January 2012

Lugo, contracts and more

A little over a week ago, it was reported that the Indians had agreed to terms on a Minor League contract with veteran infielder Julio Lugo. He was to join the long list of non-roster invitees in camp with the Tribe this spring.

The deal is now apparently off.

Cleveland did indeed come to terms with the 36-year-old Lugo, but the contract is not going to come to fruition. The specifics behind why the deal fell apart are not known.

Considering the sides reached an agreement on terms (he would’ve earned $650K plus incentives if on the Major League roster), I’d speculate that it had something to do with his physical. All that really matters is that Lugo will not be heading to Arizona for Spring Training with the Indians.

For those keeping track at home, that means the Indians have 20 non-roster invitees in the fold for this spring. Lugo would’ve competed for a bench job — given his experience around the diamond — but his chances of cracking the Opening Day roster seemed slim from the start.

Moving on…

CONTRACT DETAILS

Jeremy Accardo: The righty will earn a base salary of $825,000 if he makes the Major League roster. His deal includes incentives: $50K every five games from 50-65 appearances and $100K for 70 games. If Accardo isn’t on the MLB roster by June 1, he must be released if requested or added to the roster within 72 hours.

Fred Lewis: The outfielder would earn $725,000 if he makes the MLB roster. Incentives: $50K each for 350, 400, 425, 450, 475, 500, 525, 550, 575, 600 plate appearances. If he’s not on the MLB roster by June 1, he must be released if requested.

Chris Ray: The reliever will earn $900,000 if he’s on the Major League roster. His incentives include $50K every five games from 40-70 games; $50K for 35 games finished, $75K for 40 games finished and $125K each for 45/50 games finished. If Ray isn’t on the 40-man roster by April 3, he must be released if requested, or added to the roster within 72 hours.

Dan Wheeler: The reliever’s contract is nearly idententical to the one handed to Ray. Same salary ($900K) if on MLB roster and same incentives (games/games finished). His only out clause, howeveer, is that he can sign with a foreign team for $100K if he’s not on the MLB roster, or he must be added within 48 hours.

Andy LaRoche: Would earn $600,000 if he is on the Major League roster. If he’s not on the MLB roster by June 1, he must be released if requested.

Matt Pagnozzi: Would make $550,000 if he’s on the Major League roster.

Gregorio Petit: Would earn $500,000 if he’s on the Major League roster. If he’s not on the MLB roster on June 30, he must be released if requested.

Robinson Tejeda: Would earn $825,000 if on the Major League roster.  His incentives include $50K every five games from 50-65 appearances. He would make $100K if he appears in 70 games.

Michel Hernandez: Would make $425,000 if on the Major League roster.

ARBITRATION

The arbitration hearing dates are set for Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and left-hander Rafael Perez. When exactly the hearings are scheduled to be held has not been made public, though. Cleveland hasn’t gone to a hearing with a player since 1991, and that streak could still remain intact.

Cabrera’s camp asked for a $5.2 million salary for 2012, while Cleveland countered with an offer of $3.75 million. Perez asked for $2.4 million, while the Tribe offered $1.6 million. In both cases, the two sides can settle with a contract at any point prior to the start of their respective hearing.

I broke down both cases in THIS previous blog post.

Photo of the Week:

Manager Manny Acta reunited with Slider during the Tribe on Tour (AP photo)

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Some links from the last week…

Today’s Indians.com Inbox
Story from Friday’s Town Hall Meeting
Gaylord Perry leads Indians 2012 Hall Class
Story from Thursday’s Tribe on Tour stop
Indians place Carmona on restricted list
Lindor among baseball’s top prospects
Prince news doesn’t sway confident Tribe
Indians.com Inbox from Jan. 23
Around the Horn: Outfielders

–JB

Twitter Power Rankings (Week 2)

As noted last week, I do not have a formula for picking my Indians player Twitter Power Rankings. If I’m entertained, or I find something funny, it will help a player’s position in the standings.

This last week, reactions to the Prince Fielder signing played a role and there were plenty of twit pics (see: closer Chris Perez, pictured here) to stir conversation among Tribe fans.

