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Tribe Happenings: Several NRIs could impact the roster

Tribe Happenings: Several NRIs could impact the roster
Jason Giambi had a significant impact in the clubhouse and came up with some big hits last season, but will he make the opening day roster? (Photo: AP)
February 11, 2014
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Some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Looking at the NRIs

The Indians have several interesting non-roster invites (NRI) in camp this spring with the likes of Shaun MarcumJeff FrancoeurNyjer MorganDavid AardsmaScott Atchison, Elliott Johnson and Bryan LaHair. While he was with the team last year, Jason Giambi brings some intrigue to camp once again as a non-roster invite as well.

The way things look the Indians will probably open the season with 13 pitchers and 12 position players. That is not a certainty as injuries and roster construction could affect that, but everyone by now knows how much manager Terry Francona values and prefers an eight-man bullpen.

We know that Michael BrantleyMichael BournDavid MurphyRyan RaburnCarlos SantanaAsdrubal CabreraJason KipnisNick SwisherYan Gomes and Mike Aviles will make the team. That is 10 players, so unless someone gets hurt that leaves anywhere from two to three spots on the bench open depending on if they go with 12 or 13 position players.

Lonnie Chisenhall will make the team if he is named the starting third baseman, but if Carlos Santana happens to prove he can play third base every day and/or Chisenhall struggles this spring then there is a good chance that Chisenhall opens the year in Triple-A Columbus.  Giambi also has a leg up on the other NRIs where he probably will make the team if he shows he is healthy and has a pulse this spring.

The key for the NRIs comes down to four things: if Santana or Chisenhall win the third base gig, if Giambi makes the team, if Carlos Carrasco is the fifth starter and if the 25th player on the roster is a pitcher or position player.

If Giambi struggles or has health issues this spring it would open the door for LaHair to make the team as a lefty power bat off the bench that can DH or play a little first base or outfield and be strictly limited to facing right-handed pitching (career .289 average, .835 OPS). If Chisenhall is sent to Columbus, it could allow Francoeur to make the team as an extra right-handed bat to use against left-handed pitching (career .285 average, .800 OPS).

So the way it looks to me, is Giambi and LaHair are in direct competition for one spot, and Chisenhall and Francoeur are indirectly in competition for the other position player spot. Johnson should not make the team and to me looks more like insurance if Cabrera or Aviles get hurt. Morgan is a wildcard who might factor into things if the Indians have an injury in the outfield or they do in fact go with 13 position players to start the season.

On the pitching front we know that Justin MastersonDanny SalazarCorey Kluber and Zach McAllister will occupy four of the five starting spots.  We know that John AxfordCody AllenBryan ShawJosh Outman and Marc Rzepczynski will be in the bullpen. We also know that Carlos Carrasco will be on the staff, just we don’t know if he will be in the rotation or bullpen. So that totals out to 10 pitchers.

One of the open spots on the pitching staff will probably come from in house. Vinnie Pestano is a very strong favorite to make the team so long as he proves healthy and effective this spring, and there are others like Blake WoodC.C. LeePreston GuilmetColt Hynes and Nick Hagadone who could factor into things.

But Aardsma, Atchison and Marcum are interesting NRIs that bring some intrigue to the pitching staff decisions this spring – and their fate may lie in the hands of what role Carrasco ends up in to open the season.

If Carrasco is in the rotation and Pestano earns a spot, that leaves two bullpen spots open, one of which Aardsma or Atchison might have a good chance of winning if either pitches well this spring. The Indians are not fond of using a prospect in a long relief role as the last guy in the bullpen so either one would make sense there.  If Carrasco goes to the bullpen, then it probably hinders the chances Aardsma or Atchison have of making the team unless due to injury, and it would probably mean Marcum made the team as the fifth starter.

Assuming that one of Aardsma, Atchison or Marcum make the team once Carrasco’s is finalized, and that one of Giambi/LaHair and Chisenall/Francoeur make the team, it could make for an interesting decision for the final roster spot.

As for the 25th man, someone like Lee or even Chisenhall would probably not be preferred in that role because the Indians would rather they play often at Triple-A Columbus rather than play very little at the major league level. Which means it could come down to feel thing for Francona and the Indians in filling that last spot with a pitcher or position player – and ultimately an NRI.

Extending Brantley

On Monday night the Indians came to an agreement with first time arbitration eligible outfielder Michael Brantley on a four-year $25 million deal that includes a club option for a fifth season.

