Corner of Carnegie with Kluber-extensions, still chasing Headley, and some Diatribe

1The only thing happening here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario involves near-miss-lake-effect snow, and watching from afar the unfortunate citizens of Buffalo who were buried under enough snow to fill the old Municipal Stadium to it’s very eaves. Could baseball season be any further away?

With the holidays staring us in the face, to go along with house-sized snow-drifts, baseball seemed a pipe dream, like clutter in the back of my mind…until I opened up my email prior to writing today’s corner.

There it was…

…news that the Third Annual TribeFest will be kicking into full gear on January 24th and January 25th of 2015. While my personal homecoming to the North Coast wasn’t met with the same fanfare of another local native Ohioan, this will be my first experience at this Winter Specacular. While I can’t wait to meet up with all the friends that I’ve made over the years writing for the Indians, as well as strolling through the clubhouse, listening to the players, coaching staff, front office and Hammy  talking about the upcoming season.I’m most excited to see this Indians’ culture first hand.

It’s hard not to think about the Manny Acta-era, when the clubhouse was a bit fractured, and Chris Perez was running rampant, and compare it to now. I liked Acta a lot. He really was a good guy, and I enjoyed talking to him, but things are just so far past what it was like when he was here. Terry Francona is very different. He brought with him the experience of managing in that Boston powder-keg, and he managed to bring a World Series to a town starving for it.

Cleveland probably seems like a slice of heaven in comparison.

TribeFest is one of those experiences when you can take in this “new” culture that’s been in place since the front office brought in Terry Francona. While the expectations are ridiculous, this is a franchise that has won 92 and 85  games over a two year stretch. They last did that (thanks to a 96-win season in 2007) in 2007 and 2008, and prior to that, way back in 2000 and 2001.

The true difference between both of those runs are that this team is put together for years to come, are young, have pitching, and have a manager that’s generally considered to be top two or three in all of baseball.

So as I sit here and watch the swirling, 30 MPH winds blow the snow around my driveway, pardon me if I can’t help but bathe in the possibility of what this team will be doing come April.

I see you TribeFest.

I see you Spring Training.

I’m ready…

Will the Cleveland Indians sign Corey Kluber to an extension, or won’t they? That really is the question.

Kluber’s season was a sublime exposition in brilliance. EHC’s fellow managing editor Steve Orbanek already gave us some good insight into just how good his season really was, so I won’t get into the detail and the minutiae that you’ve already read.

He won the Cy Young award.

In case you didn’t know, that means he’s really, really good.

Inevitably, when you have a pitcher of Kluber’s caliber who both wins a Cy Young award and has arbitration years in front of him, extension talks are sure to begin. It seems like a no brainer to lock up Kluber to a long-term contract, but these things are rarely, if ever, simple. We are Cleveland Indians’ fans after all.

The complexities begin with Kluber’s service time, which currently stands at 2.074 seasons with the Indians. Kluber is tied to the Indians through the 2018 season, and won’t hit arbitration until 2016. For those counting at home, Kluber made a whopping $514,000 this year, and will likely make only slightly more than that next year, his last pre-arbitration year.

Bargain anyone?

Winning a Cy Young award prior to arbitration years isn’t odd. Clayton Kershaw won the Cy Young award in 2011, in his last pre-arbitration year. To avoid arbitration, the Dodgers signed Kershaw to a two-year, $19 million dollar contract that took him into his first two arbitration years. Notice that the deal didn’t take him into free agency, and still allowed Kershaw a year of arbitration, and allowed the Dodgers to wait-and-see. Kershaw has been outstanding ever since, finishing second in the Cy Young race the following year, then winning the next two Cy Young Awards, as well as this year’s MVP to go along with it. Kershaw has since signed a massive seven-year, $215 million contract.

Like Kluber, Tim Lincecum won his first Cy Young award a year prior to his first arbitration year, and then followed that up with another Cy Young award heading into arbitration. The Giants decided not to offer Lincecum a contract extension until he was right up against the arbitration process, and then gave him a two-year deal, worth $23 million, in a similar fashion to Kershaw. Lincecum didn’t win a Cy Young after that, but finished in 10th and 6th, and followed up with another big two-year deal in 2012 to the tune of two-years and  $40.5 million. That deal took him through his final arbitration year, and his first official year of free agency.

While both seem to be in a similar situation to Corey Kluber, where they differ are the fact that Kershaw won his Cy Young when he was 23-years old, and entered arbitration when he was 24. Tim Lincecum won his Cy Youngs when he was 24 and 25-years old, and entered arbitration when he was 26.

Corey Kluber just won his Cy Young at the rip old age of 28, and won’t enter arbitration until he turns 30.

