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 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.



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We’ll have plenty of financial flexibility if we drop the Pitcher Formerly Known As Fausto, as we should. He hasn’t had 3 straight good starts since 2007. I was stupified when they picked up his option. Now that we know he’s a fraud, can’t we send him and his $7M in payroll space packing?

Do the indians have a legit chance with cespedes?

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