In the interest of full-disclosure, I should begin with a warning. Despite the title, this isn’t going to be a post about how the Dolans are cheap or how baseball is unfair or about how I’m not going to watch Indians games until they institute a salary cap. It just isn’t.
Why do I eschew these themes? Well, frankly, I’m tired of them. They’re not interesting. They’re not compelling. They’re not thoughtful. They don’t teach me anything. They’ve been done to death.
What I want to do instead is look at what the Indians can realistically accomplish with their roster and payroll over the next few months and to begin the conversation about when we might find an end to the current “reloading” phase and get back to the 2005-2007 years when the team was contending. For whatever it’s worth, I believe that the team can contend again, and this post is going to begin to look for a path toward that contention.
With that nonsense out of the way, let’s look at some numbers. Roughly speaking*, here’s how the Indians’ 40-man roster panned out last year by way of payroll:
|28 @ League Min||$11.2|
*I say ‘roughly speaking’ because, even though the numbers are pulled from Cots Baseball Contracts, there were pro-rated portions for traded players, various levels of MLB minimum, unfilled roster spots, and other minutiae that affected the total number. For our purposes, this should be an adequate representation.
You’ll see that we had 12 players on MLB contracts, with the rest of the 40-man roster making the league minimum (roughly $400,000). Those top 12 players accounted for $54.1 million of the $65.3 million total (83%).
I bring up these numbers because I think we can use them as a gauge for what we might be able to expect in 2011 in terms of payroll and roster construction. We’ll get there in a second.
First let’s look at what we’re locked into for the 2011 season in terms of roster spots and salaries. After shedding Wood, Westbrook, Peralta, and the rest, and adding some arbitration-eligible pay-raises, we’re going to be looking at something like the following. (The italics in this chart are my best guess of what those players will make next season.*)
*I’m assuming the club non-tenders some arbitration-eligibles or that they won’t make much more than league-minimum; I’m thinking of guys like Andy Marte, Joe Smith, Aaron Laffey, and Anthony Reyes. Either way, they shouldn’t be making much more than league-minimum if they manage to stick around.
Every player on this list will be making more money than he did in 2010. That’s one of the consequences of arbitration-eligibility and a fondness for structuring contracts with escalators. Last season, this group of players made about $25 million; in 2011, the same group will be making about $37 million.
Anyway, we’re locked into something like that $37 million for next season. If we filled out the roster using only league-minimum players, the roster would look something like this:
So, assuming a full 40-man roster, the smallest our payroll can possibly be next season is around $50 million. That’s assuming we sign no players to major-league contracts before next season and take on no money in trades. In this scenario, 32 members of the 40-man roster would be making the league minimum.
But I don’t think that’s particularly likely. After all, this team has some major league holes, and while it’s nice have some productive players making the minimum (Carloses Santana and Carrasco come to mind), it’s also a fact that this roster could use some freshening up.
So let’s make some assumptions. First, let’s assume that the 2010 payroll is a reasonable guide for 2011: somewhere in the $60 to $65 million range. Second, let’s assume that with their extra money to spend, the club wants to add a few major-league pieces on short-term deals.
Based on these assumptions, we’re going to have somewhere between $11 and $16 million to spend this offseason on free agents. And with that money, the club will pursue free agents to strengthen the roster. These are assumption I know that many of you won’t agree with. We’ll just have to wait and see, I guess.
On Thursday, we’ll look at where (and on whom) the Indians might spend that money, and what we might be able to expect from such a roster in 2011.
Oh, and one more thing:
“THE DOLANS ARE CHEAP AND SHOOD SELLZ THE TEAM NOW!!!!”
Yep. Still doesn’t make me feel any better.