Brantley, 26, will make $5 million in 2014 - $1.5 million of it a base salary and $3.5 million of it a signing bonus – and will make $5 million in 2015, $6.5 million in 2016 and $7.5 million in 2017. The club option for a fifth season in 2018 is for $11 million and includes a $1 million buyout.

The agreement on the extension comes a few days before Brantley’s scheduled arbitration hearing on February 17th. Had he and the Indians gone to arbitration, the three-person panel would have had to rule in favor of the $3.8 million Brantley was requesting or the $2.7 million the Indians were offering.

The move locks Brantley in with the Indians for at least the next four seasons and they control him for a fifth season, thus buying out one free agent year and potentially a second if the option in 2018 is picked up. Brantley sided with the long term security while the Indians get a solid player signed to a reasonable deal and set price through his arbitration years plus two free agent years.

Brantley has really established himself as a core member of the team and solid player. Last season he hit .284 with 10 HR, 73 RBI and .728 OPS in 151 games, and owns a .277 average and .711 OPS in his 514 game major league career. While the numbers are not eye-popping, it is his professionalism, steady play, clutch hitting and versatility in the outfield that has made him such a key piece to the roster and the Indians wanted to ensure he would be a part of the organization for some time.

A move to left field last season did not faze Brantley and he became one of the better defensive left fielders in baseball in the process. He also provides some protection and versatility where he can play center field in the event starting center fielder Michael Bourn is injured or just needs a day off.

This is probably just the first of what may be a few extensions the Indians agree to with players over the next six weeks leading into spring training. There has been talk of the Indians and Jason Kipnis working on a long-term extension over the course of spring training, and would actually be a surprise if a deal between the two was not reached before or just after the start of the regular season. The Indians control Kipnis for four more seasons, but a long term deal to set his cost structure for the next few years and potentially buy out a free agent year or two in exchange for some financial security for Kipnis makes a lot of sense for both sides.

There is also the potential that the Indians and Justin Masterson make some ground toward a long term deal to keep him from reaching free agency at the end of the season; however, that appears to be but a remote possibility at this point.

Explaining major league signing bonuses

Some might be wondering what the purpose of the $3.5 million signing bonus is for Brantley and why we don’t see them handed out all too often. I wondered a little myself, so in researching and talking to people I found out why.

First off, it is important to note that these work differently than they do in the NFL and NBA. In those leagues the signing bonuses are used as a way to work around the amount a player counts toward the salary cap each year of his contract. In baseball, signing bonuses on guaranteed major league deals are pretty much exclusive to players who sign deals to carry them through their arbitration years.

Per the most recent CBA, the calculation of a player’s salary is as follows:

Player Salary = Base Salary + Pro-rated Signing Bonus + Pro-rated Buyout on First Club or Mutual Option Year + Earned Bonuses (as of conclusion of championship season)

The base salary is obvious as this is typically the payroll number associated with a player in any given season. But the league also pro-rates any signing bonus or buyout included in the contract and any performance bonuses that are earned are included at the end of the season.

So, since Brantley has a $3.75 million signing bonus and a $1 million buyout, each are divided over the four guaranteed years of the deal and included as his “player salary” that goes on the books. This means $875K and $250K are both added to each year’s base salary, so while the Indians will pay Brantley $5 million in 2014 ($1.5 million base, $3.5 million signing bonus), it will go on the books as a $2.625 million salary for him ($1.5M + $875K + $250K). His remaining player salary figures for the books will be: $6.125 million in 2015, $7.625 million in 2016 and $8.625 million in 2017. If his 2018 club option is picked up it simply will be $11 million that season, while if it is declined the Indians would pay him the $1 million buyout at that time.

Confusing?  Such is the fun of baseball salaries and the way numbers can be tweaked to make things work.

It is also interesting to note that there are two different figures for every player: what they are actually paid and how their annual salary is actually recorded. Of course, this is just another example of a way for a player to get more money upfront in exchange for allowing a team and league to finagle the dollars in order to help keep arbitration costs down.

Draft pick shenanigans

There has been some talk over the last few days about the Indians contacting the representatives for free agent right-handed pitcher Ervin Santana. Ken Rosenthal reported the news and also noted that the Indians have not talked to Ubaldo Jimenez in weeks.

