Until this week, the Indians had not gone to arbitration with a player since 1991, an incredible stretch of time in major league baseball. That takes them back to the Municipal Stadium years, when they went to arbitration with pitcher Greg Swindell and infielder Jerry Browne. There were a couple reasons the Indians tried to settle with players before it got to the arbitration stage – they believed it was more cost effective and there was the perception that the arbitration process could lead to bad feelings between the player and the team. You don’t want a player carrying a chip on his shoulder heading into the season, annoyed that the team did not give them what they felt they were worth. Historically, the arbitrator has sided with the teams rather than the players. But at a 292-215 split, the players win their fair share of hearings. So why create bad blood, when you’re likely to end up forking over the money anyway?
The first (of several) arbitration cases between the Indians and one of their players was just completed. Vinnie Pestano requested a $1.45 million salary for the 2014 season (after making $500,001 in 2013) while the Indians countered with $975,000. The Indians won the case, and will pay Pestano $975,000 this season. I could understand the $1.45 million figure if Pestano had been…well, Pestano in 2013. After the injury issues and the demotion to Triple-A, the lower figure makes more sense. Plus there could be apprehension on the Indians’ part that he may not return to his old self this upcoming season, although they really need him to do so.
The next arbitration hearing for the Indians is scheduled for this Friday. They have offered Josh Tomlin $800,000, while he has requested $975,000 for the 2014 season. Obviously this is less of a gap than the Indians had with Pestano, but the two sides still haven’t been able to come to an agreement. There are cases where the team manages to settle at the last second before the hearing, so we’ll see if they can find some common ground with Tomlin before Friday.
Tomlin missed most of 2013 following Tommy John surgery, while Pestano dealt with the already mentioned issues. The other two players scheduled for arbitration had much bigger seasons – Justin Masterson (scheduled for February 20) and Michael Brantley (scheduled for February 17). There was talk that the Indians may come to a multi-year agreement with Masterson, but those talks were shelved they haven’t even been able to settle on a 2014 salary at this point. Masterson has requested $11.8 million, while the Indians have countered with $8.05 million. Brantley has requested $3.8 million, while the Indians have countered with $2.7 million.
One player that is officially no longer with the Indians organization is Matt LaPorta. He hadn’t been on the 40-man roster for quite some time, and he was eligible to be a minor league free agent this offseason. He signed a minor league contract with the Baltimore Orioles, but it does not include an invite to spring training. That means he’s likely to head straight to the Triple-A Norfolk Tides at the beginning of the season.
On the bright side, pitchers and catchers report this Tuesday, with the full squad reporting next Saturday. There are still a few higher profile free agents without a home (including former Indian Ubaldo Jimenez) but I don’t see it as likely that any new players will be joining the Indians at camp this week. There’s a slim chance Jimenez may return, crippled by the fact that his signing team would lose their first round draft pick. However, since the Diamondbacks just handed out a decent-sized deal to Bronson Arroyo for 2-years, $23 million, there’s a chance someone may fork over the money at the last minute. The Orioles are a likely landing spot, or perhaps the Toronto Blue Jays.