The Indians have one of the best pitchers in the game in Corey Kluber, and they’re a team known for locking up their young stars well before they hit free agency – a trend started by John Hart when he took over as GM in early 1990s.
But, as Jon Heyman reported, the Indians have yet to start the negotiations with Kluber. And it’s entirely possible that he may not see an extension for at least another year.
Would make sense for indians, team best known for locking up stars early, to extend kluber. haven't initiated talks yet tho
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) November 18, 2014
Kluber is currently under team control through the 2018 season, putting him right within the time frame in which the Indians have traditionally tried to lock up their young players.
With Kluber, however, it makes financial sense to wait.
For starters, Kluber is only owed a league minimum salary in 2015 (teams offer performance-based raises in these early years, so he will likely see a slight bump from his $510,000 contract a year ago). This extremely team friendly deal gives the Indians another year to potentially spend some short-term cash elsewhere (a right field upgrade perhaps?).
But the main reason why Kluber may need to wait for a contract is the fact that he’s essentially out-played any benefit the Indians would see in a long-term deal.
Typically, when teams buy out the arbitration years of a young player they’re hoping the player eventually out-performs his contract, saving the team significant money in those seasons. The player benefits from the financial security of knowing their guaranteed income over the next x-number of years, as opposed to the uncertainty of the arbitration years.
In Kluber’s case, however, the Indians would be paying for past success far more than potential future gains. Realistically, we’ve already seen Kluber’s peak. Hopefully he sustains his peak for multiple seasons, but it’s just not realistic to expect significant growth over the course of the next four years.
The other major factor that will come into play in Kluber’s eventual negotiations is his age. He’ll turn 29 in April, meaning he can’t hit free agency until he’s entering his age-33 season. When teams offer young players contracts, they almost always attempt to buy out at least one year of free agency, which would mean the Indians would be forced to negotiate with Kluber for his age-33 season, putting him on the free agent market at the age of 34.
If Kluber signs a team-friendly deal now in order to guarantee himself a salary for the next four seasons, he risks never getting a taste of free agency.
Think of it like this: if Kluber signs a five-year deal with the Indians today, he would be the same age CC Sabathia is right now when he hits the free agent market for the first time. Thats not a favorable position for Kluber to put himself in.
So what incentive does Kluber have to negotiate?
He definitely could benefit from a four-year contract, because it gives him a guaranteed contract that could otherwise be significantly reduced by arbitration should he suffer a significant injury within the next few seasons. But if he continues to perform at an elite level, his arbitration-year negations could work in his favor and significantly elevate his contract from what it would be if he signs an extension now.
While it would seem beneficial to both sides to work out a four-year contract – there’s definitely value in knowing your salary situation moving forward for both player and team – the negotiations won’t be simple.