CP changed his avatar to a decidely more intimidating photo and did plenty in the last seven days to make sure the #BullpenMafia regained its footing as the Twitter leaders. Second baseman Jason Kipnis had a typically strong week, but CP’s resurgence stood out from the crowd.

That said, Vinnie Pestano was solid as always, doing nothing to lose the top spot.

Indians Player Twitter Power Rankings (Week of Jan. 30-Feb. 5)

1. @VinnieP52 (Vinnie Pestano). Last week: 1
Tweet of the Week: “… I like being an underdog, I like proving people wrong been doing it my whole life. If you’re scared get a dog #neverbackdown” (in wake of Fielder signing)

 

2. @ChrisPerez54 (Chris Perez). Last week: 3
Tweet of the Week: “@TheJK_Kid maybe you should worry about keeping a different kind of spot…” (after Kipnis tweeted that he was gunning for No. 1 in the Power Rankings)

 

3. @TheJK_Kid (Jason Kipnis). Last week: 2
Tweet of the Week: “The bigger they are, the harder they fall #alcentral its still #TRIBENation” (shortly after new broke that Fielder signed with the Tigers.

 

4. @thethree8 (Joe Smith). Last week: 5
Tweet of the Week: “Brant cabby choo Santana g haff kipp hanny dunc or Lou mar. Who says we can’t hit. We can hit. We stay healthy we’re going to be right there” (after Fielder news broke)

 

5. @L_wash (LeVon Washington). Last week: Sixth Man
Tweet of the Week: “SORRY BUT U GONNA HAVE TO BAT 1,000 WITH 7,000 RBI’S AD 120 HR’S THE FIRST MONTH OF THE SEASON BEFORE U WORTH 200 MILLION TO ME.. #WashTime” (after Fielder news broke)

 

Sixth Man: @JackHannahan9. Last week: NR
 
Hannahan is an early favorite for Indians Twitter Rookie of the Year. He recently signed up and was a frequent tweeter this last week during the Tribe on Tour. A fan twit pic’d a photo of a Hannahan autographed baseball that said “Supermanahan.” Quality.

Receiving votes: Shelley Duncan (@shelldunc), Trevor Crowe (@tcrowe4), Ubaldo Jimenez (@UbaldoJimenez22), Frank Herrmann (@FrankHerrmann56), Lou Marson (@LouMar6), Tony Sipp (@SippTony), Thomas Neal (@TDaddyNeal), Cole Cook (@C_M_Cook), Tony Wolters (@TonyWolters).

–JB

The Motor City Surprise

My wife asked me last week if Tuesday was a good day to drive to Michigan to meet up with one of her good friends. Such questions are impossible for a journalist to answer with certainty, especially baseball writers in the offseason.

Sure enough, after having our two-hour drive turn into a five-hour disaster due to an accident, news broke that Prince Fielder had reached an agreement to sign a nine-year, $214 million contract with the Tigers. The Tigers!

It was news that stunned the baseball world and surely sent some shockwaves of defeatism Cleveland’s way. Naturally, this warranted a reaction story, while I stood stunned in the parking lot of an IKEA in the middle of a small Michigan town.

My wife dropped me off at a local Starbucks, she and my son went and met up with her friends, and I worked my phone an pieced together a quick story. One day later, the news isn’t any easier for Indians fans. Prince freakin’ Fielder signed with Detroit. Of all the teams, it just had to be Detroit, didn’t it?

My Twitter feed was immediately flooded with the usual cries against Indians ownership and the team’s relatively quiet winter. I say “relatively” because there certainly hasn’t been a shortage of moves — they just haven’t been megadeals for power bats like fans so desperately want.

I try to be a voice of reason within the angry mob. My job isn’t to bash anyone, but to present facts and to report the news. Everything else is reserved for columnists. I’ll continue to point out that the Tribe HAS raised payroll significantly this year — by roughly $20 million. It’s mostly been spent on the team’s own players, though, so that doesn’t seem to count for many fans.

I’m not trying to defend the Indians’ approach to this winter — only to point out what the team has done. Would I personally prefer to see someone of Fielder’s ability added to Cleveland’s lineup? Who wouldn’t? But reality does not always align with wishful thinking, or with the exercise of patience.

