How could the looming contracts of Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg affect the Cleveland Indians‘ chances of extending Mike Clevinger or Shane Bieber?
As is always the case heading into the winter after a long, arduous baseball season, there is uncertainty throughout the league. One thing that is decidedly not uncertain is that Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg are going to sign record-setting contracts for starting pitchers.
Of course, Strasburg will have to opt out of the final four years and $100 million of his current deal with Washington, but the veteran right-hander’s value hasn’t been this high since his days as one of the most anticipated prospects in recent history. In other words, he’s probably going to opt out.
When, not if, Cole and Strasburg hit the open market together this offseason, they are both likely to have around half of MLB’s 30 teams lining up to pursue them.
Specifically in Cole’s case, as the younger of the two, whichever team lands him will have to meet at least two of the following demands: go above David Price’s $217-million deal in total value; defeat Zack Greinke’s AAV of over $34 million; agree to a term of greater than seven years.
With all of these numbers in mind, a deal exceeding $260 million over eight years is not all that far-fetched for the 29-year-old.
Strasburg has age working slightly against him at 31, so his term and total value will likely fall short of whatever number Cole is looking at. He’ll do just fine in AAV, however, as $30 million per year seems like a starting point for the longtime National.
From the perspective of the Cleveland Indians, none of this matters at this exact moment. The Indians have four proven starting pitchers locked up under varying contractual circumstances through at least 2021.
Where the Cole and Strasburg sweepstakes could have an impact on the Tribe is down the road, when Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber near the respective ends of their guaranteed tenures in Cleveland.
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Neither Clevinger nor Bieber are in the same stratosphere as Cole or Strasburg just yet in terms of multi-year track records, but both are climbing into the outskirts of that conversation after impressive 2019 campaigns.
Bieber served as the season-long anchor for an Indians rotation weakened by long-term injuries and one departure via trade, finishing top-five in the American League in ERA, FIP, xFIP, fWAR, and strikeout rate among qualified starting pitchers.
Clevinger missed the cut on the innings threshold to qualify for any end-of-season hardware, but here are some of his AL ranks among pitchers with at least 120 innings in 2019: third in ERA (2.71), first in FIP (2.49), third in xFIP (3.09), fourth in strikeout rate (33.9%).
Another year like this one out of Bieber, and a full year like this one out of Clevinger, and these two relatively unheralded starters will become true household names. As such, the clock begins to tick on whether the Indians can sign at least one of them to a long-term deal.
Complicating matters on this front, at least in the immediate future, is Francisco Lindor. Barring some sort of groundbreaking pivot on the part of Indians ownership, Lindor is going to hit free agency after the 2021 season if he isn’t traded before then. That said, it stands to reason that the Indians will at least make him another offer in order to appease a fan base that will never forgive them for letting the star shortstop walk.
Once that lip-service offer is inevitably declined, the Indians can then turn their attention to the long-term futures of Bieber and Clevinger. Bieber isn’t even eligible for arbitration until after 2021; chances are he’d look favorably on the idea of being paid market value for at least one of the next two seasons with guaranteed numbers awaiting him through all three of his arbitration years. That might be enough to convince him to tack two more years onto his contractual obligation with the Tribe.
Clevinger is a different beast, as he’s already set to hit free agency at the age of 32–a dicey prospect for a power pitcher such as himself. Delaying his arrival on the open market might be a tougher sell for the Indians front office.
That said, if he were on the open market this winter, he’d be looking at considerably more than the $4.5-million arbitration figure MLB Trade Rumors has him projected to make. The Indians might be able to leverage that into an extension if they’re so inclined.
Regardless of how the Indians play their hand in terms of their young hurlers this offseason or next, the deals Cole and Strasburg are poised to get in the coming months will sear dollar signs into the eyes of every young MLB pitcher awaiting his chance, which will in turn make it more difficult to extend them the closer they get to that big payday.
If Cleveland can’t keep Lindor around long-term, the next best thing would be to lock up at least one of Clevinger or Bieber.