Think about that for a second. Tim Lincecum won two Cy Young awards in his pre-arbitration years, and the Giants didn’t budge on his contract. When they finally did, it was only for a two-year commitment, and while the “wait-and-see” approach was likely on both sides of the deal, the Giants weren’t willing to go long-term on a deal for their young two-time Cy Young Superstar. They were able to put together a deal prior to arbitration, then another deal that took him into free agency.

The Giants have since signed Lincecum to another two-year deal worth $35 million, that will carry him through the 2015 season. When you consider that Lincecum’s ERA hasn’t been below 4.37 in the past three seasons, you realize that he’s living on days gone past, and he just turned 30-year old.

Kluber won’t hit arbitration until he’s 30-years old.

When considering what the Indians will likely do with Kluber going forward, that history has to be considered, as well as the history that the Indians have taken, both with free agent pitchers in Kluber’s age range, as well as pre-arbitration pitchers. The Indians signed both of their past two Cy Young award winners to a pre-arbitration extension.

CC Sabathia actually signed two pre-agent deals with the Tribe. The first was a pre-arbitration deal that came early in Sabathia’s career, when Mark Shapiro signed Sabathia to a four-year, $9.5 million dollar deal after his rookie season in 2001, with a club option for 2006. In 2006, the Indians then exercised that $7 million dollar option, and extended his deal two more years to the tune of $17.5 million, which would carry him through the 2008 season. While the Indians dealt Sabathia midway through the 2007 season, the deal would have carried him through two-years of his free agency.

Sabathia was 25 in 2006, and while he won his Cy Young when he was 26, he was already entering the free agent phase of his career.

The Indians signed Cliff Lee to a four-year, $15 million extension in August of 2006, which tore up his contract during the 2006 season, and carried him through the 2009 season, with a club option for $8 million for the 2010 season. In 2005, Lee had gone 18-5, and finished in fourth place in the Cy Young race. That deal would carry Lee through the arbitration process and into free agency as well. Again, the Indians dealt Lee during the 2009 season, with 1 1/2 seasons left, but were willing to sign their star to a long-term deal.

Lee was 27-years old when he signed his extension, and turned 28-years old just a few weeks later. While there are similarities in age, Lee hadn’t yet won the Cy Young, was nowhere near the wipe-out pitcher that Kluber was this season, and was further along in the arbitration process. Lee signed his deal halfway through the 2006 season, his last pre-arbitration year, and swallowed up his three arbitration season, and added a club option for his first free agent years.

There are similarities, but not enough to be a straight up comparison.

On top of all of this, there is the well-documented handling of pitchers closing in on their 29 and 30-year old seasons in the past, both in house and out. Consider this: the Indians have only signed one pitcher entering their free agent year with the Indians, and that was Jake Westbrook in 2007. Westbrook signed a three-year, $33 million deal with the Indians, and it turned out to be a horrible decision.

While the Indians have signed multiple starters over the past 25-years, Westbrook is really the only applicable mention, and that includes true free agent starters from other teams. The Indians proved their tough stance after the 2013 season when they allowed both Scott Kazmir (two-years, $22 million) and Ubaldo Jimenez (four-years, $48 million) to walk in their free agent seasons. Both Indians’ starters were 29 when they became free agents, and have since turned 30.

Of course, Kluber doesn’t become a free agent until after his 32-year old season, and won’t make his first start after the arbitration process until right before his 33rd birthday, on April 10, 2019, which makes his future contracts a big, fat giant mystery.

Don’t let anyone fool you.

What are the options?

1. The Indians could allow Corey Kluber to go through the arbitration process without ever offering him a contract, and just pay him what the market dictates. This equates to an incredible risk. It’s true that the highest arbitration victory is only $10 million, but that’s a direct result of organizations paying their stars. There have been multiple instances of players and clubs offering far above that $10 million mark, but ultimately settling on a contract before the arbitration number can be realized. Lincecum asked for $21.5 million in 2012, and the Giants countered with a $17 million offer. Obviously, it would have set a record had they not come to terms.

If the Indians and Kluber were to allow the arbitration process to work its magic, and if Kluber were to continue down the path he’s currently walking, records will be set. Trying to arbitrarily figure out what he’ll ask for, what the Indians would offer, and what ultimately the arbitrator would award, is simply folly. Just assume that it would be a lot. In 2010, when Lincecum was set to enter arbitration, his agent was going to ask for $13 million. It’s hard to figure what he would have been awarded, but he had just won the previous two Cy Young awards, so it’s hard not to believe that he wouldn’t have gotten a bunch. He settled for $9 million in his new deal.

The Indians aren’t known to let their players get to arbitration, so don’t expect the Indians to do the same.

