The odds aren’t looking good, and Indians General Manager Chris Antonetti knows it.
No, he’s not talking about his team’s chances of making the playoffs again in 2014.
Tuesday, Antonetti addressed the elephant in the Tribe’s locker room: the Indians' streak of 23 years without going to salary arbitration with a player – the longest stretch in major league baseball.
“I think there’s a very high likelihood that we’ll end up in a hearing this year,” Antonetti told longtime Tribe beat writer Paul Hoynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group.
Of the Indians six arbitration eligible players, only two – relief pitchers Marc Rzepczynski and Josh Outman – have reached (one-year) contracts. Of the remaining four without a deal – outfielder Michael Brantley and pitchers Justin Masterson, Vinnie Pestano and Josh Tomlin – the two sides are the furthest apart in Masterson’s case.
The Indians ace asked for $11.8 million. The Tribe’s brass offered $8.05 million. The $3.75 million gap is the largest among MLB’s unsigned arbitration-eligible players. Thus, not only could the team head to arbitration for the first time since 1991 (when an arbitrator ruled in favor of pitcher Greg Swindell and in favor of the Tribe in infielder Jerry Browne’s case), but doing so could damage the possibility of agreeing to a long-term deal with the right-hander.
The two sides have until Feb. 1 to reach some kind of agreement before league hearings begin in Florida.
Yet, even if Masterson and the Indians temporarily met in the middle and agreed on a one-year deal to stave off arbitration and keep long-term talks going as spring training gets underway next month, the team still would have to work out deals with the three other players who could land in arbitration.
Brantley filed for $3.8 million. The Indians offered $2.7. Pestano filed for $1.145. The team weighed in at $975,000. Tomlin asked for $975,000. The Tribe came in at $800,000.
With or without Masterson - that’s a lot of gaps to be filled over the next two weeks.