Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Avoiding Arbitration...Again

The Indians have taken care of ¾ of their arbitration-eligible players, starting with Matt Miller signing a one-year deal in the range of $550K-$600K. Miller remains in the mix for the bullpen and this contract shouldn’t change his role for next year. That role being fighting for that last spot, but still having an option, allowing the Indians to start him in Buffalo to prove his health and effectiveness if the decision becomes too difficult.

Next, Jason Michaels signed a 2-year deal, with a club option that pays him $2M this year, $2.15M next year, and a $2.6M if the Tribe picks up the 2009 option. The deal (though the first 2 years are guaranteed money) is surprisingly affordable for a player with 5 years in MLB as Michaels, regardless of his place on the roster as a platoon OF/4th OF.

Of course, before making the argument that Michaels is “blocking” the younger players with a 3-year deal, remember that Casey Blake is a FA at year’s end and that even if Michaels ends up as the 4th OF in 2008 or 2009, his new contract is very manageable. Also, for Michaels to “block” the younger players, that would mean that one of the youngsters is ready RIGHT NOW or even close, which they are not.

Of the top prospects, T. Crowe has played 39 games in AA and Brian Barton has played 42 games in Akron and neither in a game any higher. The players above them in the organization (Gutierrez, Snyder, Cooper, etc.) haven’t done enough to merit the thought that they’re being “blocked”.

If anything, this deal for Michaels should galvanize Shapiro to explore trades for Gutierrez, as his value is probably greater in MLB outside of Cleveland. If Frank the Tank can net a player that would fortify a weakness on this team (RP, 1B depth, MI), expect Shapiro to leave no stone unturned. Of course, Shapiro may have already started to do so, which could have prompted the 2nd and 3rd year of the Michaels deal.

The other situation that would bear watching regarding Michaels would be a replay of the construction and destruction of the Benuardo platoon. That is, if Michaels thrives in the platoon with Dellucci, it would raise his trade value; if the Indians wanted to move him, they would be able to do so while his value is at its highest. Like Broussard, his weaknesses will be masked by the platoon and the Indians could move Michaels (when a suitable replacement exists or if they decide to add a corner OF at some point in the season) and get max value from Michaels. The Indians received Choo and a 20-year-old AAA shortstop for Benuardo, so this scenario is not unprecedented or without merit.

Even if Michaels crashes and burns in his new platoon role (which is unlikely), he remains eminently tradable, as many teams would gladly take on the certitude of Michaels’ contract for a platoon player/4th outfielder/pinch hitter of his caliber.

Most recently, Rocky Betancourt inked a 1-year, $840,000 deal for his 1st arbitration year. Again, this contract is much lower than where I thought this contract would fall (around $2M was the projected neighborhood, but what do I know). With what other relievers are getting on the market, Betancourt at that price is quite a deal and, depending on where Betancourt slots into the bullpen, could turn into one of the bigger bargains on the team.

Jason Davis is the last arbitration-eligible player on the roster and I can’t imagine Davis taking the team to arbitration, given his precarious situation on the 25-man roster and the distasteful nature of arbitration.

Once again, the Indians quickly avoided the ugly process of arbitration (Jerry Browne was the last Indian to do it – and I’ll do just about anything to mention and include a picture the Guv’nor), allowing them to concentrate on tweaking the last few spots on the 25-man, finalizing the 40-man, and (everyone in unison) get to the negotiating table with Jake, C.C., and Pronk in Winter Haven.


t-bone said...

trot nixon???

t-bone said...

i'll tell you one thing, my head is spinning with this one since a trade's got to be in the works. delucci, michaels and nixon are all lefties. who's on the move? frank? garko? choo? any of them packaged with westbrook?

Baltimoran said...

or we could "platoon" at 3 different positions...i hope there is a trade in the works

Paul Cousineau said...

The Indians' official stance is that Choo will start the season in Buffalo and that the LH Nixon will take over the Choo role in the convoluted 1B/RF platoon.

Their reasoning being that (with Choo), they're counting on largely unproven players to make big contributions (Peralta, Marte, Barfield, Choo, and, to a lesser degree, Garko) and Nixon,assuming he's healthy, gives them a little more certainty.

While there's certainly merit to not depending on youngsters, I'm not sure I like this that much as Choo could have been just as productive as Nixon, with more upside and for less money.

I'm still hoping that there's a trade in the offing. The fact that an already crowded outfield just became more crowded leads me to believe that there is.