While Cleveland Indians fans are rightfully focused on the team's current postseason run, MLB Trade Rumors has posted its 2017 arbitration predictions, making it a good time to take a look at the Tribe's payroll situation.
Before getting into the 2017 numbers, I think it's important to look at the 2016 numbers, so that we have some context. If you take the "total payroll" figure found at Spotrac ($114.96M), and subtract the signing bonuses given to draft picks ($8.74M, and of course that's real money, but those bonuses are almost never included in discussions about payroll, and for an apples-to-apples discussion, we need not consider them, the Indians spent ~$105 million on payroll this year. That's the highest figure in franchise history, and can be used as a starting point for discussion what the 2017 payroll might look like.
So, 2017 payroll...
The Indians have $58.8 million committed to the 2017 payroll right now, put towards seven players, the buyout on two options, and money they'll still be paying Chris Johnson. If we assume they pick up their option on Carlos Santana and decline the option on Coco Crisp, that figure rises to $69.6 million.
MLBTR has been predicting arbitration salaries for years now, and they do a good job with them, so while you're welcome to quibble with some of their numbers, I wouldn't expect anything to be too far off. Here are their figures for the Indians:
- Cody Allen: $7.7MM
- Bryan Shaw: $4.5MM
- Lonnie Chisenhall: $4.1MM
- Danny Salazar: $3.8MM
- Trevor Bauer: $3.7MM
- Brandon Guyer: $2.0MM
- Zach McAllister: $1.7MM
- Chris Gimenez: $1.2MM
- Jeff Manship: $1.2MM
- Dan Otero: $1.2MM
- Michael Martinez: $600K
Those figures add up to a total of $31.7 million. The Indians aren't obligated to tender arbitration to all of those players, but the only players I can imagine them passing on are Gimenez, Manship, and Martinez (they might non-tender any of those players and bring them back for less money), and their figures are the smallest ones on that list, so non-tendering them doesn't change the equation much. Adding that $31.7 million to the $69.6 million from above, you get $101.3 million, for a total of 19 players. A team needs 25 players, of course, and end up paying more than that many, because some players (hopefully not many) will spend time (hopefully not much) on the disabled list. Even if the Indians pay all of those players the league minimum (somewhere between $500,000 and $550,000, depending on the player), and you're looking at another $3 to 5 million, putting things at ~$105 million.
So, if the Indians let Crisp, Mike Napoli, and Rajai Davis go, but keep everyone else, and don't sign any of the arbitration-eligible (or pre-arbitration players, like Francisco Lindor) to an extension that significantly changes their 2017 salary from what's predicted, they're going to be right around this year's payroll figure, without adding a single new player.
The pitching staff would be intact, and would have a full season of Andrew Miller, and if Michael Brantley is able to return at full strength, he'd be an upgrade over the combined production of Davis and Crisp, with enough excess value to offset the loss of Napoli (whose power this season has been great, but whose overall on-field value this season has been that of a below-average player). And even if Brantley isn't healthy, or is healthy, but no longer the player he used to be, the Indians won the AL Central by eight games, so they had some margin for error. Point being, the Indians could bring back most of this year's roster, add no one else, and be expected to contend.
That said, I think it's good to go into the offseason with a clear sense of the financial picture, and absent a shocking non-tender or declined option, or a trade that moves one of the team's highest-paid players and brings back a much cheaper player, the current payroll figure provides no room for additions.
Winning the division this season should provide at least a small bump in ticket sales for next year, and the deeper the team goes into the postseason, the larger that bump will be, and the more revenue they'll make from each postseason game they play (millions of dollars per game), so it's reasonable to expect that payroll next season will be higher. How much higher? I'd guess at least an extra $10 million, with another $5-10 million on top of that for every series the team wins in the days and weeks ahead. Unlike the rest of the salary figures I've mentioned here though, the potential payroll raise for next year is nothing but a best guess.