By: Ryan Dentscheff
The first week of the season Cleveland Indians has officially come to a close. Finishing with a 92-70 record and a wildcard playoff berth a season ago, expectations for the 2014 campaign are high. There was plenty of excitement in the Tribe’s 3-3 start and many questions that remain unanswered. For instance, how will the loss of Scott Kazmir in the starting rotation effect the pitching staff? Will the bullpen hold its own? Six games is hardly enough time to answer questions about play, so we’ll focus solely on the contract extensions to two of the Indians starters that happened in the first week of the season.
Gomes and Kipnis get Extensions:
After locking up starting left fielder Michael Brantley for four years back in early February, the Indians continued to deliver the contract extensions to in-house players leading into the first month of baseball. Yan Gomes and Jason Kipnis received contracts worth $23 million over six years and $52.5 million over six years, respectively.
Kipnis’s contract is of no surprise, as many Tribe fans were hoping to get the deal done ASAP. Kipnis hit .284 last season with 17 home runs and 30 stolen bases and earned his first All-Star appearance in his second full season. At only 27, all signs lead to a productive career in Cleveland. Kipnis is a future star in the league and is a key guy in the locker room. Keeping him around is a great move by the organization because is keeps doubts out of the fans’ and players’ heads, as well as wards off other teams from around the league from getting a potential franchise player.
However, the Gomes extension comes with much more uncertainty as to whether or not it should have been done so early. He played only 88 games last season, his first with the Tribe, and split time at catcher with Carlos Santana.
“To sign him for that many years when he hasn’t even been the starting, everyday catcher for a full season, I’m a little skeptical on that,” said Jeff Mapus, a lifelong Indians fan. “However, I thinks he’s a really great catcher and definitely has potential to become one of the best defensive catchers in league. It was obvious that he need to be (the Indians’) starting catcher. But overall, I think it might be a little premature to sign him to a six year deal, but it’s not a super high salary, not a contract we’re too locked in for money wise.”
He did post a .294 batting average and 11 home runs in those 88 games, but it will be interesting to see if his production carries on into this season as he is now the everyday catcher.
Carlos Santana moving from catcher to the everyday third baseman will work out fine, but that will certainly be watched with a close eye by the fans and the coaching staff. Personally, I think Gomes will produce solid numbers this season and prove that he is worth his $23 million. Through the first three games, he is hitting only .222 (four hits on 18 at-bats) but is the only player on the team who has blasted two home runs. I think he will continue to supply the timely power to the bottom of the batting order and predict he’ll be in the top five American League catcher in home runs and RBIs for years to come.
The final question that remains unanswered regarding contract extensions surrounds Indians’ ace Justin Masterson. I fully support what the Indians have done in giving extensions to Brantley, Kipnis, and Gomes. The camaraderie this team has is about as good as it gets in the MLB. Other players around the league have even noticed. Keeping this group together is important and signing existing players is key. So I don’t know why a deal hasn’t been done to keep Justin Masterson in Cleveland. Masterson has said that he would be willing to adjust his contract and be flexible, but an agreement hasn’t been met. Talks, for now, have even stopped. Masterson will be eligible for free agency is if a deal isn’t made by the end of the season. The Indians may indeed still be able to sign him after the season, but if a deal can’t be made now, the odds that he’ll end up back in Cleveland after hitting the market are very slim. He went 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA and 195 strikeouts in his 2013 all-star season, and shows no signs of slowing down. I know many fans agree with me when I say that Masterson is an asset we don’t want to lose.
“My worry is the Indians won’t be able to match what his final asking price is going to be and we’re going to lose him to another team, like the Rangers or the Yankees,” Mapus said. “Especially the Yankees because they need pitching and he’s young and they obviously have the money.”