Former Cleveland Indians Cashing In On Free Agent Market


Dec 27, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers president of baseball operations Jon Daniels (left) and outfielder Shin-Soo Choo (middle) and manager Ron Washington pose for pictures during a press conference at Texas Rangers Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Ex-Indians Earnings Top $500 Million

The New York Yankees were able to dominate baseball in the late 90’s and remain a playoff team for 13 straight seasons from 1995-2007. One reason they were able to continue to perform at such a high level had a lot to do with the ability to sign free agents to bolster their roster but it also had a lot to do with seldom watching one of their own depart. They were able to build around a nucleus of Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada.

It would have been nice to see the Indians keep Albert Belle, Jim Thome, and Kenny Lofton together for a few more years and continue to supplement the roster back in the mid to late 1990’s. Those 90’s teams get a lot of attention for the star power that was lost and let’s not forget the number of players traded including Brian Giles, Richie Sexson, Russell Branyan, Sean Casey, and Jeromy Burnitz.

It’s the more recent group of Cleveland Indians from the 2007-2008  rosters that have taken to the free agent market and cashed in handsomely on their time with the Tribe.  Just looking at the core group of players currently on major league rosters – CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Shin-Soo Choo, Jhonny Peralta, and Victor Martinez – and adding up the dollars they have earned since leaving the Indians and through the end of their current deals totals a staggering $592,675,000. If Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia are able to have their options vest or have their respective teams pick up their final year options the total could increase another $35M.

Two players on the 2007 roster and are not signed with anyone for 2014 thus not included here are Jake Westbrook and Rafael Betancourt who combined earned $44.3M with the St. Louis Cardinals and Colorado Rockies respectively.

CC Sabathia: Since Departing $196M

The Cleveland Indians drafted Sabathia with the 20th pick of the first round of the 1998 draft. After just two full seasons of minor league ball he joined the Indians rotation as a 20-year old in 2001. Over the parts of eight seasons with the Indians he made 237 starts and posted a 106-71 record.

After leading the Indians to the AL Central Division Title in 2007 he was named the American League Cy Young Award. He posting a 19-7 record with a 3.21 ERA while leading the league in starts (34), innings pitched (241), batters faced (975), and stikeout-to-walk ration (5.65).

On July 7, 2008 the Indians traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers for Rob Bryson, Zach Jackson, Michael Brantley, and Matt LaPorta. He finished the year with the Brewers leading them to the NL Central Division Title posting a 11-2 record with a 1.35 ERA spanning 17 starts.  The Brewers picked up the remaining $5M in salary remaining on Sabathia’s 2009 base salary of $11M.

At the time of the trade the Indians 37-51 and hope of rallying to a playoff spot had all but been diminished. Indians GM Mark Shapiro felt that the team entered the season with well-founded expectations for a championship contending season but said with “four core players on the DL — tough for almost any franchise to overcome — as well as disappointing performances from many components of our team, most noticeably in the bullpen, leave us at the juncture we’re at. There wasn’t much doubt or question in our mind that it was nearly impossible for us to become a contending club this year.”

On December 11, 2008 he signed a seven-year $161M deal that included an opt out after the 2011 season.  After earning $69M over the first three years of the deal (includes a $9M signing bonus) he chose to opt out of his contract.

On October 31, 2011 he agreed to a 5-year, $122M deal with the Yankees. He will be paid $23M per year from 2012-2015, $25M in 2016, and the deal includes a vesting option for 2017 worth $25M or a $5M club buyout.

His 2017 salary is guaranteed as long as his left shoulder is sound. His option vests if he does not end 2016 on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury,  does not spend more than 45 days in 2016 on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury, or  does not make more than six relief appearances in 2016 because of a left shoulder injury.

Thus far with the Yankees he has made 161 starts and has posted a record of 88-42 with a 3.52 ERA.  In 2009 he won his first World Series ring and in 2009 and 2010 he led the American League in wins with 19 and 21 respectively.

His total earnings since leaving Cleveland and through the end of his current deal is $196M and up to $216M if his 2017 option vests or is picked up by the Yankees.

Cliff Lee: Since Departing $131.2M

Cliff Lee was acquired by the Indians in Mark Shapiro’s best trade as General Manager of the Indians. On June 27, 2002 Shapiro sent Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew to the Montreal Expos and received Lee, Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore, and Lee Stevens in exchange.

He debut for the Indians ins September of the 2002 season, made nine starts in 2003, and became a full-time member of the rotation in 2004. In total he spent parts of eight seasons with the Indians posting a record of 83-48 with a 4.01 ERA spanning 178 starts.

After a tumultuous 2007 season which included a trip to the minor leagues and the painful reality of not being included on the Indians playoff roster he rebounded to win the American League Cy Young Award in 2008 going 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA while leading the league in wins (22), ERA (2.54), shutouts (4), home run per nine innings (0.5), and fewest walks per nine (1.4).

