“Love me tender”

The deadline for tendering — see: offering — contracts to any arbitration-eligible players is midnight ET on Monday night. For the Indians, that means decisions on seven of their players.

Among Cleveland’s arb eligibles this winter are sinkerballer Justin Masterson, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, right fielder Shin-Soo Choo, closer Chris Perez, third baseman Jack Hannahan, sidearmer Joe Smith and lefty Rafael Perez.

The way I see it, the Tribe really only has one or two debatable contracts within that lot. If a team decides to “non-tender” one of its players, he would enter the pool of free agents. The Indians will surely be scanning the newest layer of players on the open market to see if there are potential fits for upgrading their roster.

The Indians continue to hunt for offensive help — still looking at the free-agent and trade routes for a possible solution — but the club does not have a ton of financial flexibility. That means, if Cleveland wants to bring on a Major League contract (one that costs some significant dough), the team might need to shed some salary.

One way to do this is through the non-tender process.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the Tribe’s seven arbitration cases:

1. Masterson – Went 12-10 with a 3.21 ERA last year, piling up 216 innings while emerging as the rotation’s most consistent arm. Might’ve won 15+ games had it not been for some ugly stretches with a lack of run support. The righty made $468,400 last year and is eligible for arbitration for the first time. Considering Masterson might be Cleveland’s Opening Day starter, it’s a shoo-in that he is offered arbitation.

2. Cabrera — Asdrubal started for the AL All-Star team in 2011 and enjoyed a breakout season for the Indians. He hit .273 with 25 homers, 32 doubles, 87 runs scored and 92 RBIs. He set a franchise record for homers by a shortstop. Like Masterson, it’s pretty much a given that Cabrera, who made $2.025 million last year, will be tendered a contract. The only mystery to this point is why the Indians haven’t locked him up to a multi-year deal.

3. Choo – The Indians right fielder labored through a rough season on and off the field in 2011. He was arrested for DUI in May, broke his left thumb in June and suffered an oblique injury later in the year. Overall, he hit .259 with eight homers and 36 RBIs in only 85 games while making $3.975 million. Choo will be back in 2012.

4. Chris Perez – CP made an All-Star team, saved 36 games and anchored one of the best bullpens in baseball during the 2011 season. The right-hander made $2.225 million in the process. Teams have checked in on Perez’s availability this winter, but all signs point to Pure Rage being back for 2012. He’ll be tendered.

5. Hannahan – The Indians added Hannahan on a Minor League contract last winter and he wound up making the Opening Day roster. He proceeded to give Cleveland Gold Glove-caliber defense and a bat that got hot in spurts throughout the year. He made $500,000 last year and is eligible for arb for the first time this winter. The Indians have no plans to add a third baseman this winter, meaning it’s Lonnie Chisenhall and Hannahan as the front-runners for Opening Day. That said, expect “Supermanahan” to be tendered tonight.

6. Smith – The siderarmer earned $870,000 last season and turned in a career year for the Indians. Smith posted a 2.01 ERA over 71 games, during which he had a .217 average against over 67 innings. Smith’s contract is still affordable and I fully expect him to be tendered before tonight’s deadline.

7. Raffy Perez – Really, this is the only case where I see real debate. Perez earned $1.33 million a year ago and is due a raise after posting a 3.00 ERA over 71 appearances in 2011. That is a solid chunk of change for a lefty reliever. If the Indians feel there’s a viable alternative on the open market (or internall), then Perez could be non-tendered tonight. That said, I’m expecting him to be offered a contract.

I will update later tonight with the Indians’ decisions.

UPDATE: 7:21 p.m. ET – The Indians have tendered contracts to all unsigned players on their 40-man roster. That includes the seven players (listed above) who are eligible for arbitration.

–JB

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