(Chris is a long suffering Tribe fan, guest writing here for CST. He can be seen on Twitter at @Cheech99.)
As of this writing, January 17th clearly represents Arbitration Avoidance Fest as the Tribe has already agreed to one year deals with Joe Smith ($1.75MM), Jack Hannahan ($1.3MM), Shin Soo Choo (4.9MM) Justin Masterson ($3.825MM), Chris Perez ($4.5MM) with only Raffy Perez and Asdrubal Cabrera the lone unresolved cases. With the Tribe having avoided formal arbitration since the Governor (Jerry Browne) and the Flounder (Greg Swindell) in 1991, it would be a pretty big shock if Cabrera or Raffy P actually went before the arbitrator.
What this does is begin to cement the 2012 opening day payroll which, by my math, would seem to shake out around $65MM (not including various incentives like the Sizemore escalators). If the Dolans have given General Manager Chris Antonetti a budget ceiling, he obviously knows what he has to work with to augment the team via that oft-discussed first baseman/left fielder/ideally right handed stick, one of the more amusing off-season pursuits in recent memory.
Various sources (Hoynes, Bastian, Olney, etc) have linked the Tribe to any of Carlos Pena, Casey Kotchman, or Derrek Lee (all with good glove reputations) and it would seem that GM Chris Antonetti awaits the Prince Fielder shoe to drop in order for the rest of the first baseman market to play out (that, and perhaps all of the arbitration cases shaking out). Based on the Carlos Beltran brief overtures (that was a fun day on Dec 22nd, no?), it would appear the Tribe either can still take on dollars or take on dollars with subsequent deals in place to balance out the payroll.
Based on absolutely nothing, I’m going to guess that Pena signs for bigger dollars elsewhere and the Tribe takes a flyer on Kotchman.
Beyond that roster spot, I’m hard-pressed to see how the Tribe augments the roster any further for 2012. They’ve done the usual kick the tires NRI’s with the Robinson Tejada’s and Felix Pie’s of the world and swung the minor deal for Aaron Cunningham since there’s such a dearth of even semi-decent outfielders on the 40-man. That said, with some good health, it’s a stronger bench than in recent years with defense-first catcher Lou Marson, infielder (soon to be outfielder?) Jason Donald, fan favorite (with the odd little reverse platoon split 2012) Shelly Duncan, and… this is where it gets interesting. Jack Hannahan? I just have a hard time thinking the Tribe will sit Hannahan with the extreme groundballing staff (Masterson, Carmona, and Lowe) in play not to mention the somewhat middling advanced defensive stats (Tango, UZR, etc) afforded to middle infield starters Asdrubal and Kipnis (WE ARE ALL KIPNISES). Does Chisenhall start everyday with the big club or with Triple A? Seems counter-productive to platoon these guys out of the gate (that’s why you have Jason Donald right?).
So here’s hoping that Washington (or Texas, or whomever) signs the Prince in order to set this first basemen market in motion finally. At which point, we’ll have a better look at what budget Dolan is comfortable with for 2012 as well as a little peek in terms of how the Tribe might assess final roster construction.