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Here’s why the Cleveland Indians have been cutting payroll all winter

Chris Antonetti still talking postseason after cost-cutting trades, free-agent departures

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Indians have spent the winter subtracting instead of adding to a roster that has won more games than any team in the American League over the last six years. Here’s why.

“We had franchise-record payrolls the last few seasons and ownership invested a lot in the team,” said Chris Antonetti, president of baseball operations, “and the path we were on was unsustainable. So we did need to reposition ourselves financially, which we were able to do with a series of moves earlier in the offseason and provide ourselves that necessary financial flexibility that we needed (for 2019 and beyond).”

Over the last three years, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the Indians have had franchise-record payrolls of $135 million in 2018, $124 million in 2017 and $96 million in 2016. They have won three straight AL Central titles and in 2016 won a pennant and reached Game 7 of the World Series before losing to the Cubs.

But after winning 91 games last season and getting swept in the ALDS by Houston, the Indians started cutting payroll by trading Edwin Encarnacion, Yonder Alonso, Yan Gomes, Erik Gonzalez and Yandy Diaz. They also watched free agents Michael Brantley, Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, Lonnie Chisenhall, Rajai Davis and Josh Donaldson sign elsewhere. Oliver Perez and Brandon Barnes are the only holdover free agents to date that they’ve re-signed.

Perez signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal on Friday. It includes a vesting option worth $2.75 million. Barnes signed a minor-league deal with an invitation to big-league camp.

The Indians currently have an estimated $100 million committed to 16 players. That does not include Trevor Bauer, who is going to arbitration. Bauer will either earn the $13 million he requested or the $11 million the Indians have offered. The Tribe is expected to fill out the rest of the 25-man roster with veterans on minor-league deals or prospects making at or just above the major league minimum of $555,000.

If the Indians make any more additions before or during spring training – camp opens on Feb. 12 in Goodyear, Ariz. – they will not make bold headlines. Antonetti said it’s important that the team’s decision makers give the young players a chance to play so they can make long-range decisions on them.

“We feel it’s an important element to provide young players an opportunity to contribute at the major league level,” said Antonetti. “We feel there are places on our roster — whether that is in the bullpen, the back of our rotation or even our position player club — that some young players will take advantage of the opportunities in front of them.”

Antonetti said the Indians’ goal remains the same – to win the World Series.

“I think that will always be our goal,” he said. “The first thing we want to make sure of is that we do find a way to gain entry into the postseason. The best way to do that is winning the AL Central and we feel we’re position to do that.”

Over the last three years, when the Indians have been positioned to win the Central and enter the postseason, they’ve made deadline deals to improve. Miller arrived in 2016. Jay Bruce was added in 2017 and last year Donaldson was acquired on Aug. 31. 

“I’d expect that to be the case this year if we’re, again, in the position of being a contender around the deadline or later in the season,” said Antonetti. 

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