The way I see things, this current Indians team could be a 70-win ballclub or a 90-win ballclub. There are just so many variables and questions heading into the season. If everyone stays healthy — a huge “if” as you all know — this is a young team loaded with talent that could make things interesting.

I’d still warn against crowning the Tigers the division champs already, though. Didn’t everyone think the Red Sox were going to cruise to another title after their recent megadeals? We all remember what happened there. Once the season starts, so many things can happen. You just never  know.

The Indians were a very entertaining and competitive team last year when they had the bulk of their roster healthy and contributing. They were even holding on to first place in light of very slow starts for Carlos Santana and Shin-Soo Choo. Who’s to say the Tribe can’t make things interesting again in 2012? I’m not going to sit here and say that.

The Indians players I spoke with last night after the Fielder news broke all said what you’d expect them to say. And it’s what they should say, too. They’re still confident in the team that’s in place and — given the way the AL Central is right now — they have a right to believe they can make a run.

Are the Tigers the favorites to win the division? Definitely. Without a doubt. They’re coming off a 15-game clinching of the AL Central, have the reigning MVP and Cy Young winner on the mound, and now there’s Prince hitting behind Miguel Cabrera. Detroit enters 2012 as the sexy pick — no question.

Tigers billionaire owner Mike Ilitch owns Little Caesars Pizza as well as the Detroit Red Wings. He has a reputation of treating his two sports franchises as his personal play things and, at 82 years old, he’s willing to throw down big cash to try to bring a World Series title to Motown.

That’s the Tigers’ situation, and it isn’t fair to compare that to the Indians’ situation. Detroit as a city might be dealing with its share of issues, much like Cleveland, but what Ilitch has built between the Tigers and Red Wings is incredible. It is a different reality than the one the Indians are working within.

A few more thoughts…

About that Fielder contract: We all knew Prince was going to get a blockbuster deal, but uberagent Scott Boras still managed to shock the baseball world again. Detroit loses Victor Martinez to a knee injury last week and the Tigers are convinced to plug that hole with the biggest bat left on the market (with the fourth biggest contract in baseball history).

It’ll be interesting to see how the playing time is handled over the next two years, especially when V-Mart returns. I know… it’s a good problem to have. But if Miguel Cabrera indeed returns to third base as rumored, that’s a defensive boost for the rest of the division. That said, the bats of Cabrera and Fielder can make up for anything lost in the field.

When it comes to Fielder’s reported deal, am I the only one that is reminded of the contract given to Mo Vaughn? Granted, Vaughn was 30 when he received his six-year, $80 million deal from the Angels in 1999 (Prince is 27 right now), but there are definitely similarities between the two hefty first basemen.

Consider…

At the time of Vaughn’s contract, his career line looked like .304/.394/.542/.936 with 230 homers and 752 RBIs in 1,046 games (8 seasons covering ages 23-30). At the time of Prince’s deal, his career line is .282/.390/.540/.929 with 230 homers and 656 RBIs in 998 games (7 seasons covering ages 21-27).

Vaughn’s three years prior to his contract (1996-98) looked like .326/.414/.579/.993 with 119 homers and 354 RBIs in 456 games (152 per year). Prince’s last three years: .287/.409/.547/.956 with 116 homers and 344 RBIs in 485 games (162 per year).

Both contracts ran through their age 36 season.

What did Vaughn — another big man who was durable early in his career — do over the course of his new deal? He hit .267/.356/.481/.838 with 98 homers and 312 RBIs over the next five years. He broke down and was out of baseball after the 2003 season.

A six-year deal was a big risk for him at the time. Prince — three years younger at the time of his contract — received three years more than Vaughn did. That’s a similar gamble (a huge gamble) on the part of the Tigers, and one they can only hope turns out better than the deal Vaughn signed with the Angels.

Counter punch: Yoenis Cespedes, anyone? To me, this would be the best move the Indians could make to show Indians fans they mean business. He’s young, controllable and could be a star in the Majors. He fits within what the Indians are trying to do and is, really, the only thing left on this winter’s market that would send a strong message to the fans. The Indians definitely have interest, but this could turn into a bidding war.

