Cleveland Indians Rumors
The Indians have acquired infielder Justin Sellers from the Dodgers in exchange for cash considerations, the club announced. In a corresponding move to create a 40-man roster spot for Sellers, the Tribe has designated first baseman David Cooper for assignment.
Sellers was himself designated for assignment by L.A. last week and the move to Cleveland frees him from DFA Limbo. Sellers was originally a sixth-round draft pick for the Athletics in 2005 and he has 266 Major League PA under his belt as a Dodger from 2011-13. The 28-year-old has a career .199/.278/.301 slash line in the bigs, though he has much more impressive numbers over his last four minor league seasons.
Sellers has experience at second and third but has primarily been a shortstop for much of his professional career. He gives the Tribe more middle infield depth, as he'll be in the mix with Mike Aviles and Elliot Johnson as the primary infield backup to Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera.
Cleveland signed Cooper to a Major League deal in December, and MLB.com's Jordan Bastian reports (via Twitter) that the Tribe will keep Cooper as a non-roster player in camp if he clears waivers. Cooper last played in the Majors in 2012 as a member of the Blue Jays as he struggled with a possible career-ending back injury before undergoing surgery and recovering enough to play 13 minor league games for the Indians last season. The left-handed hitting first baseman was Toronto's first round pick (17th overall) in 2008 and he has a .301/.376/.470 line over 2298 career PA in the minors, plus a .750 OPS in 226 Major League PA.
Earlier this month, MLBTR's Tim Dierkes learned that the Rockies have employed an unusual pre-arbitration pay scale. As you might expect, agents are less than thrilled with the system in which Colorado pays a league-minimum $500K for players with between zero and one year of service, then bumps that up by just $1K for each additional service year before arbitration. The pay scale is unique in that it offers only a minute bump over the minimum and doesn't factor in performance. However, after speaking with a number of agents and baseball officials around the league, it's clear that the Rockies are far from alone when it comes to having a rigid pay scale for players with three or less years of experience, even if theirs is less generous than others.
"I'd say about two-thirds of baseball is using some kind of formula for that," one experienced agent told MLBTR. "Every system is different. The Indians, for example, take a very sabermetric approach to it to be a little more scientific. Others will be more about service time. On one hand, those systems allow you to say to your client, 'This is why arbitration is so valuable, because you can let a third party sort it out objectively.' Of course, you can't really compare an average player with a couple years of experience to a guy with less that made the All-Star team, so I have mixed feelings about it."
Many agents mentioned the Rays as a club with a similar "sabermetric" approach to calculating pre-arbitration salaries and it's believed both teams have been using that formula for several years now. The Brewers use something similar to Tampa Bay and Cleveland, a "dumbed down" version of the sabermetric formula, as one agent put it. Other teams, like the aforementioned Rockies, have a simpler method. MLBTR's own Steve Adams learned that as recently as 2013, the Astros used the same basic formula as Colorado - players with 0-1 years experience would get the minimum salary ($490K at the time) with a $1K bump for each year. Players could earn more by making the All-Star team (+$5K), being named organizational player/pitcher of the year (+$1K), and playing time in the previous year, calculated with the following formula:
Position Players: (PA/650)*$10K
Pitchers: The greater of: 1. (GS/33)*$10K 2. (G/75)*$10K 3. (IP/200)*$10,000
Houston's system came with two interesting wrinkles. Agents were told that no player will be offered a pay cut from the salary they earned on a major league deal signed with the Astros in the previous year, an obvious plus for players and agents. On the flipside, any player who would reject the offer and opt instead for renewal would get $5K less than the calculated scale amount (or the minimum, if the $5K penalty dipped below that point). One player, Justin Maxwell, wound up getting his contract renewed by Houston at $492,500, just above the major league minimum of $490K. The Astros, citing club policy, declined to comment on their pay scale.
