10/29/2003 12:51 PM ET
The $4.1M question
If he's not the closer, can the Tribe afford to keep Baez?
By Justice B. Hill / MLB.com
"Are we better off spending $4.1 million on Danys Baez (right)," GM Mark Shapiro asked," or somewhere else on our team?" (Tony Dejak/AP)
CLEVELAND -- His salary might be the reason reliever Danys Baez plays elsewhere next season, but Indians general manager Mark Shapiro hopes Baez stays put.
Shapiro knows as well as anybody else that pitchers with Baez's nasty stuff don't just grow in cornfields. They are as rare as blue diamonds -- and just as costly.
But Shapiro must use pure business sense to judge the reliever's value, and based on Baez's stuggles in the closer role last season, it's not likely worth the $5 million-plus Baez earned last season.
Shapiro won't have to wrestle with that salary figure, however.
Under terms of baseball's labor agreement, Shapiro can cut Baez's salary 20 percent, and since Baez, whose salary is a byproduct of his defection from Cuba, isn't eligible for arbitration or free agency, he'd have to take $4.1 million.
Is the No. 2 setup man in the bullpen worth even that figure?
"I have a very simple business equation: Are we better off spending $4.1 million on Danys Baez or somewhere else on our team?" said Shapiro, who has until Nov. 15 to make a decision on Baez. "I'd like to have him back next year. ... We'd be thrilled to have him in our bullpen in some role."
It seems clear the 23-year-old Baez can't handle the closer's role, after cracking under the burden last season. He blew 10 saves before Indians manager Eric Wedge banished him to setup duty in the second half of the season. Danys Baez / P
Wedge turned the closer's job over to David Riske, who thrived there. Yet even Riske won't keep the job next season. Wedge's plan is to give the job back to veteran Bob Wickman, who sat out the '03 season after off-season elbow surgery.
All of this maneuvering has more to do with dollars than baseball sense, though those two might be intertwined in Baez's case. Shapiro said he would have no problem signing a $350,000 paycheck for Baez, which is what a second-year player might typically earn.
But to sign Baez after his defection, the Indians had to pony up a contract that wasn't typical of a drafted player. Baez was able to peddle his baseball wares on the open market, which fetched him a multimillion-dollar deal.
During these unsettled economic times, Baez's salary is a yoke that might drag the Indians payroll somewhere Shapiro doesn't want it to go. He's trying to work with a leaner budget, which had forced him to look at alternatives that might not be as costly.
Shapiro's first priority for spending is on a second baseman. He called finding someone in the free-agent market to play that position a necessity, because the options within the organization aren't appealing.
The Tribe had been counting on 22-year-old Brandon Phillips to grab the job and hold onto it. Phillips didn't. He failed badly in his rookie season, and the Indians are planning to keep him in Triple-A Buffalo until he proves he can hit better than .208 with almost 400 at-bats.
Wedge said veteran Ricky Gutierrez might get a look there again, but his bat can't make up for his lack of range. With neither Phillips nor Gutierrez having proved capable of manning the position full time, Shapiro has to go on the free-agent market, and some of the money for a new hire might have to come from Baez's salary.
To have that money available, Shapiro would have to release Baez and then try to re-sign him for less. That strategy offers a risk. It exposes Baez to the open market, and one or more Major League teams might be eager to pay Baez -- who remains steadfast about wanting to close -- more than Shapiro is.
He is also hoping that Baez, if he is released, will consider the Indians favorably, because they are the team that gave him the big contract and nurtured his development. But the business of baseball trumps hope -- at least from the GM's office, which must spend wisely and make decisions that help a club in the long term.
"What does it cost to get that type of performance in the bullpen and fill second base?" Shapiro said. "Just do the math. Is it worth it?"
Although Shapiro hasn't ruled out paying Baez the $4.1 million per season, it might not be the wise move.
"I know his numbers this year in the closer's role, which may have been unfair to put him in, were less than impressive, but I feel this player's ceiling is a backend bullpen guy," Shapiro said. "He'll be a very good one in this game -- very good one to elite."
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