EDIT: Less than an hour after this post was published, Indians GM Chris Antonetti made a complete mockery of it by somehow trading both Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn to the Atlanta Braves, freeing up more than $20 million in additional payroll room for 2016.
The Indians have had a higher Opening Day, 25-man roster payroll in each of the the last few years. After bottoming out at $49.4 million in 2011 (all salary figures in this post come from Cot's Baseball Contracts), it made large jumps to $65.4 million in 2012 and $80.6 million in 2013, and then smaller climbs to $85.4 million in 2014 and $88.0 million in 2015.
TV revenues have been static for a couple seasons now, while attendance has dropped slightly. The renovations made last offseason likely mean the average attendee is spending slightly more money though, which is to say I'd imagine revenue isn't much different this year than it was during the last couple.
Considering all that, I think it's reasonable to believe ownership would be comfortable spending a bit more next season than this one but not a lot more, perhaps as much as $93 million, which would represent a $5-million over this year, which would be larger than the raise from last year to this one, bit smaller than the average raise during the last 3 or 4 seasons. It is certainly possible the team will spend less than that, but I doubt they're going to spend more, unless a deal they feel they just can't pass up comes along. (Not likely.)
If the Indians have a ceiling of $93 million for 2016, what sort of spending money do they have this offseason?
The Tribe currently have $62.9 million committed for next year. That figures covers Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Yan Gomes, and a $100,000 buyout of Ryan Raburn's team option. If the Indians decide to keep Raburn, he'd cost $3 million instead. (I could see things going either way with Raburn's option.)
At first glance you might think, $30 million to play with, Johnny Cueto, here we come! but slow down, because the list above only including eight players locked up for next season (or nine, if Raburn's option is picked up). A number of guys on the team right now still won't be arbitration eligible, meaning the Indians can pay them only ~$500,000, but a handful of players will (or already are) eligible for arbitration, and will be getting decent-sized raises if the Tribe keeps them:
Lonnie Chisenhall is making $2.25 million this year, Bryan Shaw is making $1.55 million, and Josh Tomlin is making $1.5 million. Lonnie's raise isn't likely to be much, given that he struggled mightily early on, and then spend a large chunk of the year in Triple-A. He'll likely cost something close to $3 million, and the Indians will tender him a contract. Shaw has been very good again this season, and will likely see a jump to $2.5 to 3 million for next year. Tomlin will almost certainly be non-tendered, and then perhaps brought back on a minor league deal.
Call it $6 million for Chisenhall and Shaw, and the Indians are up to ~$69 million. (That's if they buy our Raburn's option.)
Cody Allen, Zach McAllister, and Nick Hagadone will each be arbitration eligible for the first time. Hagdone is out for the rest of the year after elbow surgery. I think the Indians would like to keep him around, but won't spend much to do it. I'm not sure if he'll require a Major League deal or now. If he does, it wouldn't be for more than $1 million, and would perhaps be for even less. McAllister, a reliever now, shouldn't cost more than $1.5 million. Allen though, as a closer, will have a large price tag, as first-year arbitration players go. Greg Holland received $4.7 million in his first year, Kenley Jenson received $4.3 million. Zach Britton, with only one year as a closer, got $3.2 million. Let's say $4 million for Allen.
Those players would bring the payroll up to ~$75 for 13 players. At ~$500,000 for the rest of the roster, you get ~$81 million for 25 players.
The Indians should have something like $12 million to spend this offseason on 2016 payroll, which isn't close to enough to land one of the biggest free agents, would could mean one second-tier or addition, or a couple third-tier signings.
In 2017, when Swisher and Bourn's deals come off the books, the Indians could potentially have more than $35 million in available space, but that will depend on a whole lot of things over the course of the next 15 months.