As the cool chill of fall heads towards the arctic blast of winter here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, your Cleveland Indians are ready to head into the polar plunge of the ‘Hot Stove Season‘ with the certainty that the best team in the A.L. Central will be back, and likely almost whole again. While it’s likely that the team could be without their long-time anchor Carlos Santana at first base, and long-time set-up man Bryan Shaw likely heading away from Cleveland’s “unbearable” Twitter hate, the bulk of 2017’s 102-win team should be back with internal reinforcements that fill in many of the perceived gaps.
This “certainty” will allow the Indians’ president of baseball operations, Chris Antonetti, and general manager, Mike Chernoff, to have some patience while looking to shore up an active roster that came up short in the 2017 playoffs. Antonetti, the 2017 Sporting News Executive of the Year, isn’t necessarily known for his patience, since taking over the role of general manager several years ago from Mark Shapiro. While Shapiro’s M.O. was clearly to let the market play out and either let players come to him, or to back away, Antonetti has always been willing to make a splash if there was a pool of water in front of him…
…which really makes this offseason an interesting one, doesn’t it?
The Indians’ have already made their initial moves, picking up Michael Brantley’s $12 million option, and offering Santana the $17.4 million qualifying offer, which he turned down, as expected. According to Kevin Kreps, via Cleveland Crain’s business, the Indians likely payroll with their current roster in place, and once their arbitration and pre-arbitration players officially sign deals for the 2018 season, will be somewhere between $125 and $128 million.
It’s also important to note that the adjusted Indians payroll at the end of the season was estimated at $139,415,884. It’s important to note that Antonetti and Company were willing to add payroll throughout the year to improve the team, such as signing Jay Bruce once Michael Brantley went down, taking on $3 million in salary for his final two months of the season. What this likely means is that the Indians, between today’s Black Friday and sometime next October, are likely willing to add on at least another $15 million to the equation. How much more than that is up to conjecture, thanks to the Indians’ turnstiles clicking in at just under 2,050,000 fans in 2017, and with a boisterous 2018 season ticket sales, it’s believed that the Indians could tack on up to $25 million more, bringing their adjusted payroll to somewhere in the neighborhood of $155 million.
I bring all of this up today simply because it’s highly likely that the Indians will be adding payroll, in some manner, this offseason, but the type of player that the Indians will be looking at will likely be a bit different than most clubs.
Fangraphs Eno Sarris wrote a fantastic piece on Wednesday discussing which teams need a win the most, discussing which teams would take high ceiling players, and which teams would take high floor players. While the article focuses on those teams that are projected to win 77-84 games, Sarris does take note of the Indians at the end.
The Astros, Dodgers, and Indians, though? They just want a player with a high floor. Maybe a Jarrod Dyson or a Joe Smith type. You know, someone who’ll be useful even if he plays closer to his floor than his ceiling.
The Indians, based on their core returning, are not likely to make a big splash in free agency to add salary. This isn’t really news to those that pay attention, because the Indians made their big splash last year when they added Encarnacion.
So what does it mean? It’s clear that the Indians will be looking for what they deem “high floor players,” and that could mean a variety of things. It could be a player outside the organization that scores high, both through their metric microscope, and through Francona’s Ray Bans, or it could be a player that they’re familiar with.
Look at Michael Brantley. Brantley, to the outsiders looking in, is a ‘high risk’ player based on his health. Yet the Indians brass, and likely Francona, look at Brantley as a known commodity. They know what they’re going to get with a healthy Brantley, and believe that he can maintain that health. They also likely feel comfort in knowing that if he can’t play, for whatever reason, they’ll be backed by an insurance policy that will give them that money back.
In many ways, the Indians looked at Austin Jackson in the same manner, looking at his struggling years based on random injuries, and understanding that utilizing AJax in the right manner, along with health, would give them solid baseline numbers to work with. They weren’t depending on him for 130 games, so signing him to a deal wasn’t a risk, because of his high floor, and low ceiling. While Jackson’s season was surprising in many standards, if you talk to the crew at WFNY who focuses on these sorts of things, these are the kinds of seasons you expect from players that you utilize appropriately.
This leads me to Jay Bruce and Carlos Santana. Both of these players fit the exact roll of a “high floor” player that the Indians are likely looking for, and both would certainly be at the high end of what they’d want to spend. The Indians know exactly what they’re going to get in both.
