In case you were under a rock for the last 48 hours and didn't hear, the Indians signed Corey Kluber to a long-term contract extension, then went and did the same with Carlos Carrasco. Both those players (Kluber especially) were already under team control for a while, but these new deals extend that control while giving the front office a (mostly) fixed figure to plan around.
Long-term deals for pitchers are risky, because pitchers break down at a higher rate than most other athletes, but I think both of these new deals represent wise gambles for the Indians. If the two of them are anything better than average, and able to pitch even 150+ innings a year, they were going to cost about as much as these extensions will pay them. Sure, they could both fall apart completely, but I find it more likely that they continue to be better than average.
In any event, we'll have to wait and see. I'm not here today to debate whether or not these extensions were wise (though feel free to do exactly that in the comments, if it pleases you), I'm here to look at where the team is at, in terms of payroll, for coming seasons.
The team had an Opening Day payroll of $88 million, which is the second highest in franchise history. Baseball money inflates at a faster rate than normal money, and so it makes sense to think payroll will continue to rise (though perhaps not steadily), but I also wouldn't expect the Indians to operate on a dramatically higher budget than that at any point in the next three or four years, unless the people of Cuyahoga County start coming out in much larger numbers to watch the team at Progressive Field.
Assuming the payroll won't go much higher than $95 million for 2016, it's unlikely that next offseason will involve adding much payroll (unless there's a roughly equal amount of payroll heading out). Why? Because the team is already committed to more than $60 million in spending, and that's without factoring in raises coming via arbitration.
We don't know exactly how much Carrasco's new deal pays him in each season, but the Indians are probably at around $63 million for 2016 right now, with Brandon Moss, Lonnie Chisenhall, Marc Rzepczynski, Bryan Shaw all potentially getting raises via arbitration, and Cody Allen and Zach McAllister both becoming arbitration eligible for the first time. If each of those guys were to have a 2015 similar to their 2014, they would likely earn a combined total of somewhere between $25-30 million, putting the payroll at something like $88-93 million, with pre-arbitration salaries for another ten players bringing it to $93-98 million, basically what I see as the ceiling for next year unless revenue streams improve.
It's possible there will be internal improvements available, such as Giovanny Urshela taking over for Chisenhall, and that such changes might free up $5-10 million, but that would only get the payroll back to the level it's currently at.
In short, we should expect the same cast back next year, with a couple current prospects taking over for guys currently on the roster, but things otherwise largely unchanged.
Going beyond 2016, the arbitration stuff gets difficult to predict, because it's nearly impossible to forecast two years of performance for a player. That said, there's definitely going to be room to maneuver, because that's when Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn's contracts will come off the books, freeing up $29 million. Some of that will go to raises for players already on the roster, but some of it will be available to bring in new players more meaningful than a minor league spring training invitee.
Here is the situation beyond next year.
~$37 million is committed to Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Yan Gomes.
The team has a $12 million option on Carlos Santana (or a $1.2 million buyout)
Brandon Moss will be a free agent.
Lonnie Chisenhall and Bryan Shaw would each be in their final season of arbitration eligibility, and could in theory cost anywhere between $5-10 million apiece, if they've done well in the two seasons between now and then.
Cody Allen and Zach McAllister would be in their second season of arbitration eligibility, and could each also be making something in the $5-10 million range, if they've done well.
Unless all of their current players have done very well for the next couple years and they've decided to keep them all, the team should have something like $15-20 million to spend before the 2017 season, enough for some solid improvement on whatever problems the roster has at that point.
~$40 million is committed to Kipnis, Kluber, Carrasco, and Gomes.
The team has an $11 million option on Brantley (or a $1 million buyout)
Santana will be a free agent, and if he keeps playing the way he has the last couple years, he'll likely be pricier than the Indians are comfortable with.
Anyone else on the current roster that hasn't already become a free agent would likely be arbitration eligible at this point, and either there will have been some substantial raises (if current players have done well), or there will be numerous holes to fill.
By this time I expect the Indians to be working with something like $105 in payroll, even if attendance hasn't gone up much, because of inflation. The five players the team already has under team control might still be the nucleus of a very good team, but it's hard to say. Most likely some will still be good players, some will have declined to below average.
~$35 million is committed to Kipnis, Kluber, and Gomes.
The team has some sort of option on Carrasco (exact terms not known, but likely for $8-10 million).
No one has a guaranteed contract this far down the road, but the Indians will have options on Kipnis, Kluber, Carrasco, and Gomes.
Brandon Moss is the only player expected by many to be any better than average who is set to leave the Indians during the next three years. The team has a talented core that isn't going anywhere for a while, so if the pitching staff turns out to be anywhere near as good as it was in the second half of last season, and players like Brantley and Gomes don't turn out to have been complete flukes, the Indians should be contenders throughout the rest of this decade.