On July 29, 2009 the Indians dealt him along with Ben Francisco to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Carlos Carrasco, Jason Knapp, Lou Marson, and Jason Donald. At the time of the trade the Phillies took on $2.12m of Lee’s 2009 salary.

In a statement to the media Indians GM Mark Shapiro said, “At the root of this deal was balancing the conviction of our ability to compete in 2010 with the opportunity to impact the team’s construction for years to come. Without the sense of confidence in the team’s ultimate competitiveness, we acted aggressively to add players that will impact the organization in 2010 and beyond.”

Lee finished the 2009 season with the Phillies making 12 starts and posting a 7-4 record with a 3.39 ERA. Consider he was only due $9M in 2010 it came as a surprise that after the season he was traded to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Tyson Gillies, Phillippe Aumont, and J.C. Ramirez.

His time as a Mariner was short-lived. On July 9th after making just 13 starts and posting a 8-3 record with a 2.34 ERA he was dealt to the Texas Rangers for Matthew Lawson, Blake Beaven, Josh Lueke, and Justin Smoak.

He finished the season with the Rangers making 15 starts going 4-6 with a 3.98 ERA and leading the Rangers past the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Division Series.

Following the 2010 season he hit the free agent market and on December 14, 2010 agreed to a 5-year $115M deal (2016 option) to return to the Philadelphia Phillies. The 2016 option is worth $27.5M ($12.5M buyout) and becomes guaranteed if he is not in the disabled list with an injury to a left elbow or left shoulder or has 200 innings pitched in 2015 or 400 innings pitched combined in 2014-2015.

His total earnings since leaving Cleveland and through the end of his current deal is $131.2 M and up to $146.2M if his 2016 option vests or is picked up by the Phillies.

Victor Martinez: Since Departing $59.74M

Martinez was signed by the Indians as an amateur free agent out of Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela in 1996. After playing the 1997 and 1998 seasons in Venezuela he joined the Indians organization and reported to Mahoning Valley in 1999.

He debuted with the Indians in September of 2002 and spent the 2003 season between the Indians and their Triple A affiliate Buffalo Bisons before becoming the teams full-time catcher in 2004.

He appeared in 821 games over the span of eight seasons and posted a slash line of .303/.369/.464 with an .833 OPS and 157 home runs. His 103 home runs as an Indians catcher are the most for any catcher in franchise history.

On July 31, 2009 the Indians announced the he had been traded to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Bryan Price, Nick Hagadone, and Justin Masterson. The Red Sox also picked up the remaining $2.04M owed to Martinez for the 2009 season.

The trade was particularly tough for Martinez who spoke to the media saying, “It’s tough. This is my house. This is my home.” In an odd moment for Indians fans the trade took place one day before the Indians were to hold Victor Martinez Bobblehead Night – which still took place in his honor despite his departure.

Indians GM Mark Shapiro could sense fans frustration saying, “I’m not asking for patience. I feel similar frustration as to where we are. I take responsibility for that. We’re trying to do everything we can to get back to a championship ball club. I don’t ask for applause now. . . . I just want to be right at the end.”

Martinez spent the remainder of the 2009 season and earned the remaining $7.7M owed to him with them in 2010. Overall, he appeared posted a slash line of .313/.368/.497 an OPS of .865 including 28 home runs spanning 183 games (775 plate appearances with the Red Sox).

He hit the free agent market following the 2010 season and signed a 4-year/$50M dollar contract with the Detroit Tigers. He posted a strong inaugural season with the Tigers posting a slash line of .330/.380/.470 driving in 103 runs but missed the entire 2012 season after suffering a knee injury working out in the offseason. He returned to the lineup in 2013 and posted a slash line of .301/.355/.430 appearing in 159 games (139 as the teams designated hitter).

His total earnings since leaving Cleveland and through the end of his current deal is $59.74M.

Jhonny Peralta: Since Departing $68,360,656

Peralta was signed by the Indians as an amateur free agent in 1999 out of Santiago, Dominican Republic.

He debuted with the Indians 2003 playing in 77 games as a 21-year-old and struggled batting just .227 (55 for 270) and only appeared in four games with the Indians in 2004. He was named the International League Most Valuable Player in 2004 and in 2005 took over the reigns as the Indians full-time shortstop replacing the departed Omar Vizquel.

Over parts of 8 seasons with the Indians he posted a slash line of .268/.330/.425 and hit 103 home runs. He spent the last year and a half of his Indians career as the teams third baseman a position change he seemed unwilling to make and never seemed comfortable.

On July 28, 2010 he was traded to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for minor league pitcher Giovanni Soto. The Indians agreed to pay (most) of the remaining $1.42M on Peralta’s contract. If the Tigers elected to buyout the 2011 option ($7.25M) they would pay the $250K owed to him.