About that Carmona situation: Count me among those that does not think the Indians should just void the contract of pitcher Fausto Carmona, who was arrested last week on charges of using a false identity. If he’s really Roberto Hernandez Heredia, and is really 31 years old, he’s still only under contract for one year.

No matter his name, Carmona/Hernandez (I’ve been told by a Spanish expert that his last name would be Hernandez — not Heredia) was signed for a fair-market price when the Indians picked up his $7 million club option for 2012. And there’s no guarantee he’ll see a penny of that deal this year.

His legal and visa woes could drag on through Spring Training and into the regular season. Let’s say, hypothetically, that he’s not back in the United States and available to the Indians until May, June or July, he would only be given the pro-rated portion of his salary the rest of the way. If he’s on the restricted list, he does not receive pay.

Beyond that, Cleveland does not have the pitcher under contract beyond this year. So, hypothetically, if he remained on the restricted list all year, the team does get $7 million of salary relief. He could then be let go at the end of the season as a free agent. That being the case, what’s the point of cutting him now?

Let’s say Cleveland gets into May or June, is contending in the division, but suddenly loses a pitcher or two due to injury (hey, it happened last year). If Carmona does become available, that’s an experienced arm (one that has had success in the past) available to help out. That could be better than forcing one or two Minor Leagues up a level or two before they’re deemed ready.

Carmona/Hernandez is essentially under contract on a one-year deal. Shoot, he could be under contract on a three-month deal when it’s all said and done. His future in Cleveland is cloudy, but I don’t think the Indians need to make the kneejerk reaction of voiding his deal right now.

As for the pitcher’s deception, to me, that’s more of a legal matter than a baseball matter. And I’m not about to act like judge and jury because I can’t put myself in his shoes some 11 years ago (The Indians’ blog The DiaTribe had a good post on this). This is not a unique situation in baseball history and it’s something teams will continue to battle.

Coming up: I’ll be heading to the first stop on the Tribe on Tour event on Thursday night. On Friday, I’ll be covering the team’s Town Hall Meeting for season-ticket holders. Check Indians.com for stories on both events in the coming days.

~JB

1st-ever Indians Twitter Power Rankings

Funny things can happen to a baseball writer on a Monday in January. While Mrs. MLB is downstairs keeping up with the Kardashians, and MLBastian Jr. is down a for a nap, and all’s quiet on the Hot Stove front, strange ideas can float through a ball scribe’s head.

Ideas like compiling Twitter Power Rankings for Indians players. It seemed like a good break from the “Fausto Carmona” mess at the very least.

The idea really was spawned from the photo here, showing ESPN’s Steve Berthiaume holding up a “Bullpen Mafia” shirt on set. The shirt was sent to him by Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano, who has been on fire all winter on his Twitter account. Pestano seemed a lock to hold the top spot among current Tribe tweeters.

I thought about trying to devise some sort of formula involving number of followers or average tweets per day or something, but then I just decided I’d rank them however I wanted. In the end, I had to ask myself the same question that Maximus once bellowed: “Are you not entertained?”

The Indians are well represented with more than 30 players (if you count Minor Leaguers) on Twitter. For my rankings, I decided that Major Leaguers should get more consideration than Minor Leaguers (hey, you gotta climb the ranks, even on Twitter). That said, if a Minor League is entertaining enough (see: LeVon Washington), exceptions can be made.

Without further ado, let’s get to the list.

Indians Player Twitter Power Rankings (Week of Jan. 23-29)

1. @VinnieP52 (Vinnie Pestano), 10,900 followers: The man has been on a roll on this winter, offering humorous dating advice, his take on movies and other funny observations. He’s been known to throw in the occasional Twit Pic and recently started giving away “Bullpen Mafia” shirts. His impressive and hilarious Twitter avatar was also created this winter, which helped his case. A shoo-in for the top seed in the first rankings.

2. @TheJK_Kid (Jason Kipnis), 15,845 followers: The Indians second baseman isn’t shy about his love for his hometown, Chicago. He regularly tweets about the Chicago Bulls, but always in good fun. Kipnis is a young up-and-comer on the field and has been embracing Cleveland’s fans on Twitter, especially this winter. He’s thrown some good one-liners out there throughout the offseason, too.

