When pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Goodyear, Arizona, next February, it’s likely that five of the pitchers who toiled for the Indians in 2013 will not be on hand. Four of the pitchers the Indians relied on this past season—starters Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir and relievers Joe Smith and Matt Albers—are likely to test the free agent market. A fifth, former closer Chris Perez, was released by the team on October 31.
Given that Jimenez pitched like an ace during the second half of this past season, regaining the control he had during the 2010 season when, as a member of the Colorado Rockies, he finished third in the National League Cy Young voting, the Indians would very much like to have Jimenez return as their #1 or #2 starter. But as was expected to happen, it’s been reported that Jimenez has turned down the Indians’ qualifying offer of $14.1 million for the 2014 season. The Indians are free to negotiate with Jimenez, but he is now also free to negotiate with any other major league team.
Jimenez is reportedly seeking a three-to-five year contract, and is hoping to be paid in the range of $12 to $15 million per year. It’s not likely the Indians can or will offer him that kind of money for so long a time. The Los Angeles Dodgers are among the teams who are known to be interested in signing the right-handed pitcher, and I can’t help but think that the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox would be glad to have Jimenez wear their uniform as well. The good news is that should Jimenez sign with another team, the Indians would receive a compensatory draft pick between the first and second rounds of next June’s draft. Odds against Jimenez returning to the Indians: 50-1.
The Indians would like to see lefty Kazmir return to the club in 2014 as well, but the team is reportedly reluctant to give him a multi-year contract. Even more than a large salary, what most free agents want, and what the good ones usually get, is a multi-year deal. If the Indians don’t offer one to Kazmir, some other team will, and he will accept it. Odds against Kazmir returning: 29-1.
I think the Indians have a better chance of signing either Smith or Albers. Both men are righties, and both pitched effectively for the Indians in 2013, each going 63 innings with decent ERA+ numbers and other metrics. Smith is said to be seeking a three-year contract, whereas the Indians, always leery of handing out long-term contracts to pitchers, want to sign him to two years instead. While it’s not essential that the Indians sign at least one of these four men, I have the feeling that GM Chris Antonetti would like to be able to avoid losing all four pitchers for 2014. It wouldn’t amaze me to see the Indians offer Smith a three-year contract after all, or perhaps a two-year contract with a mutual player/club option. Odds against Smith returning: 5-1. Against Albers returning: 4-1.
All we can do at this point is wait and see what happens next.