2. The Indians could offer Kluber a multi-year deal that takes him into his free agent years. You could take your pick here, and consider a four-year deal that simply controls Kluber’s arbitration years (which could be a bundle), a four-year deal with one or two club options at the tail end of the contract, or even a five or six-year deal straight up.

This is when I have to think the Indians front office falls into their old habits and stays away from offering any pitcher in the realm of 29 or 30 a long-term deal, even if he’s coming off a Cy Young season, and is under control for four more seasons.

I know what you’re thinking, “Jim, they should sign him. He’s going to be with the club for multiple years anyways. They might as well control those arbitration eligible years.”

Look, I hear you. I can assure you the Indians are pondering that very thing right now, but I also realize that they have all the leverage right now. The could absolutely control his arbitration seasons right now. Of course, this is a “sign high” period right now. Will Kluber follow up this Cy Young season with another?

I think he could.

But what if he doesn’t?

I just don’t see the Indians going multi-year right now. Could they?

Yes.

I know what history would suggest. Hell, I’ve written the book on what the Indians will do with regards to starting pitchers over the past seven-years, and it overwhelmingly states that the Tribe will avoid any sort of long-term deal for any starter as old as Kluber. But, he is locked with the club for four more seasons, and Antonetti has been locking down players to long-term deals over the past three seasons. No, older pitchers aren’t generally involved in this sort of Indians lock-down, there hasn’t ever been a pitcher this good, with this kind of control before either.

My brain says no, but my gut (and heart) say that it’s possible.

3. The Indians will do what the Giants did with Lincecum, and to some extent, the Dodgers did with Kershaw, and wait until he enters his first arbitration eligible year to offer him an extension. This is the sensible thing to do, and while there’s risk there, it’s the lowest risk that the Indians could hope for. Even if Kluber wins another Cy Young award, his arbitration number could likely be curtailed by his age, to some extent. The Indians would ensure that he’s not only the real deal, but still on the upswing, and then could offer him any sort of extension they would want.

They could offer him a one-year deal to curtail the arbitration number in his first year, they could go the Lincecum/Kershaw route and offer him a two-year deal that will take him to his last arbitration year, or they could offer him a three-year deal, with a couple of club options at the tail end of it. The three-year deal would fit their “Westbrook Rule,” which I talked about many times before, but most recently this past March, when I was a senior columnist and editor at Indians Baseball Insider.

Of course, they could also offer him a four-year deal, or something longer then as well, although I don’t see that as likely.

If we’re to be honest, scenario #3 is the most likely path that the Indians will take.

But only a fool would state that it’s the only way the Indians could go with regards to Kluber.

There are always outliers, and always other possibilities, and for any writer, blogger or fan to write off what the Indians may or may not do in November with regards to the reigning Cy Young award winner is simply idiotic.

The Indians are clearly limited with regards to what they can do during this offseason, and it’s distinctly possible that they consider this current squad close to ready to contend. If they do, they wouldn’t be wrong. There are many internal options, and many reasons to be optimistic about this team’s future with its current roster. No, I’m not saying they won’t do anything, but I am saying what they ultimately do won’t likely make big waves in the grand scheme of things.

It’s possible that they could offer Kluber a deal, either for multi-years or for something shorter, which will curtail either his entire arbitration process, or just a year or two, and in turn, up his salary next season. Maybe, like Lee, they only up his 2015 salary by a couple hundred thousand, then give him a two-year deal past that worth $20 million. If he continues to be the #Klubot, that could be a massive steal. Or perhaps, they go the route of another Giants pitcher, Madison Bumgarner, who the Giants wrapped up into a tight little bundle after his first full year in 2011, to a long-term, multi-year deal, that will take him through arbitration, and tack on years afterwards.

Yes, Bumgarner was only 22 when he signed that deal, but if I’m to believe what the coaching staff says about Kluber, his mechanics and arm are sound, as is his psyche. He’s a young 28 in major league years, and he’s become the ace of the staff. The Giants saw more special in Bumgarner than Lincecum, because of the mechanics and the mentality, and it’s paid off.

Could the Indians see the same in Kluber, even at 28?

It would be hard to believe, but it’s certainly a possibility. When Anthony Castrovince, the best Major League Baseball writer in the business, mentions it in a piece on MLB.com, you better believe that it’s a possibility. No, Castrovince isn’t a soothsayer, but his words certainly carry some weight as a former beat writer for the Indians, a current feature columnist for MLB.com, and an actual journalist with the utmost integrity.

There was something to the Indians extending Terry Francona this offseason that really makes me think that this team is something special, and that this front office understands it. I’m not one for signing a guy to send a message, especially when you consider what Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn have done over the past two seasons, but Kluber has the appearance of something special.

Sometimes, you just have to treat special…with special.