3. @ChrisPerez54 (Chris Perez), 29,961 followers: Cleveland’s original King of Twitter and lead man in the bullpen, CP has seen a sudden increase in competition from the wave of teammates joining Twitter. Perez isn’t afraid to speak his mind on his page and he’s been reliable for offering a “Song of the Day” each day. CP could easily regain the top spot, but the work of Pestano and Kipnis this winter knocks him down to No. 3.

4. @tcrowe4 (Trevor Crowe), 9,271 followers: Crowe has been a consistent tweeter since joining the site, offering his take on a variety of topics. He’s big on interacting with the fans. That was especially evident last year as he worked his way back to the field from injury. He cracks the top 5 for now due to consistency.

5. @thethree8 (Joe Smith), 7,420 followers: Smith might not tweet like crazy, but when he does he’ll probably have you laughing. Have to respect that comedic timing. Funny comments that go along with twit pics are definitely his stength.

Sixth Man Award:

@L_wash (LeVon Washington), 1,176 followers: IN HONOR OF HIS ACCOUNT, I WILL COMMENT IN ALL CAPS. HE ONCE TWEETED THAT HE TWEETS IN ALL CAPS CUZ HE THINKS IN ALL CAPS. THE CREATOR OF #WASHTIME, LEVON HAS UPPED HIS TWITTER GAME TO THE POINT WHERE HE’S COMPETING WITH THE BIG LEAGUERS. 2012 MIGHT BE #WASHTIME. OTHER INDIANS TWEETERS BE WARNED!

Honorable mention (in no particular order): Ubaldo Jimenez (@UbaldoJimenez22), Frank Herrmann (@FrankHerrmann56), Jack Hannahan (@JackHannahan9), Lou Marson (@LouMar6), Tony Sipp (@SippTony), Shelley Duncan (@shelldunc).

Others (in no particular order): David Huff (@theREALdavehuff),  Thomas Neal (@TDaddyNeal), Rob Bryson (@RBryson21), Nick Bartolone (@NickBartolone), Matt Pagnozzi (@MattPagnozzi), Corey Kluber (@CKluber), Tony Wolters (@TonyWolters), Cole Cook (@C_M_Cook), Tim Fedroff (@fedheems), Jerrud Sabourin (@J_Sabo), Eric Berger (@EBerger18), Cody Allen (@CodyAllen28), Scott Barnes (@ScottyB_38), Beau Mills (@BMills504), Luke Carlin (@CarlinsCorner), Nick Weglarz (@Wegz33), Zach McAllister (@ZMac34), Nick Hagadone (@NHagadone).

And then there’s @RaffyPerez53, which might be the most fitting account on this list.

For a larger grouping of Indians-related tweeters, including manager Manny Acta and team president Mark Shapiro, be sure to check out my Cleveland Indians List on Twitter. All the links to the tweeters listed above can be found on there.

Have already had some early reponse to my rankings, which were posted on Twitter prior to this post. Chris Perez said, “How many times were the NY Giants number 1, or even 2, this season?” Pestano added, “im perfectly fine tweeting with a bullseye on my back, gotta stay on top.”

Washington first responded with, “i feel honored to be part of the power rankings.” Then he added “TWEET GAME MICHEAL JORDAN IN SPACE JAM.. #WashTime” and “TWEET GAME ALBERT PUJOLS WITH A 2-0 COUNT.. #WashTime” and “TWEET GAME GERARD BUTLER IN 300 THE MOVIE.. #WashTime.”

Not sure these rankings will be weekly. They’ll probably be more sporadic. Will probably plan on updating the rankings as I see fit right around the time Spring Training begins.

In the meantime, CLICK HERE for the latest Indians Inbox from Indians.com.

~JB

Money matters

I’m a huge film buff. My wife was thrilled when we moved into our house here in Ohio, because our family room has cabinets big enough to contain (and conceal) my massive movie collection.

Here’s the thing about being the dad to a 2-year-old bundle of energy, though… you don’t often make it out to the movies. Mrs. MLB and I typically have to wait until a movie is released on DVD, or available via on-demand, for us to finally see it.

