Chances of Each Important Cleveland Indians Player Returning

Tyler DumaFeatured ColumnistOctober 12, 2013

Chances of Each Important Cleveland Indians Player Returning

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    The Cleveland Indians, like every other team in the league, will have to make some important player personnel decisions in the upcoming offseason. The Indians have low salary commitments in 2014, totaling just $49.28 million, so the potential is there for them to retain their key players while also being a big player in the free-agent market.

    Considering there aren't many high-profile names on the market this season—Robinson Cano is far-and-away the biggest name on the list—the Indians will likely focus on bringing back their own players and building through their farm system. 

    There are other teams that could be interested in several players on the Indians' roster, though, including Scott Kazmir, Ubaldo Jimenez, Drew Stubbs and Joe Smith. Jimenez is the most attractive target and will likely be the most difficult to retain.

    With their situation explained, let's examine the 10 most important arbitration-eligible, free-agent players on the Indians' roster heading into the 2013-14 offseason.

     

    All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

Scott Kazmir

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    Outside of Francisco Liriano, Scott Kazmir was arguably the most surprising pitcher to come out of a starting rotation. Kazmir signed a one-year/$1 million deal with the Indians, making him the third highest-paid pitcher in the starting rotation.

    Kazmir started the 2013 season in the minors and made just one start with the club's Triple-A affiliate prior to joining the big league roster. Kazmir then went on to make 29 starts with the Indians, allowing a 4.04 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP with ratios including 9.2 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 3.45 K/BB and 9.2 H/9.

    Kazmir's season was his best since his All-Star campaign in 2008. Though he wasn't an All-Star caliber pitcher in 2013, the 29-year-old proved to be a valuable asset to a team that lacked rotational depth prior to the start of the year.

    Kazmir will be a free agent, but he isn't likely to command a major salary. He will see an increase over his 2013 pay rate, however, and a contract in the $10-15 million range over three or four seasons is a reasonable expectation for the veteran lefty.

    Given the fact that the Indians' salary commitments in 2014 sit at a minuscule $49.28 million, that gives them plenty of room to accommodate Kazmir and his salary needs.

     

    Chances of Returning: 95 percent

Michael Brantley

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    Michael Brantley has become one of the team's most consistent offensive producers over the last three seasons. After a breakout campaign in 2011, the 26-year-old went on to post back-to-back seasons of solid production and proved capable of occupying multiple spots in a lineup.

    In 2013, Brantley had his best all-around season as a professional, posting career highs in runs scored, home runs, RBI and stolen bases. All-in-all, Brantley appeared in 151 of the team's 162 games and managed a .284/.332/.396 slash line with 10 home runs, 26 doubles, 73 RBI, 66 runs scored, 17 stolen bases and a 67-40 K/BB ratio.

    Brantley is entering his first year of arbitration eligibility and, given his production over the past three seasons, he should see a significant increase over his $527k salary from 2013. The idea of non-tendering Brantley is far-fetched and highly unlikely.

     

    Chances of Returning: 100 percent

Justin Masterson

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    Prior to a late-season oblique injury, Justin Masterson was having his best season as a starting pitcher. The 28-year-old posted a 14-10 record with a 3.45 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP over 32 appearances—29 starts.

    To go along with the impressive numbers referenced above, Masterson's ratios were also on the rise last season. Over 193 innings pitched—the third-largest workload of his career—Masterson posted ratios of 9.1 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 2.57 K/BB, 7.3 H/9 and 0.6 HR/9.

    Masterson's 9.1 K/9, 7.3 H/9 and 2.57 K/BB were the best marks he's posted as a full-time starter and, at 28 years old, it's reasonable to expect additional progression over the next three or four years.

    This offseason is Masterson's final year of arbitration eligibility, so he'll certainly be back for the upcoming season. However, there's a distinct possibility that he and the Indians negotiate a long-term deal in an attempt to lock him up before he hits the free-agent market next offseason.

