Tribe reaches deal with lefty Perez
Shortstop Cabrera club's only remaining arb-eligible player
CLEVELAND -- It is not that the Indians are unwilling to take a salary negotiation case all the way to an arbitration hearing. It is just that Cleveland has found ways to avoid that step in the annual process for more than two decades.
This offseason is proving to be no exception, considering that the Tribe is now one autograph shy of settling on contracts with all seven of its arbitration-eligible players. On Wednesday, the Indians reached a one-year agreement with left-hander Rafael Perez to avoid going to arbitration.
That leaves shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera as the lone holdout for the time being.
"As we've said before," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said, "we're always hopeful that we'll be able to reach an agreement. But, in the end, if that's not possible, then there's a mechanism in place to allow us to resolve our differences."
A hearing date has been scheduled for Cabrera's arbitration case, though the timing of that meeting has not been made public. Assistant general manager Mike Chernoff has been handling the negotiations, and the two sides can reach a deal at any point prior to walking into a hearing.
The Indians have not gone to a hearing with a player since 1991, when the team did so with Greg Swindell and Jerry Browne. At a hearing, the club and the player's representatives each state a case for their respective salary requests. A panel then selects one of the two proposed salaries for the upcoming season.
Cabrera's camp has requested a 2012 salary of $5.2 million, while the Indians have countered with an offer of $3.75 million. The All-Star shortstop is coming off a stellar season in which he set a franchise record for home runs (25) by a player at his position. Cabrera also hit .273 and collected 92 RBIs in 151 games.
Asked if the Tribe might consider a multiyear contract for Cabrera, Antonetti opted against offering the details of the ongoing talks.
"I would probably refrain from any specifics of any individual negotiation," Antonetti said. "What I'd say more generally is that we're open-minded to a variety of different structures. Whether that's one year or multiyear, it'd have to be the right fit for the right player.
"In the end, it takes a value alignment and interest from both parties. That's kind of our approach, not with any one player, but as we approach each contract negotiation."
In Perez's case, the left-handed reliever initially asked for a salary of $2.4 million for the upcoming season after earning $1.33 million in 2011. Cleveland's original counter offer was $1.6 million. Rather than take the case to a hearing, the sides found a middle ground, agreeing to a base salary of $2.005 million for Perez in '12. The lefty can earn another $25,000 through performance bonuses.
The 29-year-old Perez, who is entering his seventh season with the Indians, will return to a bullpen that was one of the best in the American League last year. The group ranked fifth in the league with a 3.71 ERA, which was the best mark within the AL Central.
The Tribe's bullpen is anchored by All-Star closer Chris Perez, who had righty Vinnie Pestano and lefty Tony Sipp as his primary setup men last season. Right-handed sidearmer Joe Smith and Rafael Perez project to fill two more spots, with two other jobs likely up for grabs this spring.
Rafael Perez has developed into one of the better lefties in the league.
Last season, Perez went 5-2 with a 3.00 ERA in 71 appearances, which was tied for the second-most games in the AL. Over the past two years, he has piled up 141 appearances and 124 innings, which rank second and third, respectively, among lefty relievers in the AL.
During the 2010-11 seasons, there were nine lefty relievers in the AL who threw at least 90 innings. Among that group, Perez's five home runs allowed were the fewest. Over that same span, the 230 ground balls he created ranked first among lefty relievers in the league and his 2.35 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio was second.
Perez was also second in the AL among left-handed relievers by allowing 19.5 percent of his inherited runners over that same period to score. Matt Thornton of the White Sox ranked first at 19.4 percent.
Prior to finalizing the deal with Perez, the Indians also avoided arbitration this winter with Justin Masterson, Shin-Soo Choo, Jack Hannahan, Chris Perez and Smith. Combined, the six settled cases will account for $18.115 million of Cleveland's 2012 payroll. As a whole, that same group earned roughly $9.4 million last season.