Such was the case with “Moneyball.” I’ve been wanting to see it for months, but only this week did it pop up in my on-demand section. We watched the movie on Sunday afternoon before I headed downtown to cover the Ohio State-Michigan Frozen Diamond Faceoff at Progressive Field.

It just so happened that Indians president Mark Shapiro — depicted briefly in the movie — was at the ballpark to discuss the unique outdoor hockey event. OK, fine. Full disclosure: I knew Shapiro would be there, so I watched the movie that afternoon so I could ask him about it more accurately later that night.

As it happens, Shapiro has been hit with a lot of questions about the movie recently. He has been receiving a wave of texts and e-mails about it, which initially caught him by surprise. I mean, the movie was in theaters months ago. Then, he realized what was going on…

“I figured it must have just come out on DVD or something,” he said with a laugh.

Now, I liked “Moneyball” the movie, and I enjoyed the Michael Lewis book that the film was based on. Being a baseball writer, I was able to spot plenty of inaccuracies or factual embellishments in both, but that did not stop be from appreciating the story that was being told.

The movie has more flaws than the book, but it’s easy to imagine how difficult a task it was to turn this particular subject into a compelling movie. As a bit of entertainment, the movie worked. And it showed some behind the scenes aspects of baseball that fans rarely get to see. It also shed some light on the statistical movement that took place within front offices a decade ago.

All of that said, some of the scenes were a little laughable. In one scene, A’s GM Billy Beane — played superbly by Brad Pitt — wanders through the Indians’ executive offices alone, seeking out a member of the Tribe’s front office. First off, GMs don’t fly across the country for face-to-face meetings to discuss trades (the reason for his visit). On top of that, since when would a rival GM be allowed to roam freely in another team’s offices?

As a matter of fact, there was little truth to any of the scenes involving the Cleveland Indians. Rather than go into it all right here, I’ll just refer you all to the article I wrote about it for Indians.com today. CLICK HERE for more on the scenes involving the Indians and Shapiro’s thoughts on the film as a whole.

Moving on…

FIVE SIGN: The Indians reached agreements on 2012 contracts with right fielder Shin-Soo Choo ($4.9M after he made $3.975M in 2011), closer Chris Perez ($4.5M after making $2.225M in 2011), starter Justin Masterson ($3.825M after $468,000 in ’11), reliever Joe Smith ($1.75M after $870K in ’11) and third baseman Jack Hannahan ($1.135M after $500K in 2011) prior to Tuesday’s 1 p.m. ET deadline for exchanging salary figures with arbitration eligible players.

Last season, those five players earned $8.0384 million combined. They’ll earn $16.11 million as a group this year, marking an increase of $8.0716 in payroll. Masterson — a firs-timer for the arbitration process — earned the biggest raise, netting $3.3566 more than he made a year ago.

EXPLAINED: For those unfamiliar with how the arbitration works, eligible players are those who have between 3-6 years of service time in the big leagues. The exception would be a player who earns Super Two status, but I won’t go into all that right now since it does not concern the Tribe this year. In short, an eligible player has the right to request a salary figures that he believes is fair. The club can counter with their own offer. If an arbitration hearing is necessary, arguments are made by both sides, and a panel chooses either the player’s figure or the team’s figure. These one-year deals do not mean a player will become eligible for free agency the following season. They remain under club control until reaching six years of service time. Each player has the right to three arbitration years before becoming a six-year free agent.

TWO REMAIN: The only arbitration eligible players remaining for the Indians are shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and lefty reliever Rafael Perez. Cabrera is seeking $5.2 million while the Indians have offered $3.75 million. Perez has requested $2.4 million, but the Indians are offering $1.6 million. Arbitration hearings are scheduled to be held from Feb. 1-21 in St. Petersburh this year. Teams can settle the contracts at any point prior to the hearing. Considering that Cleveland has not gone to arbitration with a player since 1991, there’s a good chance Cabrera, Perez and the Indians find away to find some common ground in their respective negotiations.

CLICK HERE for a recap of Tuesday’s arbitration happenings.

