In Major League Baseball the state of one’s franchise is often discussed around the concept of windows. That is, how long will this one last? Is a continuous window feasible in a small market? When will the window swing open?
In the case of small market teams, continuous or wider windows of opportunity are defined by a collection of productive young players currently in pre-arbitration or arbitration. This is in part because controlling cost is related to the CBA which holds young player’s ransom for six years in order to assure competitive balance. Still further, it creates inordinate bargaining power for teams to extend young players cheaply, and thereby, extend windows.
It is with this bleak introduction that we quickly identify the Indians key priorities in using extreme bargaining power to extend their window. Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger top the list with Francisco Lindor likely being unattainable, Oscar Mercado and Franmil Reyes needing to show more stability, and little else in the way of priorities outside of perhaps another Perez extension.
Alas, it is difficult to get in the weeds of multiple players and their extension circumstances, and Shane Bieber being just 24 is a clear extension priority over Mike Clevinger.
For the sake of context, it is important to discuss the relative brilliance of Shane Bieber. In 2019 Bieber posted the 6th best xFIP in Major League Baseball of 3.23 finish just behind Stephen Strasburg and Justin Verlander, and just ahead of Charlie Morton and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Only five pitchers in baseball had better K%-BB% rates: Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Jacob deGrom. In 2019, Shane Bieber joined the elite class of Major League pitchers and, at just 24 years old, looks to be a force for the next half-decade at least.
Now the contractual details, Bieber has just 1.097 years of service time, and based on Fangraphs/Roster Resource calculations is not set to enter free agency until after the 2024 season. Bieber is in Cleveland for another five years.
As for the Indians leverage, Bieber will be making the league minimum in both 2020, and 2021, then entering arbitration from 2022-2024. To this point he has just a $420,000 draft bonus and a year and one-half of the big league minimum to his name. With just the league minimum guaranteed for the next two years Bieber would be in story for just of $1,000,000 total. This is where teams wield leverage offering minimal increases in guaranteed money in exchange for long term options to retain talent.
Projecting salaries in this area is complex because the player is not going to be paid close to the free agent market rate because the market he exists in is artificially suppressed by the CBA. Therefore, projecting the contract is most easily done based on similar pitchers situated without significant bargaining power.
In 2015 the Indians extended Corey Kluber who was entering his final league minimum season with three years of arbitration following with the first five years 2015-2019 being guaranteed:
- 2015: $1,000,000 ($200,000 bonus)
- 2016: $4,500,000 ($200,000 bonus)
- 2017: $7,500,000 ($200,000 bonus)
- 2018: $10,500,000 ($200,000 bonus)
- 2019: $17,000,000 ($200,000 bonus)
- 2020 $17,500,000 (Option-$1,000,000 buyout)
- 2021 $18,000,000 (Option-$1,000,000 buyout)
Below are additional escalators:
- 2019 has a $4M escalator (earned)
- 2020-21 options include a $1M buyout
- Trade Bonus: $1
- Cy Young Escalators for 2020-21 (max $4M per year, earned)
$500,000 for 6th-10th place
$750,000 for 4th- 5th
$1M for 2nd-3rd
$2M for 1st
Carlos Carrasco’s first Indians extension with the Indians occurred in 2015 for four years and $22,000,000. This agreement included three years of arbitration, and one additional year guaranteed.
2019: $9,750,000 (option)
The final two years were altered in Carrasco’s most recent extension.
Key differences stand out with this situation. Bieber is younger than both Kluber and Carrasco at the time of the extension which is pivotal from a pitcher risk perspective, likely inflating the number. Second, Kluber had one less year of league minimum, and Carrasco had only three years of arbitration remaining, meaning the Indians had less leverage. Additionally, Carrasco had proven less at the time of his extension.
Let’s presume that the Indians want to do five years guaranteed preceding two option years, as they tend to prefer.
For the two pre-arbitration seasons the Indians could multiply the guarantee for those seasons by five as a starting point:
2020: $2.5 million ($1 million bonus)
2021: $3 million
For the arbitration seasons:
2022: $9 million
2023: $14 million
2024: $17 million
For the option years:
2025: $19 million ($2 million buyout)
2026: $20 million ($2 million buyout)
The above would provide a slightly elevated guarantee to Bieber for Kluber which tracks based on inflation but not a massive elevation in guarantee because Bieber is in a slightly tougher bargaining position based on two remaining years of league minimum and Kluber was coming off a 7 WAR Cy Young Award season.
These are rough estimates but a starting point for the remaining five years of Indians player control I would expect roughly $50 million, and then a push for two additional option years at roughly $17-21 million per year. In any case, for the Indians, the time to extend Bieber is now.