Armchair GM: Guessing at players' salaries for next year, and how much we will spend

[Editor's Note: promoted from the FanPost section (Ryan)]

I've been wondering how much money we can spend this offseason on free agents. It's well known that we are shedding some contracts: Hafner, Sizemore, Lowe, and Kotchman. But that doesn't tell me what I want to know, due to salary increases of the players that remain. So I've decided to list our players and their expected salaries, making semi-educated guesses in the case of arbitration players. I hope this will be useful/informative/interesting.

Guaranteed contracts:

Asdrubal Cabrera: $6.5 million

Carlos Santana: $550,000

Total: $7.05 million

Players eligible for arbitration:

Shin-Soo Choo: Projected for $7.6 million, according to Matt Swartz's projection posted here on MLBTR.

Chris Perez: He was paid $2.225 mil last year and is earning 4.5 mil this year, so I'm guessing he's likely to be paid about 6.75 million next season.

Justin Masterson: Let's compare Choo and Masterson. Last year, Choo was paid $3,975,000; he had a down year and his salary was only increased to 4.9 million for this season. Masterson is earning $3,825,000 this year and is having a worse season than Choo did last year (83 ERA+ compared to Choo's 107 OPS+). Masterson is a pitcher and Choo a position player, so this comparison is probably flawed. But let's guess $4.5 million for Masterson's salary next year.

Jack Hannahan: Will Hannahan be back next year? I dunno. He got $1,135,000 after his good year, but he's having a season more in line with his past, and probably wouldn't get much in free agency. I'll just guess $1.5 million for him if he stays. Maybe that's too much, but I'd rather guess high.

Shelley Duncan: This will be his first year of arbitration eligibility. I'll guess $1.75 million for him. Jonny Gomes, a similar player, made $1,275,000 in 2008, his own first year of arbitration eligibility.

Brent Lillibridge: Also his first year of arbitration. He was bad before last year, very good last year, and is absolutely terrible this year. What will he get? I really don't know. Nothing? $750,000 for his defensive versatility?

Joe Smith: Was paid $870,000 after a 104 ERA+ in 2010. This year he is being paid $1,750,000 after last season's 194 ERA+. He has a 125 ERA+ this year. I'll guess $2.5 million for him next year.

Rafael Perez: He's being paid about $2 million this year. Is he coming back? Let's just say we let him go. We'll replace him with Nick Hagadone, Scott Barnes or Eric Berger.

Tony Sipp: Sipp has been solid for about the last month. If he can finish the season decently, he'll probably get about $750,000 or so.

Lou Marson: Backup catchers appear to earn about $700,000 in their first year of arbitration eligibility. See: Kottaras, George; Pena, Brayan. Seems like a safe prediction.

Total: $26.8 million

Options or Buyouts

Ubaldo Jimenez: $5.75 million team option. He has a $1 million buyout. The option will be picked up.

Travis Hafner: $2.75 million buyout. He has a $13 million option. That's not happening.

Roberto Hernandez: $6 million option. The option will most likely get picked up.

Total: $14.5 million

Pre-Arb Players

These players don't get paid much more than major-league minimum; I'll just figure an average of $500,000 for them.

Vinnie Pestano, Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Zach McAllister, Lonnie Chisenhall, Esmil Rogers, Carlos Carrasco, Cody Allen, Nick Hagadone (or Matt Langwell, Eric Berger, Scott Barnes, etc.). If the Indians hold a competition for fifth starter, then you might have to replace Carrasco with Jeanmar Gomez or Corey Kluber.

Let's pause here, with a total of $4.5 million for these players. At this point, I have the entire 7-man bullpen, 5 men in the rotation, starters for every position except 1B, DH, and LF, and 4 backups. I'm at $52.85 million total for this team.

Larry Dolan recently said this year's payroll is $71 million and he expects it to be similar next year. So we have about $18 million to find two or three more hitters and possibly improve the rotation. At max, $22 million to set the payroll at $75 million.

Looking back over this roster, perhaps we could let Hannahan go, and keep Jason Donald instead. That saves $1 million.

Additions / Trades

I'd still like to add Alfonso Soriano to hit some home runs from the right side. We'd take on some salary, but not much - $6 million, according to Jay's suggestion? $3 million per year. Stick him at DH or in LF, and have a young player or prospect retread win a spot on the roster in spring training. It could be Tim Fedroff, Ezequiel Carrerra, Jared Goedert, Lars Anderson, Matt LaPorta, Russ Canzler, or Vinny Rottino, depending partly on who is still with the organization next year. I've been calling for Tim Fedroff this year. Between Soriano, Duncan, AAA guy, and Carlos Santana on off days from catching, two positions out of the open 3 should be covered. Thin, but covered.

That would leave one position player spot still unfilled. Hopefully a Chris Perez trade could address that. I would love it if the FO could add a young outfielder or first baseman in a deal similar to the Andrew Bailey-for-Josh Reddick deal between Oakland and Boston this past offseason. That would cut the payroll, although we might have to eat some of Perez's contract; but the FO could add a set-up man with the money saved in the deal (to prevent a great drop-off in the bullpen so we don't have to depend too much on unproven AAA arms). So in this case, we'd still have a solid bullpen, plus we'd have a new starter at 1B or LF, with the same amount of payroll that we had before the trade.

As we all know, the biggest problem on this team is pitching. Depending on how we fix the 1B/LF problem, we may be able to sign a good starter. In the scenario outlined above, we'd be at about $55-56 million, with around $15 million left to spend. We could possibly target Edwin Jackson or Anibel Sanchez in this situation. Jackson is currently being paid like a $14 million/year player on the free agent market; I'm not sure what a likely amount for Sanchez would be, but I'd be willing to try as much as $70 million over 5 years for either of the two; but it's not my money and I'm probably dreaming here. Yeah, I know, committing 20% of your payroll to one player is not generally a great idea.

Other free agent starters that the Indians could target might be Dan Haren, Joe Saunders, Joe Blanton, and Shawn Marcum - perhaps for 3-year deals around 9-12 million per year. Haren might want a one-year deal after his down year. Another one-year option might be Brandon McCarthy, who's having injury problems. If the Indians sign a starter, Carrasco would be optioned to the minor leagues to begin the year.

Looking at position players again - if we can't trade for a 1B or LF, our free agent targets might include Torii Hunter, Cody Ross, Nick Swisher, Angel Pagan, Shane Victorino, Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, or B.J. Upton. Swisher, I think, would be the surest thing, at $11-12 per year. 4 years for 45 million? The last four players could possibly be signed to one-year deals, for reasons such as underperformance, injury, or age.

Here's another thought - what if the option on Roberto Hernandez is not picked up? If he struggles badly enough that we have little confidence in him, perhaps the best move would be to let him go. That would free up 6 extra million, which could be used as part of a contract for a new starting pitcher. In this case, the offseason additions could include Soriano, Swisher, and Saunders/Haren/Marcum - without trading Choo or Perez.

If the payroll will be similar to what it was this year, as Dolan indicated, then it appears we will spend on someone this coming free agency period. But exactly how much we'll spend, and whether we will offer multi-year contracts of 3-5 years, or just shorter contracts of 1-2 years on lower tier players, I don't know. What are the FO's goals for the next few seasons? It could be an interesting offseason.

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