CABRERA’S CASE: I went through a list of shortstops, trying to come up with some comparables for Cabrera’s arbitration case. I essentially looked at three-year periods of production to try to determine whether the Indians’ perceived value or Cabrera’s salary request seemed more fair.

The closest in offensive production seems to be shortstop Jhonny Peralta. Cabrera is seeking $5.2 million, which is just under the $5.25 million Peralta earned last season. Over the past three years, Cabrera put up a slash line of .286/.340/.424/.764 with 34 homers, 90 doubles and 189 RBIs in 379 games. In the three years prior to earning $5.25 million, Peralta hit .260/.319/.414/.734 with 49 homers, 107 doubles and 253 RBIs in 453 games. One could argue that Cabrera’s run production and games played total would warrant a salary slightly less than Peralta’s from last season.

As for someone closer to the Indians’ request of $3.75 million, Angels SS Erick Aybar earned $3 million in 2011. In the three previous years, he hit .280/.325/.377/.702 over 373 games. Aybar is a different style of player, so the slash line is the better comparison than the homers and RBIs. Obviously, Cabrera boasted better run production and a better slash line. Along those lines, a $3.75 million offer seems warranted if you use that comparison.

I think a better comparable would be shortstop J.J. Hardy, who earned a $4.65 million salary at the age of  26 (Cabrera’s age). He picked up that salary after hitting .283/.343/.478 with 24 homers, 31 doubles and 74 RBIs in 2008. Last year, Cabrera hit .273/.332/.460 with 25 homers, 32 doubles and 92 RBIs.

The median for Cabrera’s arbitration figures is $4.475 million. If the Indians up their offer to around $4.5 million, that seems like a fair offer in my book (I’m hardly an expert here, however). There is always the chance that Cleveland might still explore a multi-year contract with the shortstop.

RAFFY’S CASE: Rafael Perez’s case is interesting in the sense that the best comparable I can come up with seems to be lefty Craig Breslow. The thing is, Breslow is also eligible for arbitration this winter and the salary figures he exchanged with Arizona are very similar to Raffy’s figures. Breslow asked for $2.1M and the D-backs countered with a $1.5M offer. As noted earlier, Perez’s salary figures were $2.4M/$1.5M.

Once one of those lefty relievers signs, I’d imagine the other might soon follow.

Consider that over the past three years, Perez is second in the AL in appearances by a left-handed reliever with 195. Breslow ranks first with 219 (he was with Oakland before being dealt to ARI this winter). Raffy’s 172 innings rank fourth in that group. Breslow is first, with Matt Thornton and Darren Oliver next on the list. Perez’s 31 holds rank ninth. Breslow isn’t too far ahead at 39. Perez’s 21.8 inherited runners scoring percentage was second in the AL, while Breslow wasn’t far behind at 22.3.

As for some other comparables, well, there’s lefty specialist Randy Choate, who will earn $1.5 million in 2012 after appearing in 200 games (105.1 IP, 1.164 WHIP, 3.41 ERA) over the past three years. Lefty Tim Byrdak made $1.6M in 2010 after appearing in 174 games (161.2 IP, 1.318 WHIP, 3.45 ERA) in the previous three years.

Over the past three years, Raffy Perez has appeared in 195 games with 172 innings, a 1.547 WHIP and a 4.29 ERA. These numbers are admittedly skewed by his abysmal 2009 season (7.31 ERA/1.896 WHIP). Over that three-year span, though, he did lead all AL lefties with 313 groundballs created. His 2.24 grounder/flyball ratio was second among his AL peers over that span, too.

Another example to compare to Perez might be lefty Sean Burnett, who will earn $2.3 million in 2012. This after appearing in 213 games (177.1 IP, 1.190 WHIP, 2.99 ERA) over the past three years. I’d argue that Perez isn’t worth the $2.4 million he’s seeking, but he might be worth more than the $1.6 million offered by the Tribe.

This seems like a good case for splitting the difference.

