Yesterday afternoon word came out that the Indians have agreed to new one-year deals with eleven of their pre-arbitration players, including Cody Allen, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Zach McAllister. Players without at least three years of Major League experience are owed nothing more than the Major League minimum (~$490,000). Teams occasionally give players more than that, but new players aren't in a position to negotiate, no matter how good they've been (Mike Trout will make $510,000 after being the best player in baseball), the collective bargaining agreement is clear on this.
Absent from the list was Jason Kipnis, the team's best pre-arbitration player. It's entirely possible that this means nothing. Another possibility is the team is involved in negotiations on a multi-year extension with Kipnis' people, a deal that might cover his arbitration years and possibly even buy out a year or two of free agency. There hasn't been any word of such negotiations, but wasn't any word before the Chicago White Sox and Chris Sale agreed yesterday on what could be a seven-year deal. There wasn't any word before today, when the St. Louis Cardinals and Allen Craig announced they've agreed to a five-year extension. These things often fly under the radar.
What might a Kipnis extension look like?
Sale's extension covers his last year of pre-arbitration eligibility, all three of his arbitration seasons, and his first year of free agency, paying him a guaranteed $32.5 million. The Sox also hold club options for 2018 ($12.5M) and 2019 ($13.5M). Sale is seen as a greater injury risk than Kipnis, because pitchers are almost always at greater risk and Sale's slight build and violent delivery make him seem like an even greater risk than the average pitcher. Sale is also coming off a much better year than Kipnis though, and he was a year closer to arbitration and to free agency. Those factors make him more expensive. I wouldn't expect Kipnis to cost as much, were he signed now.
Craig's extension also covers his final pre-arbitration season, all three arbitration years, and one year of free agency. He is guaranteed $31 million. The Cardinals reportedly also have a club option for 2018, but there's no word yet on those specifics. Craig has been a very good hitter, but his defense and running don't add much to his value. Kipnis was probably the better overall player last season and is also two years younger than Craig, making him much more likely to continue improving or at least maintain his present value in years to come. Kipnis would likely be more expensive than Craig, except that he's a year further away from free agency, which hurts his leverage.
To look at a somewhat more similar player, Dustin Pedroia (also a second baseman) signed an extension when he was a year away from arbitration and five years away from free agency. This was back in December of 2008. His deal was for six years, $40.5 million, with the Red Sox holding an $11M team option for a seventh year (2015). The biggest difference between these two players: Pedroia was coming off two seasons in which he'd won the A.L. Rookie of the Year and MVP Awards. Inflation lifts salaries, and the new TV money will make dramatic differences, but even four seasons later, Kipnis wouldn't get quite what Pedroia did.
If the Tribe and Kipnis agree to something this month, I think it will look something like this:
2013 (pre-arb, 26 years old): $1M
2014 (pre-arb, 27 years old): $1.5M
2015 (arb, 28 years old): $3M
2016 (arb, 29 years old): $5.5M
2017 (arb, 30 years old): $8M
2018 (FA, 31 years old): $10M
2019 (FA, 32 years old): club option for $12M (or $1M buyout)
Guaranteed total: six years, $30 million (with option: seven years, $41 million)
Would Kipnis agree to such a deal? He's still two years away from arbitration. I think an extension appeals to a lot of players in his position, because it offers them financial security for life. Kipnis also isn't as young as many players in his position. If he goes year-to-year, he'll already be in his thirties by the time he hits free agency, limiting his free agency earning potential to some extent.
Would the Indians agree to such a deal? The terms I've laid out are nearly identical to those of the extension they signed Carlos Santana too a year ago, the only real difference being that I've guaranteed the money for Kipnis' first year of free agency, whereas with Santana that was the option year. As a second baseman, Kipnis brings lower risk, so I think they'd be willing to go that extra year.
Would I be happy with such a deal? Yes! If Kipnis continue to improve a little each of the next couple years, he's going to end up being more expensive than this, especially with MLB's new television contracts kicking in next season. I think that in order for a team with smaller revenue streams to be competitive, they've got to take on the risk this type of contract brings (if Kipnis signed and were then injured the next day, the team is out $30 million).
I don't know if the lack of a one-year deal means something bigger in the works, but I hope that's the case.