One baseball source told MLBTR that even though the Rockies' pay scale has gotten a great deal of attention this offseason, they've been using it for the last three winters. Even prior to that, they were using a system that was rather similar and also based on service time. Any extra money given beyond the minimum was dictated by the raise in the league minimum from the previous year. In the case of this offsesaon, the $1K increase reflected the healthy $10K boost in the minimum.
While agents may not be doing cartwheels over a $1K raise from year to year, there are instances in which nearly all of a club's pre-arb players will earn the league minimum, as was the case with the Marlins in 2012. That year year saw a drastic spike in the league minimum salary from $414K to $480K, however, so the players received a notable bump nonetheless (and in some cases more, as evidenced by Chris Coghlan's $500K salary). An executive with one club who uses a modest pay scale told MLBTR that their reasoning is rather simple.
"The thought process from our perspective always been to try and be consistent as possible," the exec said. "The [Collective Bargaining Agreement] dictates a minimum, now $500K, for these guys. The philosophical question is, what benefit do you get from paying them significantly above that, or even a dollar above that?
"It's the one time in the process that the club has the edge, if you will. We always tried to be consistent and objective and we don't want to have to try and figure out which player is more valuable than another or whether a first baseman is worth more than a relief pitcher...arbitration is all about comps, free agency is just market value, if we didn't have a pay scale, we'd effectively be choosing one of our players over another and we don't want to do that."
The exec went on to say that virtually every agent has complained about his club's pay scale and he understands their frustrations since it's the one time in the process they don't get to negotiate their client's salary. However, even though agents don't like the system, he says there have yet to be any negative consequences for it. He believes that it's partially because the scale promotes consistency. One American League executive whose club uses an "objective and subjective" method for coming up with salaries and is "in the middle of the pack" in terms of pre-arb player compensation supported that notion, saying that agents will typically protest more over how their client is paid compared to his teammates rather than the actual dollar amount.
The other reason that the official from the modest pay scale doesn't fear any sort of retribution is because agents will approach arbitration and free agency the same way regardless of how their client is paid within the first three years. The official used an example that came up numerous times in conversations with other executives and agents - Ryan Howard's $900K deal with the Phillies in his final year before arbitration. The Phillies gave their star slugger more than double their obligation, but it obviously didn't buy them a loyalty discount through the arbitration process. General Manager Pat Gillick & Co. offered $7MM, Howard's camp countered at $10MM, and the first baseman walked away with the the largest first-time arbitration salary ever. That could be of some comfort to the Angels, who took a good deal of heat from fans and the agent for Mike Trout after they opted to pay their star outfielder just $20K over minimum last year. In short, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone in baseball to bet on Craig Landis taking it easy on the Halos in their current contract talks if his client had received another $50-$100K a year ago.
It's worth noting there is at least one documented instance of a player taking his hard feelings into the arbitration process. Outfielder Cody Ross told Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports in 2012 that his previous low pay was "one of the main reasons" why he went to a hearing with the Fish in 2010. Ross won his case, coming home with $4.45MM instead of the $4.2MM he was offered. However, that doesn't appear to be the norm. In conversations with MLBTR, agents admitted that even in instances where they feel their client is underpaid in the pre-arb years, it doesn't affect how they approach arbitration or free agency since they're always pushing for top dollar no matter what. Baseball people also say that while they have seen pre-arb pay come up in hearings, there is no evidence that it factors into the arbitrator's decision.
That could help explain why most clubs have opted to use rigid formulas rather than dole out significantly more money than required. One high-ranking executive with a club that negotiates pre-arb pay with agents acknowledges that players won't take it easy on teams in arb hearings over the extra money, but he believes that it makes for a stronger relationship with the players.
"Players will pass judgment on how a club treats them relative to anything and everything," said the National League executive. "They'll think about how a club treats them when it comes to their family, travel, their contract, tickets...clubs are constantly being evaluated by players, justifiably, and every club can choose where they want to be evaluated well and where they're prepared to take a hit."