I’ve already mentioned Anthony Castrovince once today, but far be it from me to stop there. If you haven’t checked out Castrovince’s stuff in Sports on Earth, you need to. His most recent piece focuses on ten free agent signings that should happen, and in it, mentions Chase Headley and the Cleveland Indians being a good fit:

Headley would be a substantial plus for the left-hand side of the infield (paired nicely with a full season of either young Jose Ramirez or top prospect Francisco Lindor, both of whom are huge improvements over Asdrubal Cabrera), and he gets on base, to boot.

I couldn’t agree more.

I mentioned the Indians needing a guy like Headley back in October, and while I don’t think that the numbers match, he absolutely would be a fantastic fit for this team. 

We live in a world of fantasy sports and former steroid-inflated numbers in which many fans stare at stats and say, “I don’t get why Headley is very good.” Feel free to read Castrovince’s piece, and mine, to see his true value to any team going forward. While I’m no proponent of signing him to a four-year deal, if Headley believes he’s not getting top dollar in a multi-year contract, he could accept a smaller one-year deal to try and up the ante for 2016.

If that’s the case, the Indians should be all in. I don’t think this will happen, but if they could somehow pull of a miracle and nab him for one-year, and $10-12 million, they should do it. He is the absolute perfect one-year fit for this team, and it would be mutual beneficial to both teams, as the Indians wait for Giovanny Urshela to get healthy, and then could move Lonnie Chisenhall, or perhaps start grooming him somewhere else.

Headley is #1 on my wishlist, even though it’s a fair enough pipe dream, but hell, I’m an Indians’ fan. I live on dreams being dashed, right?

EHC’s Michael Hattery used words and periods and such to discuss the Indians potentially dealing Nick Swisher yesterday. Give it a read. The Indians are certainly going to kick the tires on Swisher’s contract, and while I put the likelihood of him being actually dealt in the 10% realm, I do think it could happen.

I look at it this way: If the Indians have a wasted contract on the books that involves a player that doesn’t really fit anywhere, and they can find a similar wasted contract on the books on another team that doesn’t really fit anywhere over there, but they somehow fit on the other team, something could happen.

Have we really devolved in baseball circles that such a discussion should be off the table just because “insiders” say it’s so?

I’m not interested in scooping anyone. I’m not interested all that much in being right or wrong. What does interest me is a good baseball discussion with my friends and fellow baseball fans. I bring a certain expertise to the conversation, just like Mike does, and the rest of the fabulous writers here at EHC.

We’re here to talk baseball with you, and spur on discussion. Could the Indians deal Swisher for Ubaldo Jimenez? I sure hope they don’t, but why take it off the table for discussion or debate? Let’s throw that up on the wall and shake it up a bit. Let’s see if there’s a package that Chris Antonetti could put together for a right fielder, or a pitcher, or a prospect?

Why not?

Baseball is fun to talk about.

So let’s have a good talk, shall we?

The rearviewmirror: I have loved, followed and written for many sites over the years, but perhaps my favorite has been thediatribe. Paul Cousineau started that site many moons ago, and every Tuesday (Tomahawks) and Sunday (the Lazy Sunday), he jumpstarted many of our days with some of the best journalistic writing that I’ve ever seen on the Lake Erie Warriors. I’ve loved many Tribe Scribes over the years, but if there are a handful better than PC, I’d like to meet them.

Cousineau found a way to incorporate Posnanski’s storytelling with a Grantlandian weaving of the numbers.

He is greatly missed.

But The Diatribe lives on under the watchful care of Al Ciammaichella. While PC’s site has been slumbering while Al allowed his life to rubber band him around since taking over, he’s back and writing regularly once again. Make sure you head over there and give him a read, won’t you? Whether he’s talking about taking over the GM reins, or whispering sweet nothings about #CyKluber, your Sunday Mornings can once again commence with a cup of coffee, a bagel, and a big dose of Diatribe.

Oh, and don’t forget to pop over here for a Sunday Drive as well. They go together like Peanut Butter and Jelly…like Oreos and Milk…and like the Cleveland Indians and a 2015 World Series.

I dare to dream.

Jim Pete is a founder and Managing Editor at Everybody Hates Cleveland, a former Senior Editor and Columnist at Indians Baseball Insider, and will one day ask Al Ciammaichella if he can write ONE Lazy Sunday (I dare to dream, remember?). Follow him to find out the true meaning of what it’s like to MEMBER #1 on the #Jose Ramirez bandwagon on twitter@JimPeteEHC, and also follow our website twitter@evrybdyhatescle, won’t you? If you do, we will pledge to create an EHC theme song involving the lyrical brilliance of “The Fox (What does the Fox say).” C’mon, you know you want to hear Hattery, Orbanek and Primo sing back up to my musical stylings…

…on second thought.

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