Saturday, November 25, 2006

Keeping the Core Intact

As the masses are getting antsy that Free Agents are coming off of the board and the Indians have yet to make a signing, let’s explore the other route to spending money – extending current Indians.

Even if extending some of the players approaching the end of their contracts doesn’t affect the 2007 payroll, wouldn’t the Indians’ money be better spent to lock up the players that they know the best and have determined to be a part of that beloved “core”?

We’ll ignore the fact that the players, with all of the money being thrown around at marginal players, may not be interested in signing a deal today and would rather hit the Free Agent market when their contracts expire. That’s an argument for another day; for now, we’ll look at whether locking up these players in long-term deals is financially feasible for the Indians.

The players that would be most likely to be approached by the Front Office would be C.C. (FA after the 2008 season), Pronk (FA after his 2008 option of $4.75M is certain to be picked up), and Westbrook (FA at the end of this season).

Looking at some of the deals that have already gone down, would these players leave potential money on the table in the FA market for the safety and guaranteed money of extending their time with the Indians? Again, that’s another argument for another day, but what would it take for the negotiations to become serious?

For Westbrook, seeing as how Ted Lilly is reportedly looking for a 4-year, $36M deal, Jake would probably require a 4-year deal for about $44M-$48M to avoid the FA waters and stay in Cleveland. Whether that would be enough for him to stay is debatable, but that’s the ballpark. It’s a lot of guaranteed years for any starting pitcher, but Jake has rarely been hurt and his consistency and workload make him attractive to a lot of teams. The fact that multiple teams (like the Reds, Cubs, and Phillies) who play in bandboxes with excellent infield defense would LOVE to have a sinkerball pitcher the caliber of Westbrook is going to make him a valuable commodity on the open market.

Pronk would use Big Papi’s contract (signed prior to the 2006 season) of 4 years for $52M with a 2011 option of $12.5M as the basis for his deal. A similar deal will probably keep Hafner in Cleveland, possibly less. Hafner is only available to AL teams because his 1B defense is akin to a , but every AL team (minus the Red Sox) would salivate over the possibility of adding a LH bat like Pronk’s in the middle of the lineup. While it’s the same thing that we said about Thome, it’s possible that Hafner would offer the Tribe a hometown discount – but why risk it? Give Pronk his due and ensure that one of the premier hitters in baseball is anchoring the lineup for another 6 years.

The really big numbers are going to come out with the Crooked Cap. If Boston paid over $50M just to negotiate with a POTENTIAL ace, what would a 28-year-old (when his current deal expires) LH ace bring on the open market? It could be a 5-year deal (generally rare of for SP) worth $16M-$18M annually. That’s a deal worth between $80M and $90M. For players like C.C., whose career stats and drive to win (and for some national attention) could drive him to NYY or BOS or closer to home in SF – those numbers certainly aren’t out of the question.

Those are the hard facts for what those players would be looking for to stay in Cleveland and eschew the POTENTIAL riches on the FA market for the SECURITY and GUARANTEED money of signing contracts this off-season.

The question then becomes whether the Indians would be willing to pay those dollars to three players. The potential contracts for those 3 (at the high end of those projections) annually would be:
Westbrook - $12M
Hafner - $13M
Sabathia - $18M

Or, $43M tied up in 3 players every year.
Lots of money in not a lot of bodies, but why couldn’t it happen?
Is it that outside of the realm of possibililty for the Tribe to lock these players up?

At the risk of sounding like Costanza breaking into The Big Stein’s office, claiming that, “I think I may have found a way for us to get Bonds and Griffey, and we wouldn't have to give up that much.” - here’s the argument as to how they could, and why they should:

Because the Indians have locked up so many of their other young players to affordable, long-term deals, the payroll for the next few seasons is exceptionally flexible.

The other players under contract until, say 2010, are Victor (whose highest contract number is a $7M option in 2010), Peralta (whose highest contract number is a $7M option in 2011), Grady (whose highest contract number is a $8.5M option in 2012), and Lee (whose highest contract number is a $8M option in 2010).

If we make a quick amendment to the old Conan O’Brien sketch “In the Year 2000”, let’s fast-forward to the year 2010.
Pick up all of those options and the 2010 payroll spoken for is:
Victor - $7M
Peralta - $4.6M
Grady - $5.6M
Lee - $8M

That’s an additional $26.2M in those 4 players in 2010 (which is still 4 seasons away) to give a total of $69.2 in the “core” of 7 players.

Assuming that the farm system can produce players to play under contracts typical of younger players (like Barfield, Sowers, Marte, Crowe, and Adam Miller), the payroll won’t spin drastically out of control.

Following ShapiroSpeak for a while, that seems to be the plan – to augment a core of players with youngsters that fill holes on the team effectively and without breaking the bank.

With the way that payrolls (and revenue streams in a $3B TV deal, revenue sharing, Internet dollars, and international income –not to mention STO and the promise of years of labor peace) have leapt forward, a $95M payroll in 4 seasons, in 2010, is not out of the question.

That allows the Indians to have $25M on the remaining 18 roster spots, most of which should (if the farm system stays stocked) be playing for or around the league minimum.

If the $95M payroll looks out of this stratosphere, consider this – the Indians’ 2007 payroll is projected to be between $70M-$75M (and, admittedly, that number is a long way away). Consider that the payroll will rise about 10% a year with the sport flush with money.
The projected payrolls could roll on like this:
2007 - $75M
2008 - $82M
2009 - $90M
2010 - $99M
Granted, 10% is a healthy annual bump, but you get the idea.

Good teams win with superstar players complemented by a handful of good players with a sprinkling of role players and youngsters. By locking up the players already playing in Cleveland, the Indians have the opportunity to do just that. The superstars (C.C., Hafner, Grady) are complemented by a handful of good players (Westbrook, Lee, Peralta, Victor, Barfield, Sowers) with a sprinkling of youngsters (who knows who that will be 4 seasons from now – Marte, Crowe, Miller, etc. would be the examples).

The skeleton of this body of work is in place; it’s time to lock down the main components for the plan for the foreseeable future.

Let the rest of the league burden themselves with the contracts being signed this off-season, on lesser players than those on the current Indians’ roster. By signing these 3 players to substantial extensions, the continuity and potency of this young team stays intact without overpaying for that “one missing piece”.

These pieces are already here – keeping them here should be the focus, not overpaying for lesser Free Agents.


Rockdawg said...

As I am plowing through "Money Ball" AKA the Billy Beane story, I am realizing that Free Agency can be a waste of time and money, especially money. I can't believe I am actually THINKING about the Tribe this late in November, but I guess that is a product of how BAD the Browns are. Are they getting worse every year??
17 comments on the last post, nice job DiaTribers!

Cy Slapnicka said...

tell ya what, with the payroll getting that high in 2010, Pierre's contract would be a bargain by then! Heheheheh, just kidding.

I can't even imagine paying $12m a year for jake. Not saying he's not good, but it just blows my mind.

Paul Cousineau said...

$12M is probably what Jake would command. Outrageous, for sure.

But if we're going to get outrageous on a contract, I'd rather see it done on a legitimate #3 (possible #2) starter that eats innings.

RockDawg, speaking of good baseball books, here’s
an excerpt from Pluto's book "Dealing".

It gives some great insight as to how the Front Office viewed the construction of a bullpen heading into the 2006 season.

Whether the abonimation that was the 2006 pen changed this philosophy isn't known, but it's interesting nonetheless.