Micro Deals: Something to Explore for Mid-Market Cleveland

(Jason Miller/AP)
In what was already going to be a very interesting offseason for the Cleveland Indians, the loss of Mark Shapiro to the Toronto Blue Jays makes the winter of 2015 a possible foundation changing month of December. Cleveland has long been maligned as non-factors for free agents as price tags climb, and with the lone foray in memory having been recently shipped to Atlanta in the form of BrOhio Nick Swisher and the not-so-speedy Michael Bourn, it would seem to be less than likely that the Tribe goes hog wild on Jason Heyward and/or Justin Upton.

However, the trade that sent Swisher and Bourn to Hotlanta for Chris Johnson opened up some space in 2016 in the payroll. Baseball-Reference has the 2016 payroll (with the $3 million option on Ryan Raburn picked up) as $74.9 million. That, of course, is a low ball estimate as Cleveland has 6 players up for arbitration and a $23.58 million price tag on those players. The Indians rarely go to arbitration with players and will routinely go over projection, undoubtedly with the hope that these players are willing to sign team friendly extensions at some point in the future.

The payroll for 2017 is slotted at being over the $100 million mark which would be a team record and shows that there could be some big time space for 2016. Cleveland is in very precarious spot going forward, being too good to tank for high draft spots ala Houston and too bad to be a lock for the playoffs. The roster, as it stands, has some holes going forward in the lineup. Who plays in 2 of the 3 outfield spots? Abraham Almonte has been borderline amazing in center since coming over from San Diego, but can he be counted to produce this well for the long-ish term? Lonnie Chisenhall has been getting a lot of time in right since being called back up from Columbus and has been better than expected, but as Nick Wheatly-Schaller shows here, Chiz’s BABIP is hardly something to bet on.

This would indicate that there are some upgrades to be made on the open market. Marcel Ozuna and Yasiel Puig where bandied about near the trade deadline as upgrades, but both were linked to Carlos Carrasco in deals, and that would be tantamount to the opposite of what Cleveland is trying to do. With Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier putting on clinics in the minors but years away from helping the big league club, a trade of one could be realized. The addition, if there is one, will more than likely be an outside hire and be for the outfield unless the front office is satisfied with the roster as is. As previously mentioned, there are big name options for the corner and center field spots and some mid tier players who are intriguing. But we all know that Justin Upton, Jason Heyward and Yoenis Cespedes are not going to be coming to Cleveland on discounted deals. This is where I feel like some different and interesting moves could be made.

Even though it’s a different sport and salary structure, the NBA has created an interesting signing trend that Cleveland might take into consideration. The NBA has signing limits for it’s players, meaning you can’t sign a player for more than 5-6 years, but a growing number of players are signing for one and two year deals to maximize earnings. Granted, it’s a different sport with shortened careers-NBA players are almost done by 30 whereas baseball players sometimes play into their 40’s-but why couldn’t the same be done in baseball? Take a struggling player and sign them to short term, low risk, high dollar deals.

Cleveland will never be a big market club and going up against the Yankees, Dodgers and Red Sox each year will definitely leave fans clamoring for change. No way can they compete when the numbers start getting into the $100 million for 5 year range, but why couldn’t Cleveland start offering what I will call “micro deals”? 2-3 year deals for more per year than what the big guns are offering. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that a 1 year deal worth $30 million and team options/buyouts for 2017 would interest at least one or two of the big name players/agents.

The Tribe is ready to compete now and needs just a piece or two to be in the World Series picture, much like they were at the beginning of the year. With reinforcements down on the farm years away, we don’t need to sign a long term deal that holds up the budget forever. It’s possible free agents like Chris Davis, Dexter Fowler and Austin Jackson would be interested in some short term deals to maximize their earnings. All made less than $12 million in 2015. A raise to $15 million in 2016 would allow them to get some extra money and still sign for more in 2017. Cleveland has a window to be great. It’s not often that windows stay open for long and they need to do something to this lineup to help make sure they get in before it closes.
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