Welcome to Tribe Talk, where Bleacher Report's Cleveland Indians fans weigh in on the ups and downs of the club each week throughout the season.
This week we discuss the fate of the Tribe's 2011 arbitration-eligible players, project next season's payroll, wonder what's wrong with Mitch Talbot, and share our thoughts on possibly playing spoiler for the Twins or the White Sox this month.
I would like to thank this week's participants, Dale Thomas at Dan Tylicki, for their contributions. This discussion is open to all, so please feel free to comment below and share your thoughts on the questions we're addressing this week.
1. This winter, Shin Soo Choo will be eligible for arbitration. There hasn't been much talk of signing him to a multi-year contract, at least that we know of.
Do you think the Indians will avoid arbitration and sign him to a multi-year deal this offseason? What do you think is a reasonable contract length/dollar amount?
Is there any chance the Tribe signs Choo for a deal longer than three years that not only avoids arbitration but goes into the beginning of his free agency?
Samantha Bunten: There's no way they'll avoid arbitration with Scott Boras involved. I expect they'll make an offer to buy out his arbitration years anyway, but I don't see them trying to push anything that goes into his free-agent years.
The Indians are no longer in the habit of buying that far into the future unless the player comes at a serious bargain price, which no one repped by Scott Boras ever will.
If they're smart, and if Boras agrees to play ball, they should look at a deal in the neighborhood of three years, $16-18 million.
Dale Thomas: I'm not too worried about Boras pushing Choo into free agency, and I don't think the Indians will attempt a long-term deal. Let's call it the "Hafner lesson."
I think they will try to buy out his arbitration years with a low-ball offer. Maybe $15-20 million.
He is in his offensive prime right now and will be 31 years old at the free-agency stage. That's typically when a player's performance might begin to decline, so I don't think free agency will be all that kind to Choo. I figure a three-year deal, then the Indians will cut him loose.
Dan Tylicki: They probably will not avoid arbitration, given that he's a Boras client, but I hope they do and sign him to a multi-year agreement.
He's earned a pretty hefty contract with his play, I'd say in the $5 million per year range. I'd go higher but this is the Indians we're talking about.
I don't see anything beyond a three-year deal happening, though.
2. Another core player who will be eligible for arbitration this winter is Asdrubal Cabrera.
What do you think is a reasonable offer of years/salary for Cabrera? Any chance the Indians lock him up for longer than just his arbitration years by giving him a contract that extends into free agency?
Now for the really tough question: If the Indians are only willing and/or able, financially speaking, to give a long-term contract to either Choo or Cabrera but not both, which one do you think they should choose? Why?
Samantha Bunten: Cabrera is a far better candidate for a long-term deal than Choo given his age and representation.
Moreover, the team's needs should also make Cabrera the stronger candidate. The system is full of outfielders. Obviously, it would hurt to lose Choo in the future, but it would be easier to absorb than losing Cabrera.
I would try to go six years with Cabrera, back-loaded with a club option on the last year.
The Indians are also in a better position to negotiate with Cabrera than they are with Choo, given Cabrera's injuries, unproven consistency on offense, and relationship/attachment to the team.
Dale Thomas: Cabrera is a lot like Choo in that they both had breakout seasons in 2009 and both continue to improve...except Cabrera is way younger, and is a great candidate for a six-year deal.
They could probably get a discounted price early on in the deal then jack it up toward the later years.
It could look something like this: 2011, $2 million; 2012, $3.5 million; 2013, $6 million; 2014, $8 million, 2015, $9.5 million; and 2016, $10 million (club option.) This would lock him up for his best years.
Dan Tylicki: Cabrera is probably an easier case to lock up past arbitration, since he's emerged as a leader, and due to his injuries, the Indians may be able to get a bit of a break money-wise. Not sure how much he'd get, but he deserves a good contract as well.
He's more likely to get the longer deal that goes into free agency, but again I think this is unlikely.
The second question is a tough one indeed. Do you pick the clubhouse leader-infielder, probably the only spot in the infield that's actually nailed down, or do you pick the most productive player at a position we're deeper in, who's a Boras client?
If they had the same agent, I'd go with Choo just because we need that spark in the lineup, even though based on need right now, Cabrera seems the more urgent player to get signed up.
3. On a related note to the above, the Indians payroll this season was about $61 million. Roughly $27 million of that has or will come off the books this year, putting the total going into next year at about $34 million.
Obviously that number will go up from $34 million in 2011 (through players entering arbitration and scheduled raises for players under contract if nothing else), but how much do you think it will go up beyond that?
What do you estimate the Indians' payroll entering 2011 to be? Do you think the projection is a reasonable amount for them to spend given the team's revenue and chances of contending?