At the time of the trade Peralta was in the final year of his contract which included a 2011 club option “The stark reality was we had come to the decision we were not going to pick up his option for next year,”  said Indians GM Mark Shapiro said. “This is more about a combination of a projectable arm we’re getting back and the reality that we wanted to take a look at some of our internal third-base alternatives for next year, because we think they can help us this year and next year.”

Once going to the Tigers Peralta found himself back in his familiar role as a starting shortstop making 44 starts over the remaining 55 games he played.  At the end of the 2010 season the Tigers paid the $250K buyout on his 2011 option ($7.25M) and signed him to a two-year $12M extension that included an option for 2013 for $6M (500K buyout). In total he earned $16.75M in salary with the Tigers appearing in 460 games and posting a slash line of .275/.332/.433 with 53 home runs.

His 2013 season included a 50-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. According to the Sporting News the suspension reduced his 2013 salary by $1,639,344.

Following the 2013 season Peralta was a free agent and quickly signed on with the St. Louis Cardinals inking a 4-year/$53M contract.

His total earnings since leaving Cleveland and through the end of his current deal is $68,360,656.

Shin-Soo Choo: Since Departing: $137.375M

Choo was obtained what was at the time considered a low-level trade. On July 26, 2006 the Indians sent Ben Broussard to the Seattle Mariners for Choo and Shawn Nottingham.

There were up to six-teams interested in Broussard and it was not easy to deal him. “He was having a great year. Benny is a guy who’s always had streaks where he showed potential,” Indians GM Mark Shapiro said. “I still think Benny’s potential is even greater.” Getting Choo in return was a move to improve the team’s future, “This player is a good complement to this club and the club we hope to build in the future,” Shapiro said. “This is a guy who has hit every single place he’s been.”

The Indians were excited about his future especially after finishing the year strong as the Indians right fielder in 2006 hitting .295 (43 for 146) including 3 home runs. His upward trajectory was stalled after undergoing Tommy Johns Surgery that caused him to miss most of the 2007 season.

He returned to the everyday lineup in 2008 and over the next five years he appeared in 634 games posting a slash line of .291/.384/.471 with 80 home runs and 80 stolen bases.

Following the 2012 season the Indians, Cincinnati Reds, and Arizona Diamondbacks completed a three team trade. The Indians sent Choo, Jason Donald, and cash to the Reds for Drew Stubbs and Didi Gregorious. The Indians then packaged Gregorious with Tony Sipp and Lars Anderson and sent them to the Diamondback for Trevor Bauer, Bryan Shaw, and Matt Albers.

“This is a trade that can impact our team not only for 2013, but for the future,” Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. “Three of the players we acquired we will have under control for at least the next three seasons.”

In early February the Reds and Choo avoided the arbitration hearing by agreeing to a 1-year $7.375M dollar contract. He had an outstanding season in Cincinnati posting a slash line of .285/.423/.462 with 21 home runs and 20 stolen bases. It was the third time in his career that he reached the 20/20 mark.

After the season the Reds offered a qualifying offer but he declined and hit the free agent market and recently he signed a 7-year/$130M deal with the Texas Rangers.

His total earnings since leaving Cleveland and through the end of his current deal is $137.375M.

Honorable Mention:

Rafael Betancourt: Since Departing $17.1M

Betancourt was shipped to the Colorado Rockies, who picked up the remaining $1.3M in salary, for reliever Connor Graham in July of 2009.

At the time of the trade the Indians held a 2010 option on him or $5.4M but that was apparently too costly for the Indians to absorb as General Manager Mark Shapiro stated, “We didn’t see $5 million as the right price for that type of role in the bullpen, particularly in our situation and really in anyone’s.”

He finished the season tossing 25.1 innings with the Rockies posting a 1.78 ERA striking out 29 and walking just 5.  Over the winter he signed a 2-year $7.55M dollar deal.  Later the Rockies and Betancourt agreed to an extension of the contract for $4M in 2012 and $4.25M in 2013 with a club option for 2014.  Overall since leaving the Indians he has earned $17.1M.

Jake Westbrook: Since Departing $27.25M

Westbrook was dealt in July of 2010 to the St. Louis Cardinals as part of a three-team deal. The Indians sent him to Cardinals and received Corey Kluber from the Padres. The Cardinals sent minor league pitcher Nick Greenwood and Ryan Ludwick to the Padres to complete the deal.

At the time of the trade the Indians still owed him $3.2M and they included cash to make the deal work. Additionally, Westbrook agreed to waive a majority of the $2.3M in bonus money he was due if traded. I will take the liberty of estimating that the Indians saved around $2M total in the deal.

“I hope they can see that we have a solid nucleus of starting position players who are developing at the major-league level We’ll get an impact major-league player back next season in Grady Sizemore. We’re now trying to line up the pitching, around it” Antonetti said. “We certainly don’t like doing these deals,”. “We want to be on the other end of them. That’s what we’re working towards.”

After departing the Indians Westbrook chose to stay with the Cardinals signing a 2-year deal that included a 2013 option that was exercised. All told with the Cardinals he earned $25.25M.