While that exec didn't like the notion of clubs giving their pre-arb players a near-minimum salary, he admitted that he understood the allure. The up-front savings, even if they're not significant, are a nice perk. On top of that, it's also less time-consuming to send an agent a dollar figure and say, "take it or leave it." "I couldn't imagine how much longer it would all take if we were negotiating with every player," said one executive with a pay scale club.
The player-friendly notion of negotiating appears to be going out of style throughout baseball. "Most clubs, if they don't have a strict formula where you input the service time and certain numbers based on performance, they at last have some basic parameters in place versus 'Hey, this is what we feel like paying you,'" one exec said. While negotiating pre-arb pay might make a player happier in the short-term, it seems that many clubs would rather expedite the process, and perhaps save a few dollars, with a pay scale.
This article was originally published on February 26th.
Here are a couple of bullets relating to the American League Central:
- Consensus top-five overall prospect Miguel Sano of the Twins is headed for an MRI after suffering an injury to his throwing elbow. His agent, Rob Plummer, tells Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press that he fears the worst -- a torn UCL -- although he makes clear that nothing is yet known for certain. Rehab is always an option, though club and player had already considered Tommy John surgery after Sano strained the ligament over the winter. The health of Sano's elbow could have quite a significant impact on his future value, not just due to possible delays in his development, but because some already believe he will not be able to man the hot corner at the MLB level.
- Though Justin Masterson said yesterday that he thinks he'll ultimately reach agreement to extend his stay with the Indians, Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com says that may be hard to reach in reality. A GM told Gammons that the two top starters most likely to be truly available on the open market are Masterson and James Shields. Looking ahead to the potential payday he could land, suggests Gammons, Masterson may be forced to choose between playing in Cleveland and earning market value.
- The GM that Gammons spoke thought it likely that Max Scherzer would stay with the Tigers. But while the club has reached massive extensions with superstars like Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, negotiating a new pact with Scherzer will be most difficult of all, writes Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. In large part, says Heyman, that fact is driven not only by Scherzer's skyrocketing value, but also his own "cool business stance" towards his next new deal. Detroit has played its part by agreeing to a record arbitration raise with Scherzer and clearing space for a new deal through several big offseason deals. But Heyman says that the reigning AL Cy Young winner has his sights set on matching -- or even exceeding -- the kinds of guarantees achieved by Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander in recent years.
Earlier today, Justin Masterson told reporters that he believes that "somehow, some way" he'll be in Cleveland for a few more years after this one. That statement can serve as a beacon of optimism for Masterson/Indians fans, but there have been plenty of instances of a player going on record to say he thinks he will/wants to/hopes to stay with a team, only to sign elsewhere in the future.
Masterson isn't likely to give the Indians a hefty discount with just seven to eight months sitting between him and free agency, and the price for extending players has seemed to trend upward recently. Masterson is one year older than fellow right-hander Homer Bailey, who signed a six-year, $105MM extension with a comparable amount of service time. The similarities don't stop there, either. As that comparison shows, fWAR assigns Masterson the higher value due to his higher innings total, but in terms of ERA, FIP and xFIP, the two have accumulate very, very similar results over the past three seasons. Masterson relies more on ground-balls, while Bailey's leaned more heavily on superior command and a few more whiffs.
Regardless, Bailey signed away five free agent seasons for roughly $95MM. That figure, as noted by Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer in an updated piece on Masterson's comments, simply isn't going to be on the table from the Indians.
Masterson currently faces a decision: he's experienced his ups and downs in recent seasons (2010 and 2012 were not pretty), but he's a talented pitcher in the midst of his prime who is months away from being one of the best pitchers on the free agent market alongside James Shields, Max Scherzer and Jon Lester (Lester, of course, is widely expected to sign an extension this spring). Another strong season would give Masterson three years of an ERA well under 4.00 with 193-plus innings and one of the league's best ground-ball rates. However, his comments today also hinted that he'd like to stay in Cleveland, and an extension would eliminate the risk of a poor season or injury sapping his potential earnings.
