Questions to consider:
• The fans gave the Dolans at least a small vote of confidence when the Indians’ owners spent to acquire Michael Bourn, Mark Reynolds, Brett Myers, Drew Stubbs and Nick Swisher.
The boost in payroll hasn’t translated into bigger crowds at Progressive Field, but team officials said that signing Swisher and especially Bourn was a big help in retaining more than 90 percent of the Tribe’s small base (under 8,000) of season-ticket holders.
But will the Dolans follow up after this season and keep spending? If they shrink the payroll, there is likely to be a backlash by the fans.
• Will they have the money to support a higher payroll?
The reported increase of $10 million per year in rights fees from Fox should kick in next year, and under terms of new national contracts negotiated by Major League Baseball, each team will receive substantially more money from the networks.
That does not give the Indians a competitive advantage over their opponents. Inasmuch as every franchise will be enriched equally by the networks, the newfound income won’t give the Tribe an edge in outbidding other teams for free agents.
However, it will compensate for low ticket revenue this season. Keep in mind that even if attendance picks up substantially for the rest of the home schedule, the incoming dollars are diluted because of discounted tickets (There really are good deals at Progressive Field).
• This season’s spending spree was triggered mostly by the departure of Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, Derek Lowe, Jack Hannahan, Casey Kotchman, Rafael Perez and a few lesser earners who together made about $36 million that General Manager Chris Antonetti was able to spend without increasing the payroll (The Dolans went beyond budget for Bourn).
But will the same process be available to Antonetti next winter?
We can only speculate at this early date, but it seems unlikely that Ubaldo Jimenez ($5.75 million) and Myers ($7 million) will be asked back. And with Reynolds ($6 million) eligible for free agency, the Indians are likely to drop at least $18.75 million in payroll.
Moreover, Stubbs ($2.8 million) and others might not be returning.
• That brings up the economics of the bullpen. Is Antonetti likely to spend upwards of $18 million on his relief corps in 2014?
That’s probably what it will cost to bring back everyone who is in the current bullpen.
For example, Joe Smith, who makes $3.1 million, can become a free agent, and Vinnie Pestano, whose salary is a meager $501,000, will be eligible for arbitration and stands to make four or five times more than he’s earning in 2013.
• That brings up the issue of Chris Perez. Forget the fact that he is facing misdemeanor charges of marijuana possession. The real problem as far as the Tribe is concerned is money.
Perez is being paid $7.3 million to be the team’s closer. He will make more next year. How much isn’t clear; he has had few chances to save games because of a lack of opportunity and his current injury.
Nevertheless, Perez will be in line for a raise. Is Antonetti willing to commit $9 million, $11 million, whatever the number, to Perez or any closer?
• Who will save games for the Indians in 2014?
Pestano is the obvious choice, with Cody Allen or Bryan Shaw (or both) as the setup man. This scenario is hardly set in stone, but the Tribe continues to collect relievers with live arms, albeit not much experience.
Pestano, of course, is the exception as far as reps are concerned. He has the requisite experience as the man in charge of the eighth inning, and he probably has the temperament to hold leads in the ninth.
Allen, for me, is the rising star of the bullpen. He has endured a few growing pains, but mostly he is making a smooth transition from the minors to the majors. Keep in mind that he began last year at “high” Class-A Carolina.
Shaw has the kind of arm to pitch in the back end of the bullpen and probably needs only a little more seasoning.
That leaves the middle innings to Nick Hagadone, Matt Albers, Rich Hill and maybe the latest addition to the bullpen, Matt Langwell.
In other words, Antonetti will have options if he chooses to cut Perez loose.
• Who will be in the Tribe’s rotation next year?
How about the same pitchers who hold starting spots now?
No chance. At least a couple of current starters will be gone by spring training of 2014. Myers and Jimenez are the most likely candidates to disappear.
Myers pitched poorly in exhibition season and in his few regular-season outings. He’s been hurt for more than a month. If and when he recovers, there is no guarantee that he will move someone out of their starting spot. More likely, he will pitch in relief, which he has done before.
The only thing standing in the way of free agency for Jimenez is a mutual option clause in his contract. Either party can refuse to exercise the option, and it will be an upset if that’s not what happens.
If Jimenez has a strong season, he certainly will want to test the waters. If he suffers a collapse, as he did last year, Antonetti won’t want him back.
So who is left? Justin Masterson and Zach McAllister are virtually sure to return. In less than a year, Corey Kluber has transformed himself from fringe major-leaguer to a guy with a chance to be no less than a solid No. 3 starter.
If I were Antonetti, I would try to sign Scott Kazmir to a multiyear deal. He is likely to continue to ride a roller coaster this season, as he relearns how to pitch. But he has the live arm and the discipline to become a consistent winner.
It’s too early to know whether Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer will be prime competitors for the rotation, but all of them have the physical ability, and Tomlin pitched exceptionally well before undergoing elbow reconstruction surgery.
Bauer has the highest upside of the three, and by next year he might gain the maturity to win a big-league job and keep it.
Will Antonetti look outside the organization for a starter? Absolutely. Will he have the resources to make a trade or buy a free agent? We’ll see.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.