     

    Chances of Returning: 100 percent

Ubaldo Jimenez

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    After the season's first two months, it looked as though Ubaldo Jimenez was partaking in his last season as a member of the Cleveland Indians. Through 10 starts, just under a third of his season's workload, Jimenez was the owner of a 5.57 ERA, a 1.36 WHIP and per-nine ratios of 9.2 K/9, 4.5 BB/9, 7.7 H/9 and 1.4 HR/9.

    Over his next 22 starts, Jimenez reverted back to his 2010 Cy Young Award candidate form, going 10-6 with a 2.40 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP while averaging 9.7 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 2.61 K/BB, 8.2 H/9 and 0.5 HR/9.

    In addition to the four solid months of production outlined above, Jimenez was a major part of the Indians attaining their first playoff berth since 2007. In September, Jimenez turned in a 4-0 record over six starts, allowing a 1.09 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP while striking out 11.1 batters per nine innings.

    When he signed it back in 2009, Jimenez's contract had a built-in club option for the 2014 season. However, the language in the contract provided for his ability to void that option should he be traded prior to contract's end.

    Since the Rockies dealt Jimenez to the Indians in 2011, he holds the ability to void out the remaining option year. Jimenez was scheduled to make $8 million in 2014, and his decision on whether or not to accept that salary will depend largely on what he and his agent decide his worth is on the open market.

    If teams determine that they'll be getting the Jimenez who dominated over his final 22 starts, then he's worth far more than the $8 million he's slated to make. If not, the Indians might be in luck. However, at the moment, his chances of returning are 50-50 at best.

     

    Chances of Returning: 50 percent

Chris Perez

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    Chris Perez is entering his final offseason as an arbitration-eligible player. The 28-year-old signed a one-year/$7.3 million contract prior to the 2013 season, avoiding arbitration. This offseason, Perez won't be so lucky.

    Every season prior to a player hitting free agency is important and, in arguably the most important one of his career, Perez flopped...hard. Over 54 appearances, the Florida native allowed a 4.53 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP with per-nine averages of 9.0 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 9.3 H/9 and 1.8 HR/9.

    Of the figures listed above, Perez's 4.53 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 9.3 H/9 and 1.8 HR/9 were the worst of his career. Things got so bad for Perez that he actually lost his job as the team's closer at the end of September, via ESPN.com.

    Perez and the Indians could go to arbitration this year, but the Indians are more likely to bring him back with a one-year deal at a salary substantially lower than the $7.3 million he earned last season.

    Perez will be back with the club next season, but it's likely he'll have to re-earn his spot as the Indians' closer.

     

    Chances of Returning: 100 percent

     

Joe Smith

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    2013 was a banner year for Joe Smith. In his seventh big-league season, Smith worked to a 2.29 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP, while averaging 7.7 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 2.35 K/BB and 7.7 H/9.

    In addition to arguably the best numbers in the Indians' bullpen, Smith finished a career-high 20 games this past season. This could work in Smith's favor as the Indians are going to be looking for a possible replacement for closer Chris Perez.

    If the team determines that Perez is unfit to resume his role as their closer, then Smith could be next in line. The 29-year-old's season amounted to the second-best of his career. The Indians will have to pay to bring him back, but it's unlikely they let him walk.

     

    Chances of Returning: 95 percent

Drew Stubbs

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    Drew Stubbs is a free agent for the first time in his big league career.

    After spending his first four seasons as a member of the Cincinnati Reds, the 28-year-old was traded to Cleveland this past offseason in the three-team deal that also netted them Trevor Bauer, Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw.

    After proving to be a first-round bust over his four years in Cincinnati, expectations for Stubbs were rather low entering the 2013 season. Though he was not outstanding, Stubbs did surpass the modest expectations he was prescribed.