Getting in contact with Santana could be nothing more than the Indians checking in on his price tag, and my guess is the interest is mild at the moment. Santana and Jimenez don’t appear to be in a hurry to sign even though pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training. At this point they will probably wait things out this spring for a team to have a starting pitching need to surface and then sign later in the spring - sort of like what Kyle Lohse did last year when he signed with the Brewers on March 25th.

But even if there is some interest in someone like Santana, some have wondered why the Indians might even bother signing him considering he has draft compensation tied to him.  That is a good question, and one I will try to explain, though I should note this is not an endorsement that the Indians should sign Santana or have any true interest in him at all.

With the advent of the new draft compensation process where teams lose their first round pick and the bonus pool money associated with it, the Indians have maintained all along that they have no interest in losing a first round pick to sign a player; however, they are in a unique situation where they may have three first rounds picks.

The Indians have their first round pick, #22 overall, based on how they finished in the standings. They also have another first round pick they received in the competitive balance lottery last July that should slot them around #40-42 overall depending on which remaining qualifying free agents are signed and where they sign (I will just call it the #40 pick for now). They also have the #30-32 overall selection as compensation for Jimenez if he is signed by another team before the June draft (I will just call is the #34 pick for now).

If the Indians are confident that Jimenez will be signed sometime this spring, then the pickup of a draft pick for him at #34 comes close to offsetting the loss of the #22 pick to sign Santana (or any other qualified free agent). If the Indians don’t resign Jimenez, they obviously could potentially have three first round picks, but what if they were in an either or situation with Santana and Jimenez? Well, draft compensation would have little impact and here is why.

If the Indians resign Jimenez, they have two first round picks - #22 and #40. If they don’t sign Jimenez and he signs with another team and they signed Santana, they still have two first rounders: #34 and #40. The difference is a drop of 12 spots in the first round from #22 to #34, which is minimal if the player they signed is worth it to them. Also, the bonus pool money they lose is minimal as it would just be a loss of $300K, which is not a lot. Consider that last year they had $270K of their bonus pool left over that went unused and is now gone.

Again, I am not saying the Indians will sign any of the remaining “Qualified Five” to a deal, but if they are confident they will get compensation for Jimenez and most importantly they have the money to add the payroll, then I don’t see draft compensation being a reason to hold them back from signing someone like Santana.

Arbitration business

The Indians won their arbitration case with Vinnie Pestano on Friday, and will pay him $975K this season rather than the $1.45 million he was requesting. It was their first trip to arbitration in 23 years, and was more a matter of principle than dollars.

In years past the Indians have grown a reputation as a team that did not want to go to arbitration and would settle with players in order to prevent it, often times with one-year deals that were more favorable to the player. Over time agents and players started to use this to their advantage and some of the recent requests were enough for the Indians to take a step back and realize they needed to get control of the situation.

By going to arbitration with Pestano, they have sent a clear message to agents and players that they are no longer unwilling to go to arbitration. It is a process they dislike immensely as it is the one rare time where a team has to point out in great details all of the flaws their own player has and for him to hear it in great detail. That was something that Pestano had the unfortunate pleasure of going through last Friday. Teams almost always keep things positive players when speaking in the public domain about them, but the arbitration process is one that forces a team to be way too honest about the limitations and concerns of a player.

Now word is that Josh Tomlin and the Indians are deadest to go to arbitration on Friday. He only requested $975K and the Indians offered $800K, but again, it is not a haggle over the dollars it is a matter of principle for both sides – a right both parties have and is why there is an arbitration process to begin with in order to settle an impasse such as this.

This was a good time for the Indians to break the streak and re-establish their standing in arbitration negotiations. These were not big dollar arbitration cases so the impact was minimal if they lost a case and had to pay a player more than they wanted. More importantly, you don’t want to go to arbitration with your stars as that is when things can get really ugly.

Without the streak and the threat of arbitration, demands from the players and agents in the future could lessen or be more realistic. Whether they end up winning both arbitration cases with Pestano and Tomlin or they split, it sets a precedent going forward with future negotiations with arbitration eligible players that they will not overpay to avoid arbitration.

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

Jwahoo
February 13, 2014 - 6:49 PM EST
I think the last spot on the team should 100 percent go for a pitcher at the moment. At some point in the season I could even see only 3 bench members depending on who gets the final spot.

I like Cooper but yeah it make sense to see how things go since he can be sent down. At some point this season I could see Tomlin in the pen. Perhaps, his stuff will play up just a bit there. He has fantastic control and could fill the role Shaw filed last year.

