The Cleveland Indians are never going to sign a guy like Manny Machado or Bryce Harper in free agency…or could they actually pull it off?
Despite some reports that their markets may not be as good as once thought, they still have teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies after them. The Indians just can’t compete with that…or can they?
Okay, so it’s insane, but hear me out for a bit…
Is it even theoretically possible?
The answer is tricky here…no, right now the answer is no. However, if the Indians can move some salary? Well then, perhaps it is theoretically possible.
The Indians have been rumored all offseason to be listening on their starting pitching. Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber have been linked to more teams than one cares to count at this point. Everyone is checking in on them. Moving them is about building the team, but it’s also about moving some salary to help build the team.
Trevor Bauer is set to make about $11.6 million in arbitration (could be more, could be less) while Corey Kluber is getting $17.5 million as part of his signed deal. Moving either of them doesn’t clear up enough salary for a Machado or Harper; however, if you moved a Jason Kipnis or Edwin Encarnacion too? Well then, now you’re talking about $25-30 million (or more) being moved.
Combine that with Yan Gomes‘s salary being traded and all of a sudden the Indians could have $35-40 million to spend this winter, which just so happens to be what many think Machado and Harper would sign for. It would also make sense why Yandy Diaz‘s name has been thrown out there.
So back to the question, is it theoretically possible for the Indians to sign Machado or Harper? Well, yes, it very well is theoretically possible.
Is it possible in reality?
Okay, so theoretically possible is not even close to reality. The Indians have never given a contract worth more than $60 million, let alone one that likely could top $300 million (or maybe $400 million). So why am I even talking about Machado and Harper?
Well, the Indians were interested in trading for them so we know they like each player (they are both great so duh). But the bigger reason is that moving the money the Indians are talking about makes little sense unless they plan on spending it.
Now, of course, the odds are they’ll look at more the A.J. Pollock or Michael Brantley caliber of free agents versus the Machado or Harper types. Or perhaps they use it in extension talks with some players. But if the Indians want to go crazy they could try for one of the two big catches.
How could the Indians make it a reality? They’d have to include opt-outs and have them early in any deal. Consider something like this:
"10 year/$350 million deal with opt out after year 3"
That would be an AAV (average annual salary) of $35 million. Assuming it’s spread equally that’s $105 million in the first three years. Each player would still be in his 20s when the deal expires and could re-enter the free agent market for another monster deal, possibly for closer to $40 million AAV after Mike Trout signs his monster deal in a couple years.
The big hangups here would be 1) paying one guy $35 million when the payroll is around $135 million, and 2) the risk of the players not opting out and being stuck paying $35 million for years to come.
The first is the issue that I’d worry about most. Paying over 25 percent of your payroll to one player is an issue. Though if that player is Machado or Harper in their prime maybe it’s really not an issue? Especially with the pitching the Tribe has and locked up for reasonable salaries.
The second issue is a real concern as well though we saw the Marlins move Giancarlo Stanton and his monster $300 million contract so it’s not impossible to move those contracts when the players are young. The risk would be there but outside of a catastrophic injury not as much as one may think. We’re not talking about a Miguel Cabrera or Albert Pujols deal here.
Will it happen?
Crazy things can happen in free agency. Maybe not always good but if the market falls enough maybe the Indians can get super inventive and work out a short-term deal with these guys. Hell, maybe they even give them an opt out after year two even.
If the Indians found the money, there would definitely be worse ways to spend it, that’s all I’m saying. It’s crazy, it’s insane, it’s not going to happen…but…you never know.