It would be beneficial to the Indians' long-term outlook to keep Masterson around and pair him with the likes of Danny Salazar for years to come, but the team could also look to fill the void internally (or with cheaper free agent/trade options) and recoup a draft pick via qualifying offer next offseason in letting Masterson walk.
4:04pm: Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the Indians' most recent offer to Masterson is believed to have been in the three- or four-year range. While that's significant lower than Bailey's six-year deal, also keep in mind that with Masterson's 2014 salary already agreed upon, each of those proposed years is a free agent year, while Bailey's deal sold off five free agent seasons.
3:41pm: Justin Masterson and the Indians agreed to a one-year, $9.7625MM contract last week to avoid an arbitration hearing at the eleventh hour. Extension talks have continued since that time, and while nothing is imminent, per MLB.com's Jordan Bastian, Masterson told reporters that he doesn't think this will be his final year in Cleveland (All Twitter links): "I figure that somehow, some way, I'll end up still being here for a few more years," said Masterson. Bastian adds that the two sides spoke earlier this week and plan to do so again over the weekend and in the early portion of next week. MLB Daily Dish's Chris Cotillo writes that the two sides recently exchanged parameters.
Masterson has said in the past that he's willing to continue extension talks into the season, but GM Chris Antonetti is said to prefer a resolution by the end of Spring Training. Masterson compares somewhat favorably to Reds right-hander Homer Bailey (particularly in terms of age and service time), who signed a six-year, $105MM extension last week, though Bailey had the advantage of coming off his two best seasons. Masterson enjoyed his two strongest campaigns in 2011 and 2013 campaign but struggled in 2012.
Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet interviewed Royals GM Dayton Moore about the team's playoff hopes, his offseason moves and the difficulty of making trades. Asked about the tough decision to part with Wil Myers, Moore said the focus in trades has to be on what is acquired rather than what is given up: "If you focus on what you’re losing, you’ll never make a deal. You’ll be paralyzed. You have to focus on what you’re getting in return and that’s what we focused on."
More items pertaining to the Royals and the AL Central...
- ESPN's Jerry Crasnick also looks at the Royals' high expectations, talking about the team's acquisition of Shields and the heavy emphasis placed on defense. Moore makes it clear to the club's scouts that he wants players with the discipline to focus for nine innings and the ability to continue to prioritize defense even in the midst of slumps at the plate. Shields and manager Ned Yost both spoke about this emphasis. Crasnick also discussed the turnaround of some of the team's young hitters with last year's interim hitting coach and Hall of Famer George Brett.
- Phil Hughes tells Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News that he's enjoying his transition to a new team after a "nightmare" season with the Yankees in 2013. Hughes, who has become fast friends with Twins first baseman Joe Mauer, says he enjoys the laid-back atmosphere. Now sporting a beard, Hughes feels that back pain that cost him most of Spring Training last season likely contributed to his struggles. Minnesota, of course, gambled on Hughes' youth and pedigree by signing him to a three-year, $24MM deal this offseason that was far larger than most had expected for the 27-year-old.
- Chris Iott of MLive.com answered reader questions and offered his take on the chances of Max Scherzer inking an extension prior to Opening Day. Iott pegs the chances of a long-term deal for the 2013 Cy Young winner at about 10 percent, noting that he simply can't envision it realistically happening.
- Also of note from Iott is that the Tigers are fully committed to using Drew Smyly as a starter. Iott writes that the club won't be making any last-minute additions of a veteran starter and expect the left-handed Smyly to be in their rotation for a long time.
- Iott also spoke with manager Brad Ausmus about trade acquisition Robbie Ray. Detroit's new skipper told him that Ray, acquired from the Nationals in the Doug Fister trade, has a deceptive delivery that allows his fastball to play up a couple of miles per hour. Ausmus anticipates Ray getting a lot of foul balls on fastballs up in the zone, believing that hitters will have a tough time keeping up with the pitch.
