Despite crowded outfield, Tribe likely to tender Stubbs
Masterson, Brantley, Pestano among others expected to receive contract offers
CLEVELAND -- If three is a crowd, it's getting a little claustrophobic in right field for the Indians. The recent addition of outfielder David Murphy complicated Cleveland's outfield alignment, making right fielder Drew Stubbs' role more uncertain.
Just don't expect the Tribe to simply cut ties with Stubbs via release.
The Indians are expected to offer contracts to its main arbitration-eligible players, including Stubbs, in advance of Monday's non-tender deadline. Teams have until 11:59 p.m. ET on Monday night to tender contracts to any unsigned players on a 40-man roster, which includes those in line for raises through the arbitration process.
Indians general manager Chris Antonetti recently made it clear that Cleveland could find room on its roster for Murphy, Stubbs and Ryan Raburn, all of whom are options for right field.
"Absolutely," Antonetti said. "I think as we sit here today, we feel good with the group of outfielders that we have. We'll continue to look for opportunities to improve the team and make adjustments as the offseason goes along, but the versatility of the outfielders [makes it possible to carry all three]."
If Stubbs -- under contractual control through 2015 -- ultimately does not figure into Cleveland's plans for next season, it would be a trade that lands him in another uniform. The Indians do not appear to feel that releasing the outfielder is an appropriate route, given the specific skills that he offers.
Besides Stubbs, left fielder Michael Brantley, starters Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin, and relievers Vinnie Pestano and Marc Rzepczynski are expected to be tendered contracts for 2014. Relievers Frank Herrmann and Blake Wood -- both making comebacks from Tommy John surgery -- are borderline non-tender candidates, but are likely to be tendered.
It is possible that the Tribe also offers a contract to third-string catcher Lou Marson, but he appears to be the most at risk of being non-tendered. Marson served as Cleveland's main backup catcher from 2010-12, but only appeared in three games last year due to injuries. While Marson was sidelined, Yan Gomes emerged as the Indians' new starting catcher, forcing Carlos Santana to rotate between catching, first base and designated hitter.
Any non-tendered players are eligible to become free agents. If the Indians go that route with Marson, Herrmann or Wood, it would make sense for Cleveland to try to retain them on Minor League contracts that includes invitations to attend Spring Training with the big league club.
Eligible players who are tendered contracts must file for arbitration by Jan. 14, and the two sides would then exchange salary proposals by Jan. 17. If an arbitration case remains unsettled, the salary would be determined one of the hearings that run from Feb. 1-21. Teams can reach an agreement with its arbitration players at any point prior to a scheduled hearing.
Among the Indians' first-time arbitration candidates are Brantley, Pestano, Tomlin, Herrmann and Wood.
Brantley was one of the team's most consistent hitters (.284 with a .728 OPS) in 2013 and is a lock to open '14 in left field again. Pestano suffered a down year (4.08 ERA in 37 games) after serving as the team's primary setup man from 2011-12 (2.45 ERA in 132 games). Tomlin (a rotation candidate) went 18-11 with a 4.34 ERA from 2010-11 before a right elbow injury led to Tommy John surgery. Herrmann and Wood are comeback candidates in the Tribe's wide-open bullpen race.
Masterson headlines Cleveland's arbitration class after piecing together an All-Star season in 2013, when he won 14 games, posted a 3.45 ERA and ended with 195 strikeouts in 193 innings. The big right-hander earned $5,687,500 last year and will be eligible for free agency next offseason.
Among the arbitration-eligible relievers, the left-handed Rzepczynski appears to have the best chance of making the bullpen -- after joining the Indians via trade in July. The lefty posted a 3.23 ERA in 38 games between tours with the Cardinals and Indians, but had a stellar 0.89 ERA in 20 1/3 innings after being acquired by Cleveland.
According to arbitration salary projections by MLBTradeRumors.com, Masterson ($9.7 million) would be in line for the largest salary, followed by Stubbs ($3.8 million), Brantley ($3.7 million), Rzepczynski ($1.4 million), Pestano ($1.3 million), Tomlin ($1.1 million), Marson ($1 million), Wood ($800,000) and Herrmann ($600,000).
Murphy -- signed to a two-year, $12 million contract last week -- will take over as the Indians' main right fielder, pushing Stubbs and Raburn into backup roles. Stubbs, who can handle all three outfield spots, and Raburn, who is an option in the outfield and infield, both have a history of hitting lefties well. That makes it possible for the Indians to use Stubbs or Raburn in a right-field platoon with the left-handed-hitting Murphy.
Stubbs is an above-average center fielder and offers strong speed on the bases, making him an interesting player to try to keep in the mix.
"Drew gives us great protection both in right field and center field," Antonetti said. "And we're confident he could go to left, if he needed to, as well. And Ryan's got the ability to not only play the corners, but the infield, if we need it, too.
"It provides us with a great deal of flexibility and versatility, and that was one of our strengths last year. We're looking to build up on that heading into next year."