Arbitration and a Conclusion to the Lost Offseason

Time to end this series with a look at what the Indians with their arbitration-eligibles, and review the roster that started the season in Cleveland.

The Indians had seven players eligible for arbitration last winter, which was a high number for an organization that tended to lock up players by the time they become eligible. This new tactic of being more selective with lock-up deals reduced the risk of having to pay a player who flamed out after a good start to his career, but at the same time meant that the Indians would be paying a higher salary per year for the players they kept on the roster.

Here's a short breakdown of the players who were eligible for arbitration, and the amount they eventually signed for.

OF Shin-Soo Choo (4.119 Service Time, 2nd Year)

2011 Salary: $3.975M (Arbitration)

2012 Salary: $4.9M

The Indians attempted to negotiate an extension, but Choo opted instead to go year-to-year, which is common practice for Scott Boras clients.

RHP Justin Masterson (3.108 Service Time, 1st Year)

2011 Salary: $468K (Renewal)

2012 Salary: $3.825M

Masterson got a big bump in salary, as is common for starting pitchers.

RHP Chris Perez (3.136 Service Time, 2nd Year)

2011 Salary: $2.225M (Arbitration)

2012 Salary: $4.5M

Closers are overvalued in arbitration more than any other position/role on the roster, Compare Perez's salary with the one Joe Smith received.

RHP Joe Smith (4.091 Service Time, 2nd Year)

2011 Salary: $870K (Arbitration)

2012 Salary: $1.75M

3B Jack Hannahan (3.065 Service Time, 1st Year)

2011 Salary: $500K (Renewal)

2012 Salary: $1.135M

This was Hannahan's first year eligible for arbitration, and he'd probably make more in 2012 than in his previous 11 seasons combined.

SS Asdrubal Cabrera (4.027 Service Time, 2nd Year)

2011 Salary: $2.025M (Arbitration)

Salaries Exchanged: $5.2M (Cabrera), $3.75M (Indians)

2012 Salary: $4.55M

Cabrera was one of two players that went as far as exchanging salaries with the Indians. But the Indians wouldn't actually go to arbitration with Cabrera, and later that spring, they'd extend him through the 2014 season (one season past free agency eligibility).

LHP Rafael Perez (4.027 Service Time, 3rd Year)

2011 Salary: $1.33M (Arbitration)

Salaries Exchanged: $2.4M (Perez), $1.6M (Indians)

2012 Salary: $2.005M

Because Perez had spent some time in the minors (therefore not accruing service time) after first becoming eligible for arbitration, he'll have a fourth arbitration-eligible season this winter before finally having enough service time to be eligible for free agency.

So here's what the Opening Day roster looked like, along with what those Opening Day players did in 2012 (Fangraphs WAR):

(click to enlarge)

2012_opening_day_payroll_war_medium

Quick WAR Chart (Fangraphs)

6.0+ MVP

5.0-5.9 Superstar

4.0-4.9 All-Star

3.0-3.9 Good Player

2.0-2.9 Solid Starter

1.0-1.9 Role Player

<1.0 Scrub Level

I included also the team positional rank in the AL; the ranking includes all players at that position, not just the player list. A player's WAR which was below 2.0 for a position player or starting pitcher or below .5 for a reliever is highlighted in red. Also, a league ranking below 9th was highlighted.

I placed an asterisk next to Choo's WAR because his number was very adversely affected by a brutal defensive number; if Choo's defensive numbers were around career norms, right field would have 3rd or 4th in the AL.

So based on the league rankings, the Indians ranked either at or towards the bottom of the league in 1B, 3B, LF, and DH production, in addition to 10th in relief pitching production (a good back end was dragged down by an awful front end) and 13th starting pitching production.

Conclusion

My main criticism of this offseason, given the constraints of the payroll and available players, boils down to a couple points:

  • There was no real backup plan if Grady Sizemore got hurt. Chris Antonetti seemed to realize this, given how hard he went after free agent outfielders even after re-signing Grady Sizemore, but couldn't either trade for or sign a starting outfielder. He banked on turning up some unexpected production from Shelley Duncan, Aaron Cunningham, and the boatload of minor-league free agents that were brought in, but he didn't get lucky there. In fact, the one area in which he did have some luck was when Michael Brantley blossomed into a solid starting center fielder, and stayed healthy the majority of the season. Had Brantley not developed, or had he gotten hurt, we could have seen a rotation of Aaron Cunningham and Ezequiel Carrera in center in addition to the black hole in left.
  • More hindsight than anything, but I'll throw it out there: there were starting pitcher upgrades available, but the Indians had already used up their major trade chips in acquiring Ubaldo Jimenez. This was a decision made prior to the end of the 2011 season, but still, it affected what Antonetti could do that winter. Both Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill were dealt by Oakland last offseason, and a package including Drew Pomeranz and Alex White should have at least gotten the Indians into contention for those two players.

One thing Antonetti did accomplish with last winter's moves was to give the Indians a lot of payroll flexibility going into this offseason. The Indians once again will have just a few players under contract in 2013, and the few players that have guaranteed money coming their way in 2013 (Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana) they'd have no problems trading.

The issue, though, if whether Chris Antonetti is the right guy to be able to use this flexibility to start rebuilding this roster. We're probably going to have a roster turnover not seen in an offseason since after the 2001 campaign; when the Indians have previously done their tear downs, it came during the season, not after it.

Had the Indians had a strong farm system, they could have used that payroll flexibility combined with some key prospects to acquire a player via trade, or simply plugging those prospects into the various holes at the major-league level; now they're likely going to have to do that by trading major-league talent, essentially robbing Peter to pay Paul. That's on both Shapiro and Antonetti, but it looks like they'll have an opportunity to clean up their own mess, which isn't usually something a front office has the chance to do.

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