation from an appreciative and enthusiastic crowd. The streak, as improbable as it was, was not supposed to end this way, but there would be no mourning.1
The next night featured an Indians victory and Twins loss meaning the American League Central flag would be raised in Cleveland for the second-consecutive year. Any sour feelings from the previous night’s loss had been washed away by a division clinch with over two weeks of baseball remaining. The 22-game streak had fallen but a more meaningful streak had emerged. Two consecutive division titles; built upon the backs of three cornerstone players under team control through at least 2021.
The names Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and Corey Kluber have become household. Lindor and Ramirez are Most Valuable Player candidates and Corey Kluber is probably the favorite for the Cy Young Award. Each acquired in a different manner showing the brilliance of the front office. Lindor is the first-round draft pick, Ramirez is the international free agent steal, and Kluber is the lopsided trade acquisition. All three combine to form a trio of five-plus fWAR players, the only example of such on one team in the American League. These fWAR totals pair with contract terms to form a colossal surplus in the value department for the Indians front office.
Corey Kluber, the unflappable ace of the rotation, is owed an average annual amount of $12.75 million over the next four years. The inherent value of this contract is easily recognized, especially considering Kluber’s 6+ fWAR pace from 2014-2017. For comparison’s sake, the Max Scherzer contract with the Washington Nationals is a good frame of reference. In 2014, Scherzer was a 30-year-old free agent sporting a 5.0 fWAR pace over his previous three seasons. This earned him a backloaded seven-year deal carrying an average annual value of $30 million per year.
Sunday’s central division clinch party in Cleveland featured your typical Kluber gem, but more celebration should ensue for the potential $69 million in surplus value that Kluber brings to the organization over the course of the next four years.
Jose Ramirez, a fan favorite circa 2016, is six months removed from a contract extension that will pay him an average annual amount of $5.4 million over the next four years, ignoring two team friendly options to remain consistent in the 2018-2021 window. As an infielder who has produced at about a 5 fWAR pace over the past two seasons, Ramirez would command much more on the open market. Justin Turner, the third baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers, just received a four-year deal carrying an average value of $16 million annually after producing at a similar fWAR rate. Though six years older, this provides a very conservative baseline for a Ramirez comparison.
Though his two-run home run on Friday night was not enough to push the team’s streak to 23 straight wins, conservative estimates point to the possibility of $42 million in surplus value based on one rough comparison.
The contract situation of Francisco Lindor is a murky one. Yes, he is under team control through 2021, but the dollar amount is in ‘to be determined’ status due to arbitration years or, as all Indians fans desire, a lucrative contract extension. Rumors surfaced in April that Lindor had turned down an extension offer in the neighborhood of $100 million, which is unprecedented in terms of players with 1-2 years of service time. These negotiations will presumably continue and make it difficult to pinpoint any rough figures related to the surplus value offered by Lindor throughout the remainder of his contract. We can reasonably assume a considerable surplus will be present, however, based on his 2.5 years of 6.0 fWAR performance.
The estimates and comparisons used in this exercise are flawed in nature. Considering only wins above replacement is dangerous but provides a concise peek into player value and how other teams have rewarded it in the past. Restricting comparisons to one previous contract offer for an entirely different player limits the range but merely serves as a starting point. Future risks of each deal are not considered, but certainly important factors. In this exercise, future value assumes health and consistency, which is anything but guaranteed.
Contract offers and extensions are merely investments which carry their own risks and potential rewards. The risk-reward structure of the Kluber, Ramirez, and Lindor contracts leave little room for uncertainty. Recent history offers an objective reason to be bullish on the Indians end. The surplus value gained from this portfolio will provide an already savvy front office with a margin of error. This margin of error can be applied to future investments that will supplement the trio in the quest for continued dominance of the AL Central.
- Note: Francisco Mejia and Greg Allen went two weeks in MLB without a loss. Then, the first loss they were involved with saw them get a standing ovation for their efforts. Not a bad way to begin a career. [↩]