    In 146 games played, Stubbs maintained a .233/.305/.360 slash line with 10 home runs, 21 doubles, 45 RBI, 59 runs scored and 17 stolen bases. Stubbs was able to raise his on-base percentage in relation to his 2012 mark of .277; however, his disturbing strikeout trend was alive and well.

    In 430 at-bats—his lowest total of any full season—Stubbs' strikeout rate reached 29.3 percent—down slightly from 30.5 percent in 2012.

    Stubbs isn't going to wow anybody with a season indicative of the No. 88 overall prospect ranking he received from Baseball America back in 2007. He can, however, offer plus defense at any of the three outfield positions—his best spot is center field—with plus speed and above-average power for his position.

    Stubbs made $2.8 million last season and should be in line for a similar pay rate in 2013. With Jason Kubel surely out of the equation, odds are the Indians will be happy to bring Stubbs back at that price.

     

    Chances of Returning: 90 percent

Marc Rzepczynski

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    Marc Rzepczynski had a roller-coaster season in 2013.

    As a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, Rzepczynski struggled through 11 appearances with a 7.84 ERA and a 1.94 WHIP while averaging 7.8 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 2.25 K/BB and 13.9 H/9. Things got so bad for the 28-year-old that he was actually sent down to Memphis, where he made 32 appearances with the Cardinals' Triple-A affiliate in the Pacific Coast League.

    Rzepczynski was dealt to Cleveland on July 30 in exchange for minor leaguer Juan Herrera. After joining the team on Aug. 2, the UC Riverside product went on to post a 0.89 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP while averaging 8.9 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 3.33 K/BB and 4.9 H/9.

    Rzepczynski dominated left-handed hitters, holding them to a .179/.230/.250 slash line in 56 at-bats.

    As you'll see in the next slide, Rzepczynski was able to steal the left-handed specialist job from Rich Hill. Given his status as an arbitration-eligible player this offseason and Hill's free-agent status, it seems pretty clear as to who goes and who stays.

     

    Chances of Returning: 100 percent

Rich Hill

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    We move on to another left-handed reliever, Rich Hill. As far as Hill's chances of returning to Cleveland go, the writing is already on the wall. In reality, it's been there since his ERA ballooned out to 8.44 on June 2.

    Hill finished the season with a 1-2 record to go along with a disappointing stat line, including a 6.28 ERA, a 1.73 WHIP and per-nine ratios of 11.9 K/9, 6.8 BB/9, 8.8 H/9 and 0.7 HR/9.

    Hill saw his workload diminish over the season's final two months. After adding Marc Rzepczynski in the beginning of August, Hill made 19 appearances—compared to Rzepczynski's 27 over the same time span.

    As discussed in the previous slide, Rzepczynski's performance with the Indians, coupled with his status as an arbitration-eligible player this offseason, makes Hill an obvious choice as a roster casualty.

     

    Chances of Returning: less than 5 percent

Matt Albers

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    Matt Albers was another piece of the three-team deal for Trevor Bauer, Drew Stubbs and Bryan Shaw. Much like Stubbs, Albers will be a free agent for the first time in his career.

    Albers could be an attractive option out on the open market. The 30-year-old righty has proven over the past two years that he's capable of holding down a spot in a contending team's bullpen.

    Over the last two seasons—119 appearances—Albers allowed a 2.77 ERA with a 1.20 WHIP, while averaging 5.8 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 1.76 K/BB and 7.5 H/9. Albers isn't much of a strikeout guy, but he limits his walks well and induces plenty of weak contact, allowing just 7.5 H/9.

    This year, Albers was the Indians third option out of the 'pen, behind Cody Allen and Joe Smith. Because of his performance and role with the team, Albers could seek a pay raise over his $1.75 million earned in 2013, but the Indians can easily afford him given their low salary commitments for 2014.

    In addition to having the money, the Indians will get first crack at re-signing Albers. Though other teams may offer, the Indians have a distinct need in the bullpen and they'll surely look to address it this offseason.

     

    Chances of Returning: 98 percent