The Indians are already on track to arrive at Opening Day next season with the highest payroll in franchise history (though if you account for inflation, the 2001 payroll will remain on top), at something in the neighborhood of $120 million, so it's unlikely they'll be adding any other additional players of significant value. That doesn't mean they might not add another big contract though, because the team could work out an extension for one of their current players.
Pitchers Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer are each arbitration-eligible for the first time, but I don't think either of them has accomplished enough to make cost certainty worthwhile. Jose Ramirez is still a year away from arbitration, and if the team thinks his 2016 production is going to stick, they could look to lock him up, but if there's one player the team would like to extend, it's Francisco Lindor. Obviously the player must be interested in an extension too, but for the sake of argument let's say Lindor is: What kind of numbers might be involved in an extension for one of the game's best players?
Lindor, who only turned 23 years old last month, has 1.113 years of service time. That means he won't be eligible for arbitration until 2019, and won't be eligible for free agency until the end of the 2021 season, five years from now. That means the Indians could pay him the league minimum (a little over $500,000) in each of the next two seasons, before arbitration would lead to significant raises for each of the following three seasons. If Lindor keeps playing about as well as he did in 2016, I think he'd get something like $9 million in 2019, and then receive a ~40% raise for 2020 and 2021, all of which would put his total cost to the Indians for 2017-2021 at ~$40 million. (If he were a free agent right now, $40 million would buy even two years of Lindor, which serves to remind you how underpaid young stars are.)
Five years, $40 million, that's about what the two sides are looking at if nothing changes. If no extension works out, there's more risk for Lindor than there is for the Indians. Unless he wins an MVP in the next couple years, he's not going to make significantly more than that $40 million, but if his production falls off or he suffers a serious injury, he could make a lot less. For that reason, an extension covering only those five years would either be for something less than $40 million, or it would provide the Indians with a couple extra years of control, with at least one team-option year at the end. This is what the Tribe did when they extended Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes, and Jason Kipnis (one team option each), as well as Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco (two team options each).
In the last five years there have been six position players the same distance from free agency as Lindor is right now who signed an extension for 5+ years and $25+ million in guaranteed money:
- Paul Goldschmidt: 5 years, $32 million (6 years, $44.5 million if team option is exercised)
- Andrelton Simmons**: 7 years, $58 million
- Starling Marte: 6 years, $31 million (or 7 years, $40.5 million, or 8 years, $52 million)
- Jedd Gyorko**: 5 years, $35 million: (or 6 years, $47 million)
- Christian Yelich: 7 years, $49.6 million (or 8 years, $63.3 million)
- Gregory Polanco: 5 years, $36 million (or 6 years, $45.5 million, or 7 years, $58 million)
**Gyorko would have eventually qualified as a Super 2 players, and there was reason at the time to think Simmons would have as well. Such status entitles a player to an additional year of arbitration, which drives up their cost to the team substantially. Gyorko likely got an additional $8-10 million because of this, and Simmons likely received $6-8 million due to the possibility, which does not really exist for Lindor.
Here's a look at some of the numbers posted by each of these players in the full season before their extension was signed, along with Lindor's 2016 numbers:
Lindor is on the young end of that group, and his performance is on the high end, so it makes sense that an extension for him would likely cost a bit more than the extensions for most of those players did.
If an extension is signed this offseason, I think it'll look something like this:
- 2017: $1 million
- 2018 $4 million
- 2019: $7 million
- 2020: $10 million
- 2021: $14 million
- 2022: $16 million
- 2023: $18 million team option (or $3 million buyout)
That would be a guaranteed 6 years, $55 million, with a possible total value of $70 million over seven years, a higher total and per-season value than any of the contracts mentioned above, and would provide the Indians with an additional two years of control over Lindor. Such a deal would still allow him to become a free agent before his 30th birthday, potentially putting him in line for an even bigger payday.