The Indians started this off-season with more arbitration eligible players (10) than every other team besides the Braves, who had fourteen. This is a good representation of how the Indians have built their team, using young drafted and otherwise obtained players to make up the majority of the roster. The Indians took care of a couple of those cases early, by releasing Chris Perez and Lou Marson and trading Drew Stubbs. Of course, the Stubbs deal brought in Josh Outman, who is also arbitration eligible. The biggest player hitting arbitration this year is Justin Masterson, who is in his final year. What the Indians do with Masterson in the next month will likely tell whether he will be on the team for many years to come, or will get traded at the deadline this year.
First, there are two players who signed for essentially the minimum in Frank Herrmann and Blake Wood at $560K. Both have been in the Indians system for over a year at this point, but have yet to crack the Major League roster. While the Indians bullpen isn't as solid as last season (with Joe Smith, Matt Albers and Perez gone), it is still likely too deep for either Herrmann or Wood to make the cut. They are essentially emergency options in case of injury.
Of greater interest, two much bigger relief pitchers have also already come to terms. Josh Outman was the first to do so, signing for $1.25M, considerably left than Stubbs, who made $4.1M. It seemed the major reasoning behind the trade that sent Stubbs to Colorado was money, as the Indians didn't want to give him so much as a platoon outfielder. They got their way, it would seem, saving almost three million by going with the left handed reliever. The other pitcher was Marc Rzepczynski, who will make $1.375M with $50K in available bonuses. It seems slightly unfair that Rzepczynski will make so little more than Outman considering how incredible he was in 2013, but he will almost certainly get his as he is just in his first year of arbitration.
On to the unsigned players, where the Indians lead the league with four, including the player with the highest difference between what the player wants and what the team offered. These break down into two subcategories, players who did virtually nothing in 2013 and want to get paid anyway and great players that the Indians are being cheap with. Starting with the the lower level, Vinnie Pestano is asking for $1.45M and has been offered $975K, while Josh Tomlin is asking for $975K and has been offered $800K. These deals should be able to worked out without actually going to arbitration, due to the relatively small numbers involved. Prior to numbers being exchanged, MLBTR's Matt Swartz predicted Tomlin to get $1.1M and Pestano to get $1.3M.
The problem with both these players is that they need the Indians more than the Indians need them. With a full rotation and bullpen without either player, there is little reason for the Indians to raise up to their level. What they could do is give them incentive laden deals with bonuses for innings and possibly starts for Tomlin and holds for Pestano. Using a base salary of the one already offered, the Indians could use these incentives to bring the numbers up to what the players want. This would be the fairest alternative, but of course, nothing in the off-season is fair.
Michael Brantley's asking price ($3.8M) differs from the Indians offer ($2.7M) by just $1.1M with the Indians coming in lower than expected. Brantley was expected to earn $3.7M in arbitration and, as one of the three most important position players on the Indians, he certainly deserves it. A player like Brantley doesn't come around very often and hopefully, the Indians are using this low base offer to try to sign him to a much longer deal. If they don't try to meet him somewhere in between by February 1st, the arbiter will definitely side with Brantley and the Indians will lose their first arbitration case since 1991.
Finally, there is the ace in the room. Chris Antonetti recently stated that the Indians could have their first case reach arbitration since 1991 this year and that case is likely Masterson's. This is Masterson's final year of arbitration and everyone knows what the Indians do with aces in their final year of team control. The Indians have talked a lot this off-season about Masterson including whether or not he was available for trade or extension. The time for all that is over and now, the Indians have to focus on just bringing him in for 2014.
MLBTR predicted Masterson's arbitration value at $9.7M, but Masterson himself is asking for $11.8M. The Indians have countered with $8.05M, a seemingly fair offer until Clayton Kershaw signed his massive deal. From the Indians stand point, Masterson has had two great seasons, surrounded by three very mediocre seasons, while Masterson is almost certainly basing his argument completely off his 2013 effort.
It must be difficult to be loyal as a reliable starting pitcher with hundreds of millions flowing in the free agent market, but by seeking such a great amount in arbitration, Masterson is likely costing himself the rest of his time in Cleveland. This case will almost certainly go to arbitration and the Indians have a good chance of winning, since the arbiter has to pick one or the other, rather than a fair median value. Either way, you can bet that the Indians will be looking to move Masterson when June rolls around, whether they are in the play-off hunt or not. With Danny Salazar coming up and plenty of Major League options ready behind him, the Indians don't need Masterson to finish out this season. If he wanted to stay in Cleveland, he had his chance. Now it is up to the arbiter and how much the other teams in baseball value a 6'6" starting pitcher.