- The Tigers announced that non-roster invitee Eduardo Sanchez suffered an olecranon stress fracture of his right elbow and will miss an extended period of time. The former Cardinals setup man inked a minor league deal with Detroit in January and was vying for a spot in their bullpen.
- Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes that the Indians know Trevor Bauer probably isn't ready for the Majors, which is what prompted their late signing of Aaron Harang to serve as depth. Bauer has altered his delivery somewhat and got mixed results in yesterday's game against the Reds.
Though he's yet to officially retire, 43-year-old slugger Jim Thome would like to be a big league manager at some point, writes Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times. Thome, who took a position in the White Sox' front office last summer, told Van Schouwen: "I want to look at what the next phase is for me getting back on the field, competing at a high level. There is a side to me that wants to manage someday and prepare myself for it if that opportunity came calling." More out of the AL Central as Spring Training picks up steam...
- Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star Tribune writes that one conversation three years ago changed Glen Perkins' future with the team entirely. The bad blood between Perkins and his hometown Twins was well documented, as he had been weighing a grievance against Minnesota regarding his service time. Perkins approached pitching coach Rick Anderson and manager Ron Gardenhire and simply told them he had no desire to play elsewhere. Anderson tells Souhan: "He came to me right here and said, ‘Can I talk to you? I was born and raised in Minnesota, I’ve spent my entire life in Minnesota, I want to be a Twin. I want to be a better teammate, I want to be a better pitcher, don’t give up on me.’" Perkins, a 2013 All-Star, has developed into one of the game's best closers since that time.
- The Twins have signed 18-year-old Australian first baseman Jack Barrie to a six-figure bonus, according to a report from Australian news outlet SBS. Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN confirmed that it's a six-figure deal and adds that the team still has money left in its 2013-14 international free agent budget after the signing (Twitter link).
- In the latest edition of his "Hey, Hoynsie!" mailbag, Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer tells one reader that he would be "stunned" if the Indians made a late play for Ervin Santana. Though Cleveland's name has been connected to the former Angels and Royals hurler, Hoynes says that the team values its first-round pick too highly to make such a move.
- Jhonny Peralta was planning on appealing his suspension last season in order to remain with his teammates through the playoff push, writes USA Today's Bob Nightengale. However, when the club acquired Jose Iglesias from the Red Sox, Peralta says he "knew [he] had to take [his] suspension." Nightengale spoke with GM Dave Dombrowski, who told him: "We talked to his agent (Seth Levinson, at the time) and we knew he was thinking of appealing. There was a time I was thinking he was going to appeal. And at that point, we wouldn't have made a trade. But my gut told me the closer we got to the (trade) deadline, and talked to them, he wasn't going to appeal."
Recent reports have indicated that the Indians will make a push to extend All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis, and today, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that Cleveland's front office has begun the process. Heyman isn't sure how much progress has been made, only that the two sides have begun talking.
The 26-year-old Kipnis slashed .284/.366/.452 in 2013 -- his second full season at the Major League level. The Beverly Hills Sports Council client tallied 17 homers and 30 stolen bases as well, helping him earn his first All-Star nod and an 11th-place finish in the American League MVP voting.
As we've seen already in 2014, Spring Training is a time when many clubs hammer out extensions with their key players. However, Cleveland doesn't necessarily need to rush, as Kipnis is not arbitration eligible until next offseason and is under team control through 2017. However, another All-Star season would likely cause his price tag to skyrocket, and he said last April that he didn't want to talk about a new contract once the season started.
MLBTR's Charlie Wilmoth recently profiled Kipnis as an extension candidate. Kipnis wouldn't be the only extension for GM Chris Antonetti and his staff, who have already inked Michael Brantley to a four-year, $25MM pact this winter.