Samantha Bunten: The total for payroll will likely end up about the same, let's say about $58 million. Not much will change. The Indians will spend about the same amount, they'll rank about the same amongst other MLB teams in terms of payroll, and they won't contend.
They'll bring in a stopgap third baseman on a one-year deal, give the same sort of deal to a veteran low-risk, high-reward pitcher, say the word "rebuilding" a lot, and then finish last in the Central.
Business as usual. At least we know what to expect.
Dale Thomas: Payroll will end up about where it is now, then they will complain about it. I honestly don't feel that they are 'building' a team.
It's more like they are becoming adept at tearing the team down. Deconstruction specialists, so to say.
Yeah, they're obligated to raise certain salaries, then obliged to dump those same salaries and thumb their noses to the general public while explaining how "we don't understand".
Sadly, contending has come to mean 'not coming in last.' How many Walmart TVs do you have to get before you realize that your audience doesn't want to watch a blank screen?
Our ballpark is empty for a reason and it doesn't take a brilliant analyst to figure out why. Everyone knows you have to invest first to get the dividend later. Ownership has sunk to buying lottery tickets with the hope of getting lucky.
Dan Tylicki: I think we'll finish somewhere in the neighborhood of $56-58 million. It will remain near the bottom, and it will look like they won't contend.
Factoring in Choo and Cabrera, there wouldn't be too much more for others, and as usual, Cleveland will take the low-risk, high-reward route, finding a one-year third baseman and perhaps another player or two.
4. Mitch Talbot was a hugely pleasant surprise the first half of the season, pitching far better than anyone expected and making the Kelly Shoppach trade with the Rays look like a complete steal.
These days, he's the poster child for how quickly things can start to go down the drain.
Initially Talbot's struggles landed him on the DL, but it's only gotten worse from there. Upon returning to the team, he gave up 12 runs in his first three starts, and was touched for five runs in the first inning last week by the anemic Oakland offense.
So what exactly is wrong with Talbot? Why do you think he was able to pitch so well in the first half of the season but then took such a dramatic turn for the worse?
Do you think Talbot can adjust and return to his early season form? Do you think this is just a bad spell for Talbot that he'll eventually emerge from, or do you think his success at the beginning of the year was just a fluke?
Samantha Bunten: There doesn't appear to be any sort of mechanical issue or flaw in his delivery, though I think there's a strong possibility he could be tipping, even if it's only in such a way that it nets opposing batters more walks/an easier go at pitch selection rather than allowing them to tee off on him.
He's also relatively young and doesn't have a ton of major league experience, so he may have had a few bad outings that were just part of the way things go for everyone but was then unable to get past them mentally.
Ultimately, I think Talbot will be fine. It may just be an issue of getting his confidence back. If not, we can always just ship him off to Arizona. Hey, it worked for Fausto. Sort of.
Dale Thomas: I think the long ugly season wore him down and he just doesn't give a sh** anymore. Oh wait! Maybe that's me...
Dan Tylicki: I wish I could say it's because of the teams he's faced, but he's played against the Athletics and Mariners and got torched by both, so that's clearly wrong.
Looking through his stats doesn't show anything other then him just pitching worse, so I'm quite certain it's mental. These kinds of slumps are what separates the good and the bad pitchers. If he can shake this off and return to form, he'll be worth keeping. If he's even worse in September, then it will be a problem.
I don't think his early success was a fluke, he's just someone who still needs to develop at the major league level. I think he has the tools to snap out of it, but I don't know if he will.
5. Fun Question of the Week: Beginning this week, the Tribe still has six games each left with division contenders Chicago and Minnesota before the end of the season. This leaves them with a chance to play spoiler for someone's playoff chances.
Given the choice, whose season would you rather the Tribe ruin, the Twins or the White Sox? Realistically, which of those teams do you think the Tribe has a greater chance of victimizing in an effort to play spoiler?
Samantha Bunten: Since Torii Hunter is no longer with the Twins and around to run his mouth off about how much he hates the Indians, the choice is pretty easy: Chicago, all the way.
We can make the choke sign at Ozzie Guillen like he did to us a few years ago. We can ruin AJ Pierzynski's winter. We can keep Mark Buehrle from getting additional chances to hit yet another batter in the head and then refuse to apologize for it. That's right, Chicago—what goes around comes around.
Dale Thomas: White Sox get my vote, but I hope we don't have to vote on whose season we wreck next year.
Dan Tylicki: Hmm, who would I rather see beaten by the Tribe, Manny or Thome? Probably Manny, since Thome was with the team longer, so I'd rather spoil Chicago.
We're 8-5 against Chicago and 5-7 against Minnesota, so I'd say we have a better shot against Chicago.