I do hope we are able to sign even just Capauno. It would make me feel alot more confident in the season. Right now you lose one of Masterson-Salazar-Kluber-McCalister your going to be fighting a real uphill battle.

Then you would really be in business. Masterson-Jiminez-Salazar-Kluber-McCalister-Marcum-Bauer-Carrasco-Tomlin.

Which in turn should take care of any questions about the bullpen. I would like to see Carrasco step up as work horse in the bullpen. Basically filling a "utility" bullpen role.

The best thing that could really happen this season is if Trevor Bauer forces his way into the rotation. Now, imagined if that happened AND we signed Ubaldo. Or better yet if Shawn Marcum is this years Millwood or Kazmir.
Tony
February 12, 2014 - 3:02 PM EST
John, as noted, what the player is paid versus how it goes in the books is different. For purposes of records and determining salaries and what not, the buyout is divided as "earned" money over the four years, so hence $250K each year added to his "player salary". Same thing as his signing bonus which is divided over four years and $875K is added to his base along with the pro-rated buyout amount to determine his "player salary".

But what he is actually paid each year is different. He will go on the books as about $2.6M this year but get paid $5M because the signing bonus is paid upfront. And the same thing with the buyout. He is not paid a dime of it unless the option is declined in 2018. So he is paid that amount at that time.
John F.
February 12, 2014 - 2:41 PM EST
"If his 2018 club option is picked up it simply will be $11 million that season, while if it is declined the Indians would pay him the $1 million buyout at that time."

Tony, wouldn't they count 2018 as $10 million as they already had spread that $1 million buyout across 2014-2017 as $250,000 per season?
yourtribe
February 12, 2014 - 9:57 AM EST
Matthew. After your post it finally sunk in I deducted cabby twice. Sorry. U were right.

Just saw your post after I wrote mine. Looks like our numbers are close after figuring out what to do with Aviles and axford as u say. And I added in masty at 13. Wishful thinking maybe.
yourtribe
February 12, 2014 - 9:47 AM EST
I'm working so ill b quick!!!!

The knowns Aviles Bourn Brantley Murphy Raburn Santana and swish are 52. I'll say kipnis for 4. That's 56. Gomes Lindor Chiz and a bench player add another 3 at most. That's 59 for everyday players.

I'll assume masty at 13 next year. Kluber Mcallister Salazar and say Bauer are all min next year. Another 5 at most. That's 18. And your pen. Say axford at 5. Now at 23. The rest of the pen add another 10 at most as most of those guys are at min or low arb numbers. That's 92 at most.

If u get masty for 13 next year, him Bourn and swish will be 41.5 of a payroll around 90 or so!!!! Wow.

Good as I can do on short time. I know it's not perfect and some guesswork. Now back to work!!!
Matthew
February 12, 2014 - 9:30 AM EST
yourtribe-

You subtracted Cabrera's 10M twice. The $52M is Aviles, Bourn, Brantley, Murphy, Raburn, Santana, Swisher. You then subtracted Cabrera's 10M, which was not a part of the $52M. Sorry if it came off glib, I just thought it was funny.

For a clearer picture of where the Tribe's 2015 payroll will stand, I would start with $49M, which is all of the above minus Aviles, which is a team option. It's likely they will exercise that option, but for the moment, let's start with the 6 guaranteed deals at $49M.

As Tony said, the Indians have 11 ARB-eligible guys next season. However, 7 of those are bullpen-only guys, and 2 are Carrasco/Tomlin. It's likely we will see a good amount of attrition there. Let's say $5M for Kip and about $2.25M per player for 4 bullpen guys, Carrasco and Chisenhall. This is a very rough estimate, and doesn't include the possibility of keeping Axford. That's $18.5M in ARB for seven players. We're now up to $67.5M and 13 players.

Still need 12-15 players to fill out the roster. Assuming you can do so for the league minimum, that's another $7M, bringing us to a total of $74.5M.

