A Clevinger Extension Could Look Like Kluber, Carrasco's
The Cleveland Indians may not spend another dime above their projected $97 million payroll this off-season.
Despite the glaring holes in the outfield, and a need for another reliever or two, Chris Antonetti and company could sign a few non-roster invites, hope one or two stick, and let things run their course.
The reality of baseball is that nobody knows what the Dolans' books look like, and the owners prefer it that way.
The Indians could surprise everyone by signing Marcell Ozuna, or they could stand pat. The world has about the same amount of evidence for either becoming reality.
Spending the owner's money is a pastime among Cleveland baseball fans, because people are told to dream, no matter how improbable.
Yet outside of Ozuna, truly a dream scenario, many free agents available are not worth their weight in WAR (approximately $9m per win) to a cash-strapped organization. Spending an unreasonable amount on a multi-year deal to improve by a win, give-or-take, has not proven to be a successful business model, nor one MLB organizations operate under in 2020.
The Indians do have money to spend, but likely not enough to make a tangible difference in the 2020 season. So how do you spend money on the future during the present? An extension, obviously.
No, not that extension, though it would be a lovely way to spend $30+ million for the next decade.
Only two other Indians stars are without a long-term deal, Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger.
Each is a perfect candidate for an extension, especially if Francisco Lindor continues not to budge. Bieber is under team control through the 2024 season.
Clevinger received $4.1 million in his first round of arbitration on Friday. On his current trajectory (and the drastic increases in pay that would come with it for years two and three), it behooves the organization to get out ahead of those figures and add years of control.
Freshly 29-years-old, Clevinger would turn 32 shortly after he hits the market in the winter of 2022, and it is not often that 32-year-old starters pick up lucrative, long-term deals in free agency. It may make sense for Clevinger to 'secure the bag,' to use the parlance of our time.
That is not to say that there is no money for pitchers at 32. Hyun-Jin Ryu just signed a 4-year, $80 million deal at 32. Yu Darvish signed for 6-years, $126 million at 31.
An extension would likely add no more than two years of control, buying out Clevinger's final two years of arbitration in the process.
If Cleveland were able to tack on both years, Clevinger's new deal would expire at the same time Bieber is currently slated to hit the market.
Given that Bieber is so far away from that point, it would give the Indians more time to re-assess their contention window following the inevitable departure of Lindor.
So what would it cost to extend a Cy Young candidate who is just peaking? There is not a ton of precedence for an extension scenario like Clevinger's, but there are a few to consider.
One of Clevinger's closest friends, Trevor Bauer, seems like a reasonable place to start.
Though it will not give us a ton of insight, Bauer settled with the Cincinnati Reds for $17.5 million in his fourth and final year of arbitration. In his third year, Bauer earned $13 million
As far as a long-term deal, and Bauer's plan to take only one-year pacts, that peak arbitration salary for Clevinger may be all we can glean.
In 2019, New York Mets standout Jacob deGrom signed a 5-year, $137.5 million extension that kicks in during 2020, when the righty is 32.
While the timeline closely aligns with Clevinger, the contract voided deGrom's final year of arbitration only, tacking on three guaranteed years, with a player option for 2023, and a club option for 2024.
Clevinger is still one Cy Young award short of deGrom at the time of signing, and two awards behind overall.
If awards are not your thing, Clevinger has been worth just under half (10.8 WAR) of deGrom's output (20.2) over his three years of service.
At the time being, the money is not comparable between the two.
Carlos Carrasco could cautiously be used as a point of comparison, signing a 5-year deal worth a total of $39 million, just after his first bout of arbitration netted him about $2.34 million.
Carrasco had accumulated just 5.2 WAR at that point in his career, lost a year to Tommy John surgery, but was still 28.
The final, and priciest, two years of that contract was nullified by Carrasco's new 4-year, $47 million deal.
The two deals at least show what kinds of deals the Indians might be looking for.
With a Cy Young in hand in 2015, Corey Kluber took a 5-year, $38.5 million deal, with a trio club and vesting options that could take the deal all the way to $77 million.
Incentives earned by things like his second Cy Young increased the price of those options, while the first club option was picked up prior to Cleveland dealing Kluber to Texas last month.
Despite the hardware already being awarded, Kluber's escalating salaries during his arbitration years fall in line with a reasonable projection for Clevinger: $4.5 million, $7.5m, and $10.5m.
Something similar makes sense for Clevinger, if you adjust for rising prices. Perhaps $8 million in year two, $11-12 million in year three to start.
But would team options be enough to get the righty to sign away his negotiating power for a few years?
His friendship with Bauer means he has probably heard plenty about maximizing his value.
For the Indians, guaranteeing a free agent year down the road does not make sense unless it comes at a reduced rate, while Clevinger would have to decide between the security of the extra year(s), or the possibility of a grandiose payday.
Another angle could be to pay slightly over the arbitration-year figures proposed above and cheapen a guaranteed year on the back end to secure a signature.
Operating longer with an idea of their guaranteed salaries in mind is something the organization has shown interest in before, if not guaranteeing free agent years.
Immediately, the slim chance at a Lindor extension could technically be a barrier.
So long as Cleveland keeps the pitcher's salaries near what he would make in arbitration the next two seasons anyway, they could still negotiate a deal with the shortstop after Clevinger.
But because the need for a Clevinger extension is not immediate, those priorities do not line up.
Unless a fair amount of confidence remains that they can get something done with Lindor, the team might be better off to move forward and lock in Clevinger if he is willing.
Perhaps he is not, and perhaps Cleveland wants as little on the books as possible when it is Clevinger's turn to leave.