Monday, March 05, 2007


Due to the topic du jour (that means the topic of the day – which sounds good, so we’ll have some) being the contract negotiations with Westbrook, C.C., and Pronk, we’ll keep on that topic with a little series. I know that some people are jonesing for some talk about what’s happening on the field, but it’s just too early to make any determinations.

At this point all we’ve learned so far this Spring is that David Dellucci and his 1.768 OPS could win the Triple Crown if he keeps this pace up, Hector Luna and the spare tire he arrived to camp toting is unlikely to win the Futility job, and Chuck Lofgren battled some butterflies in his 1st Spring Training game – giving up 5 ER in 1/3 of an inning.

Outside of that, we’ll wait until there’s a little more time in camp to give reports, plus STO is showing games on Friday night and Saturday afternoon; so that means no longer just reading little write-ups online. It means Hammy on the radio, and the Tribe on the tube.

But back to the contract talk, which took its usual doom and gloom tone from the Indians’ writers. You know, the Indians are cheap, they’ll be lucky to sign one, won’t it be tough to see C.C. in pinstripes, blah, blah, blah.

Well, how about the contrarian view?
Why couldn’t the Indians sign 2 or all 3 of them to extensions?
Is it really that far-fetched?

In the Land of Pessimism (of which Clevelanders are card-carrying citizens) that we live in, how about some hope?
I’ll take a look this week at the environment and the salary structure of the Indians going into the negotiations to explore the financial feasibility; then take a look at each of the three individually, examining comparable players and contracts to see what kind of money these three could command on the open market.

I know I did this a while back (so forgive me if this is repetitive for you), but it’s time to revisit it since the Indians have long stated that the negotiations would happen in Winter Haven and (sound of trumpets), they’re in Winter Haven. Once the series is put to bed, we’ll go back to the product in Winter Haven and relay the comings and goings of the Spring.

Part I – The Current Salary Environment
The Indians payroll going forward is actually exceptionally flexible because the Indians have locked up so many of their other young players to affordable, long-term deals.Thanks to the tremendously helpful salary chart at the Blurbs’, we can see that in 2008, for instance, when Westbrook would be a FA, the only contracts (not pertaining to the minimum salary schedule or abitration) locked into place are:
Sabathia - $9M
Hafner - $4.95M
Victor - $4.45M
Lee - $4M
Dellucci - $3.5M
Sizemore - $3.167M
Peralta - $2.5M
Michaels - $2.2M

That comes to about $34M concretely committed to those players since Borowski, Hernandez, Fultz, and Byrd all only have club options. Byrd’s ($8M) is unlikely to be picked up if Miller or Carmona is ready and the relievers have to earn their options, so if they’re picked up it means that they’ve proven themselves worthy to be a part of the bullpen going forward. If not, it doesn’t cost the Tribe a dime.

The fact that Sowers, Marte, Garko, Barfield, Cabrera, and Shoppach will probably each make about $400K means that there’s money to spend. Take out the $6.1M Westbrook will earn this year and the amount of committed dollars looks even smaller.

Why couldn’t the Indians take the $8M Byrd option and the $6.1M that comes free from Jake’s current contract to re-apportion that money to extend Westbrook and more?

Wouldn’t that be more desirable to do? That is, cut Byrd loose, extend Westbrook, let Carmona and Miller fight it out for the 5th spot next Spring and go to bed with smiles on our faces?

But that’s getting too far out ahead of it and I know what you’re saying, “that’s only one year (2008), looking at Westbrook’s walk year; what about the heavy hitters in C.C. and Pronk?”

Consider this - the players under contract until 2010, are:
Victor - highest contract number is a $7M option in 2010
Peralta - highest contract number is a $7M option in 2011
Grady - highest contract number is a $8.5M option in 2012!!!
Lee - highest contract number is a $8M option in 2010

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 about $26M to those 4 players in 2010 (which is still 4 seasons away). 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 ever spin drastically out of control.

Following ShapiroSpeak for a while, that seems to be another basic tenet of the wildly popular 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 much larger payroll in 4 seasons, in 2010, is not out of the question.

But how much larger?
If the Indians’ 2007 payroll ends up around $70M when it’s all said and done, let’s figure that the payroll will rise about 10% a year with the sport flush with money.
The projected payrolls could roll on like this:
2007 - $70M
2008 - $77M
2009 - $84M
2010 - $92M
2011 - $101M
Granted, 10% is a healthy annual bump, but you get the idea. If the Indians have Victor, Grady, Lee, and Peralta taking up only $26M of that 2010 payroll, there’s a lot of wiggle room. Sure, guys like Sowers will get paid when they hit arbitration (or before), but not huge numbers that will throw those numbers significantly off.

So, could the Indians afford to pay (at the high end of most projections) Westbrook $12M, Hafner $13M, and C.C. $18M annually? Who knows, but that extra $43M on top of the $26M for the other four players give you a core of 7 players (who have now played together for multiple seasons) for about $69M. In 2010, if the payroll is around $92M, that number doesn’t look that big as long as the complementary players are provided via the farm system and not FA.

It means that the team has about $23M to pay the complementary players. Might be a stretch for 18 players, but if those 18 include a number of farm products, that money can go a long way.

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; the feasibility of locking down these main components may not be as far off as you think. 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 this Spring and the state of the Tribe payroll going forward may allow them to do just that.

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