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Payroll-heavy Indians entering unfamiliar arbitration territory

The Indians have not signed any arbitration players yet, but that doesn’t mean deals aren’t coming.

Division Series - Cleveland Indians v Boston Red Sox - Game Three Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

With the salary arbitration deadline looming mere days away, the Cleveland Indians still have not signed any of their eight eligible players. A few teams have already signed players, but many, including the Indians, will probably wait until the last minute to officially avoid the ugly arbitration process.

The Indians have until this Friday, January 13, to either sign players to a deal or exchange figures and prepare to go to arbitration court. Last year, the Indians worked out deals with several players days or weeks ahead of time, but they still did not sign Cody Allen, Lonnie Chisenhall, Josh Tomlin, or Jeff Manship until moments before the January 15 deadline.

The Indians went into the offseason with nine arbitration-eligible players, but Michael Martinez was outrighted to make room for Daniel Robertson in November then re-signed to a minor-league deal, making him ineligible. They now have eight players awaiting deals: Bryan Shaw, Lonnie Chisenhall, Zach McAllister, Cody Allen, Brandon Guyer, Dan Otero, Danny Salazar, and Trevor Bauer.

According to MLB Trade Rumors, Allen projects to be the most expensive player, potentially bringing in $7.7 million through arbitration. Here’s a full breakdown of the MLBTR projections:

  • Bryan Shaw (5.081) – $4.5MM
  • Lonnie Chisenhall (4.158) – $4.1MM
  • Zach McAllister (4.077) – $1.7MM
  • Cody Allen (4.076) – $7.7MM
  • Brandon Guyer (4.066) – $2.0MM
  • Dan Otero (3.124) – $1.2MM
  • Danny Salazar (2.162) – $3.8MM
  • Trevor Bauer (2.158) – $3.7MM

In previous years, it made sense for the Indians to just blindly lock everyone up. They were (and still are) a team on the rise built around young players, and losing those young players over a few million dollars wasn’t worth the risk. The difference this season is that the payroll is expected to balloon to well over $100 million with the deadline acquisition of Andrew Miller‘s $9 million salary and the $13 million owed to slugger Edwin Encarnacion in 2016 on the books. Things might be tighter in Cleveland than Indians fans are used to.

Before accounting for arbitration, the Indians payroll (including the $9 million still owed to Chris Johnson) sits at $84.2 million, according to Spotrac. If the Indians are big fans of MLBTR’s projections and just go with those to avoid court, the 2017 payroll would be $112.9 million. That would be their highest payroll ever, not accounting for inflation. There may be more penny-pinching going on than in previous years.

The last time the Indians actually had to go arbitration court with any player was 2014 when they failed to reach deals with Vinnie Pestano, Josh Tomlin, and Justin Masterson. Prior to that, the Indians went 23 years without an arbitration hearing, the previous coming in 1991 when they went to court with pitcher Greg Swindell and infielder Jerry Browne.

The Indians “won” all three of their 2014 cases, but I would rather not see them press their luck in 2016. Hopefully we’ll see deals done over the next two days.