The Brewers shipped out reliever John Axford to the Cardinals at last year's trade deadline, bringing back young righty Michael Blazek. Milwaukee has been impressed with the 25-year-old, with manager Ron Roenicke saying he profiles as a late-inning arm, reports Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentine. Meanwhile, after being non-tendered by the Cards and signed by the Indians, Axford hopes to continue learning from his brief stint in St. Louis. As MLB.com's Jordan Bastian reports, his former club informed him that he'd been tipping pitches, and Axford hopes that correction -- along with regained velocity -- will allow him to return to his peak form.
Here are more stray notes from around the game ...
- Another trade deadline mover, Mike Olt of the Cubs, has shown substantial improvement in the eyesight issues that plagued him last year with the Rangers, reports Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun Times. Though his prospect stock has fallen in the meantime, all that matters to Olt is maintaining his health. "As long as I'm healthy," he said, "I know that I can do what I was capable of."
- Reliever Jason Frasor explained that he elected to re-sign with the Rangers for the simple reason that he likes playing for the club, reports Richard Durrett of ESPNDallas.com. "Free agency isn't that great for middle relievers," he said. "I never wanted to be the kind of guy that bounced around from team to team as middle relievers often do with one-year deals. I found a place I really, really liked. ... I think I was the first [free agent] to sign [this offseason]. I just didn't feel it was worth it to try to scrape out maybe a little better contract ... ."
- One free agent who faces a much more open-ended market is former ace Johan Santana. As Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports, Santana has fielded interest from at least three American League clubs. The 34-year-old is hoping to be ready to take the mound in a big league game in June.
- The Rays' roster battle features several situations where options will play a role, reports Bill Chastain of MLB.com. Among the players who must make the active roster or face a DFA are Chris Archer, Josh Lueke, Jake McGee, Cesar Ramos, Brandon Guyer, and Matt Joyce.
Barry Bonds will work with the Giants as a special instructor in spring training next month, Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News reports. Bonds has not had an official relationship with the Giants since 2007, his last season in the big leagues, so his presence could make quite an impression in Giants camp. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.
- The Indians will "soon make a serious push" to extend second baseman Jason Kipnis, Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer writes. Kipnis is eligible for free agency following the 2017 season, and Pluto notes the Indians would likely try to sign Kipnis to at least a five-year deal, picking up at least one free-agent season. MLBTR recently suggested Kipnis could make $30MM-$35MM over the course of a five-year deal.
- The Brewers will likely have a team-record payroll, and owner Mark Attanasio expects to win this season, Tom Haudricourt of the Journal Sentinel reports. "We’re at the point now where we’re well into the top half of payrolls in the major leagues. We have more pitching depth than we’ve had, really, in 10 years. As I’ve explained to everybody, as investors you wouldn’t make that decision to lose," Attanasio says. "The ownership group felt like this was the year to invest (more) in the team. I think we’re going to surprise people this year." After an offseason that featured the high-profile addition of Matt Garza, the Brewers have $86MM committed to 12 players, which could give them a higher payroll than they had in 2012, when their opening-day figure was $101.2MM.
- The signing of Ubaldo Jimenez has had a dramatic impact on Orioles fans, MASNsports.com's Steve Melewski writes. The Orioles' offseason had been very quiet, but suddenly they've landed Jimenez and now have Nelson Cruz as well.
- Nationals pitcher Jordan Zimmermann is happy with his two-year, $24MM contract, and isn't concerned about the recent Homer Bailey extension, reports MLB.com's Bill Ladson. Zimmermann and the Nationals tried to negotiate a long-term deal, but ultimately couldn't find enough common ground. "They came to us with a two-year deal. Let's get this out of the way, so we don't have to worry about arbitration for the next two years," Zimmermann says. "We felt it was right, and I think it was fair for both sides, and we got the deal done."
- Arbitration-eligible players received an average raise of 117 percent this offseason, with their average salaries rising from $1.78MM to $3.86MM, the Associated Press reports. The heftiest raise went to Freddie Freeman of the Braves, who went from $560K in 2013 to a multiyear deal with an average salary of $16.875MM.