The moral of this story: never underestimate the power of the Salary Dump.
Dallas Keuchel has never played for the Cleveland Indians. Nonetheless, he might consider sending their Fron Office a Christmas card this year as they very likely have focused his own free agent market while perhaps forcing the Atlanta Braves and others to re-consider their starting pitching targets this Winter.
We’ve known since early on this off-season that Cleveland was considering ways to re-tool without sacrificing their likely stranglehold on the AL Central. The ultimate goal was to reduce payroll costs, which in 2018 were at an all-time high of $134.85 million (Opening Day)… their 3rd consecutive record-setter, besting $124 million and $96 million in 2017 and 2016.
Their more-or-less stated plan? Try and find buyers for their prized starting pitchers – any of them. Corey Kluber is scheduled to make an additional $2.5 million in 2019, plus Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco both up another $1 million – pushing the trio all at or over $10 million apiece.
A funny thing happened on the way to that plan, though:
So when the dust settles, here’s Cleveland’s rough net so far…
- Gomes: $7 million
- Encarnacion: $21 million
- Alonso: $8 million
- Cash: $6 million
- Santana: -$20 million
They look to have saved $22 million… not counting players acquired and having some additional work to do.
That savings has significance in a winter marketplace in which the Indians have listened to offers for starting pitchers Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer. The Indians don’t have nearly the financial incentive to move one of their controllable starting stalwarts that they once did. They can conceivably use the money saved in the three completed swaps to fill their Major League needs without robbing from their signature strength.
New King of the (Tal’s) Hill
Thus it’s Dallas Keuchel who now stands alone in the role of Best Starting Pitcher Available for those in the market… which includes Atlanta.
Now I’d personally argue that with a firebrand personality like Bauer on the staff – who is also on his last year before free agency anyway – Cleveland might still be looking to trade him… but (1) the urgency is gone; and (2) it would be about prospects and not necessarily payroll. Advantage Cleveland.
Here’s another viewpoint arguing the same thing:
What about Zack Greinke? Ah, but as we talked about last week, his no-trade list has indeed bitten the brazen Diamondbacks who have backed down – resigned to wait until at least the next trade deadline to see if they can move him – and his salary.
Alas, it seems that either the Braves took little interest of their own or they chose to offer little more than a Burgerizza for Greinke once they found out Arizona wasn’t interested in bundling their All-Star pitcher with David Peralta or Archie Bradley.
Thus: the Cleveland plan changed once they found easier – or at least less painful – means of moving money elsewhere. Heck, they didn’t even have to resort to saving money on their car insurance – it was so easy that they even opted to take back Carlos Santana and his contract.
Already, other teams are scrambling about:
If the answer turns out to be “Nothing”, then your 2019 rotation could end up looking… well, a lot like your end-of-2018 rotation… including the notion that the Braves could circle back to Anibal Sanchez to see if he wouldn’t mind coming back to reprise his surprising showing from this past season.
In turn, this could allow Atlanta to concentrate their trade efforts – and remaining dollars on their pursuit of catching (I promised myself I would not name ‘you know who’ in this space today) and a power-ish-hitting right fielder.
Heck… see if Jerry DiPoto is on some kind of pain-killers after his hospital stint and see if you can catch him in a weak moment regarding Mitch Haniger.
The off-season landscape thus evolves quickly – and likely will continue to do so through Christmas and early on in January.