So in an optimistic scenario where no one gets hurt, Ramirez is good enough to make Aviles disposable, Axford is not needed, Chisenhall becomes serviceable at 3B, etc., the Indians will maybe have $7-8M to spend in 2015 without increasing payroll.
Tony
February 12, 2014 - 8:36 AM EST
Indians have 11 projected arbitration eligible players next year. That's going to cost a pretty good coin if they keep all of them, or even more, even if they won't command much more than $2-3M. Probably looking at least at $20-30M in arbitration money for everyone. They appear to be in a good spot as far as flexibility for the next year or so with the payroll where they might be able to add in another significant contract. Whether that is Masterson or Ubaldo, we will see.
yourtribe
February 12, 2014 - 8:14 AM EST
The below post is mine.
anonymous
February 12, 2014 - 8:10 AM EST
Matt how am I wrong? Used the numbers from the payroll link. Take a look. And I didn't say it was the final number. Said there are no other big jumps on the books for next year. Which is true. Do the math yourself then. Barring any big additions here next years figure should be at or below this year. No jumps up offset the loss of cabbys 10. I'm right.
Matthew
February 12, 2014 - 12:51 AM EST
Interesting math there, yourtribe. Are you available to do my taxes?
yourtribe
February 12, 2014 - 12:17 AM EST
Next yrs payroll looks good at 52 mil. If we get masty at around 13 and kipnis around 4 you are up to 69. Deduct cabbys 10 and you are back to 59. With most everyone else already tied up for next yr, I see no other big salary jumps from the arb eligible players.
Tony
February 11, 2014 - 11:38 PM EST
If the Indians were able to extend Masterson, to me, it would set them up VERY well for the next three years. He's a big key to retaining if you ask me.....will be interesting what happens with him and what he signs for (and with who).
Matt
February 11, 2014 - 11:31 PM EST
Tony, no need to apologize for the funky look on Giambi's face, I've already set the picture as my wallpaper!
yourtribe
February 11, 2014 - 11:23 PM EST
Would love to see kipnis and masty locked up. Then just about every key player would be tied up for at least 3 more yrs.
Matt
February 11, 2014 - 11:19 PM EST
Good point John, Cooper was originally the insurance against Giambi getting old(er). With the recent higher profile NRIs he has been ignored.

Since Tomlin has an option left I think the Indians like him as the #1 in Columbus, the #5 job is between Marcum vs opting out and Carrasco vs bullpen. The #2, 3, 4 in Cle and #2 in Columbus will be Salazar/Kluber/Mcallister/Bauer, currently in that order.
Tony
February 11, 2014 - 11:12 PM EST
FYI, pardon some of the funky look with the pictures. We are doing some site enhancements to the way the articles look when viewed.

Anyway, I'm fine with either Santana or Ubaldo....and am fine if they don't sign either. Still would prefer Burnett over both, but that doesn't appear likely. But I still think the Indians should be looking into ways to upgrade this roster. There are some good players available that are going to come at a significant discount.....that doesn't happen very often so they should strike for at least one player.

Tomlin I expect to open the season in Columbus. Unless Carrasco or Marcum are hurt or completely ineffective this spring, I would be surprised to see Tomlin in Cleveland to open the season. He's going to be on an innings limit and they may just prefer to monitor his workload at the outset of the season, similar to Carrasco last season. No chance Tomlin is in the pen.....he is starting depth and has options, so he will go to Columbus to continue to start if he is not the fifth starter. Cooper I think has an outside shot to make the team, but as a lefty hitter he would need to make it over LaHair and Giambi. Plus, since he has options, the Indians can just send Cooper to Columbus with no consequence and call him up later as a depth option....whereas they need to make decisions now on LaHair, Giambi, Francoeur, Morgan, etc because they can decline an assignment to the minors and elect free agency, so one of them will probably take priority on a roster spot in Cleveland at the outset over Cooper or a guy like David Adams.
Joseph
February 11, 2014 - 10:39 PM EST
Tribe should sign mike gersber
Joseph
February 11, 2014 - 10:37 PM EST
Go tribe
John L.
February 11, 2014 - 8:50 PM EST
Tony, what are your thoughts on Tomlin and David Cooper? I know they are on the 40 man roster already (not NRI's) but neither was mentioned as potential for making the squad. Do you view the current NRI's as better options out of the bullpen (Aardsma & Atchison) and off the bench (LaHair & Giambi) respectively?
Roger
February 11, 2014 - 6:28 PM EST
to me i think santana jimenez is a virtual wash. Santana may be a bit more consistent where as he has never come close to what ubaldo did in 2010 or post all star break 2013. Sounds like the money is about the same within 100k which is monopoly money in this day and age. Sign ubaldo unite him with mickey and get on with the business of building a baseball team. Chris BLINK

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