PAYROLL: Are you overwhelmed by all these numbers yet? Hang with me here…

As of right now, the Indians have 10 contracts settled for the 2012 season. There is $50.31 million locked up in those deals ($54.31 million if Grady Sizemore hits on all his incentives). For the sake of projecting the payroll, let’s just use the median salaries in play for Cabrera ($4.475M) and Raffy Perez ($2M). Under that scenario, Cleveland would have $56.785M ($60.785 with Grady’s incentives) in the fold for 2012.

If we use the 2012 league minimum to project the final 13 spots ($6.24M at the very least), the Indians would project to be at $63.025M ($67.025M) for 2012. Obviously that’s before any more additions to the Major League roster (a first baseman, perhaps?) prior to Opening Day. Since some players will likely make more than the league minimum, that means the payroll will probably fall in the neighborhood of $70 million before any other signings.

QUICKLY: Sizemore (right knee) was cleared last week to begin baseball activities. He has resumed running and throwing and is on pace for a relatively normal spring. He’s way ahead of where he was a year ago, which is great news for the Indians. … The Indians will see a financial loss for “Snow Days” for the second year in a row, forcing the club to re-evaluate the offseason initiative. … The Frozen Diamond Faceoff was a success, though. CLICK HERE to read more on both winter events. … GM Chris Antonetti met with reporters earlier on Friday and the hot topic, understandably, was first base. CLICK HERE for a recap of our sit-down. … If you didn’t click that story, included was this tidbit: Antonetti shot down the idea of a reunion with Manny Ramirez. The GM said it was not a “positional fit” for the Tribe. I agree with this non-move for the Indians. … I caught up with recently-acquired outfielder Aaron Cunningham at the Indians’ Winter Development Program. CLICK HERE For the story. … CLICK HERE for the latest Indians Inbox. Lots of issues covered, including why another left-handed bat might not be as bad as some people think.

That’s all for now. Wasn’t that plenty?

Also, one month from today, I leave for Spring Training.

~JB

Indians interested in Pena, Kotchman

It has been well-documented throughout this winter that the Indians have checked in on just about every available first baseman not named Prince Fielder. As spring approaches, two names high on Cleveland’s list are Carlos Pena and Casey Kotchman.

On Thursday, Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Indians GM Chris Antonetti has approached ownership about potentially providing the necessary funds to afford the likes of Pena. The Scott Boras client is a coming off a season in which he slugged 28 homers and it is believed that he is seeking a multi-year deal.

The more realistic option might be Kotchman, who could improve the Tribe’s average, on-base percentage and strikeout rate. A year ago, the Indians whiffed 1,269 times, marking the most in team history and the fourth-highest total in American League history. Kotchman hit .306 with 66 strikeouts in 500 at-bats last season, while Pena hit .225 with 161 strikeouts in 493 ABs.

With only 10 homers a year ago, though, Kotchman obviously does not boast Pena’s power potential.

Pena netted a one-year, $10 million contract with the Cubs last offseason after hitting  .196/.325/.407 with 28 homers and 84 RBIs in 2010 with Tampa Bay. This past season with Chicago, he improved in batting average, OBP (.357) and SLG (.462), while offering his typically sound defense.

Another consideration is Cleveland’s current situation at first base. Regular catcher Carlos Santana (a switch hitter) figures to see some playing time at first — most likely against left-handed pitching. While the general thought has been that the Indians could benefit from a power-hitting, right-handed first baseman (to replace a struggling Matt LaPorta), Cleveland’s decision-makers believe a lefty-hitting first baseman such as Pena or Kotchman might make more sense.

On days when Santana does not start behind the plate, the Indians project to feature catcher Lou Marson, who hit .297 against left-handed pitching last year. So having Santana (1B) and Marson (C) in against a left-hander and a lefty-hitting first baseman paired with Santana (C) against right-handers is something the Tribe is evaluating.

One unanswered question is whether Pena or Kotchman would be willing to accept that kind of playing time situation. It seems more likely that Kotchman — coming off a year in which he earned $750,000 after signing a Minor League contract with the Rays — would be open to a platoon-like scenario. Kotchman is also more affordable for an Indians team that does not have much financial flexibility.

If the Indians do not add a first baseman before Opening Day, the team’s top  internal candidates currently consist of LaPorta (who has a Minor League option remaining) and Shelley Duncan (who is out of options).

–JB

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