The only detriment in the eyes of the Indians’ brass is what they’ll end up getting. Between Santana and Bruce, you are looking at either a five-year, $100 million price tag for Santana, or a five-year, $80 million price tag for Bruce. This are all speculation, based on what’s been reported by “those in the know.”
Now I’m a mark for Carlos Santana, so I find it easy to believe he’ll get that $20 million price tag, but I just can’t get it out of my head that last year, when I mentioned said price tag to everyone that I respect, they all sort of shrugged it off based on “Santana’s bat not being as good as Encarnacion’s,” who got, you guessed it, essentially a deal that in the end will be $20 million a year.
Of course, the market, from year-to-year changes, but you have to ask yourself, “What did Santana do in 2017 that bumped him up to Encarnacion status?” Certainly his offense was a notch below what he did in 2016, but it wasn’t a large notch at all. Overall, his home run power dropped, but it was compensated by an increase in doubles. His BB% and K% were virtually identical, and overall, his numbers increased as the year progressed. Where Santana upped his game was defensively, and while he was robbed of a gold glove, he did win Wilson’s defensive player of the year at first base.
But back to the market. There are teams across baseball rumored to be in the Santana hunt, from Philadelphia to Colorado to Boston to the Los Angeles Angels, just to name a few. Is this enough to bump the price of Santana up to $100 million, and give him the five years that he likely covets?
Sure, it’s possible.
But it’s also possible that like Encarnacion before him, that his price or years come down a smidge, allowing the Indians to continue to be a part of this conversation. If we’re to be honest, the Indians are likely going to be players in the conversation from beginning to end, because Santana’s likely $20 million-ish would put the Indians payroll right at $150 million, which would still likely give them $5-10 million to mess around with, depending on what you’re thinking their end-of-year payroll will be. This money they could likely use to bring in a Joe Smith and players they classify as “Austin Jacksons” type players as spring training gets closer.
I think this is a more-than-possible scenario, and one in which the Indians can be “patient” with.
I also think it’s likely that a guy like Jay Bruce will be hanging around should they not end up signing Santana. He wants five-years and $80 million, and I just don’t see it. I think Bruce will likely be playing the waiting game throughout December and early January, and if Santana signs elsewhere, Bruce could be brought in on a smaller two or three year deal.
This is most certainly not my preference, based on the fact that I’m not 100 percent sure where all of these players fit, thanks to that Brantley pick-up.
Does Brantley play first if Santana leaves?
Does Brantley play left field?
Does Kipnis play second?
Does Kipnis play left if Santana leaves and Brantley moves to first?
Where then would Jay Bruce play, or would he play first?
The Indians will also likely be looking to extend some of their pre-arbitration guys, and potentially some of their arbitration players. While that talk will always center around Francisco Lindor (who clearly wants $200 million in a life-changing deal), I think it’s more likely we could see a Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar, Mike Clevinger, Cody Allen extension, just based on money.
You also have to ponder how upping a contract this year would alter any big swing money they might want to spend for a guy like Carlos Santana.
Keep in mind that all of this is still sort of isolated, because the potential is always there for the Indians to deal a player that they deem as “extra.” WFNY’s Michael Bode and Mike Hattery discussed the potential to move Yan Gomes in a deal, bringing up the more affordable Eric Haase as his back-up. There’s also been some scuttlebutt to dealing Jason Kipnis, although I find it hard to believe. Trading Gomes would save the Indians almost $6 million this year, and $7 million next year, while trading Kipnis would save the Indians around $28 million over the next two years, and $13 1/2 million this year. Both would free up a ton of salary if they so desired to make any moves heading into 2018, but I don’t think that the chances of this happening are likely.
Antonetti and Chernoff know what they have, and they were likely injuries away from battling the Astros for a chance to return to the World Series. Will the Indians pass on the chance to return that exact team in 2018 by letting Carlos Santana walk, and making potential locker room altering trades this offseason?
I don’t think so.
And while they aren’t a lock to nab Carlos Santana or Jay Bruce, I think the likelihood of this happening is better than people think. While I don’t think the Indians were planning on paying Santana that $17.4 million, they have assured themselves the possibility of picking up a high draft pick if Santana signs elsewhere, while continuing to work on a long-term deal with one of the teams stalwarts over the last eight seasons, as well as the guy that replaced Michael Brantley after his ankle injury.
Nothing is ever a lock from November to February regarding free agency, but don’t kid yourself, the Indians are certainly players in this market, and will likely be able to spend somewhere in the ballpark of $15-20 million, with or without Santana or Bruce.
The question is, if they miss on those two, what’s next?