Photo: Joe Coblitz/IBI


No matter what else happens between now and Opening Day, it’s hard to imagine anything replacing the Francisco Lindor trade as the big headline of the 2020 offseason.  In one fell swoop the Indians moved on, not only from the face of their franchise, but from their two biggest financial liabilities. 

Soon after the trade, Indians President of Baseball Operations Chris Antonetti reassured fans that the increased financial flexibility will allow for some reinvestment into the roster for the upcoming season.

“What pairing the two – Francisco [Lindor] and Carlos [Carrasco] – allows us to do,” Antonetti said, “is it gives us the financial flexibility to reinvest back in the team that will make us more competitive. And that’s what we plan to do.”

There has been some speculation as to what specifically Antonetti had in mind when he made this statement, especially with a stable of young starting pitchers and a surplus of middle infielders on the roster. 

One possibility is extending the few core players that remain with the club, namely Jose Ramirez and Shane Bieber.

Cleveland has developed a sort of reputation as an organization either unwilling or unable to keep their own home-grown talent, but this practice isn’t entirely foreign to the front office. 

In fact, many of the key pieces that carried the team to the American League pennant in 2016 received contract extensions early in their careers.  Prior to the 2014 season the team issued multi-year extensions to Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, and Yan Gomes.

Like many, my first impulse is to say that they’ve already missed the chance to extend Bieber, who is only 25 years old and has already been named the best pitcher in the Junior Circuit, but it’s worth noting that the extension Corey Kluber signed with the organization was actually agreed to in the offseason following his first of two Cy Young award (2015).

Kluber was three years older at the time (he turned 29 before the 2015 season) than Bieber is now when he received his five-year extension (which included two additional option years), but he did have comparable service time to the Tribe’s ace.

Kluber at the time of his contract extension vs. Bieber now

DetailsKluber Bieber
Service time2+ years2+ years
Control remaining44
Cy Youngs11
Extension5yrs/$38mil +2 club options worth $27.5mil???

So what might it cost to keep the promising young star in Cleveland beyond his arbitration years, avoiding an encore of the hellish parting that Indians fans endured this offseason?

To answer this question, let’s examine how much Bieber would be worth on the open market if he were a free agent this year.

  • I’ve created a forecasting model, which accounts for 82% of variance in average annual value of starting pitcher free agent contracts with a standard error of about $3.23 million. 
  • This model predicts Bieber’s current market value to be roughly $25.04 million per year on a six or seven year deal
  • Meaning that if he were to hit the open market today he would likely sign a contract in the neighborhood of $150 million over six years or $175 million over seven. 

There’s our starting point.

The Indians would, however, be foolish to offer him this contract today since he’s under team control and will make considerably less than market-value over the next four years.  His 2021 salary, for example, should be around $545,000 unless a new agreement is reached.  His arbitration years are a tad harder to predict.

In a 2009 article by Sky Kalkman of Saber Friendly Blogging, Kalkman suggested that a simple way to think of players’ arbitration values is as 40, 60, and 80 percent of market value in each of their respective arbitration years. 

This methodology may seem oversimplified and frankly outdated, but I used it in 2019, Lindor’s first year of arbitration, along with my forecasting model to predict his next three base salaries, and the total error ended up being less than 1%. The same methodology puts Bieber’s combined salaries over the next four seasons just over $45 million.

Given this assumption and the expectation that the young ace would make something in the neighborhood of $25 million per year after that if he were to hit the open market, this would mean that a fair-value contract that ties Bieber to the team for seven more seasons, buying out three of his free agent years, would be around $121 million ($17.2 million per year).

Bieber 7-year, $120.724 contract extension by-year based on this model


This does seem at first blush like an offer that Bieber’s camp wouldn’t even bother to entertain, but consider that Kluber’s five-year extension fresh off his 2014 Cy Young campaign was only for $38.5 million ($66 million over seven if options were exercised; up to $77 million with escalators), meaning that a $121 million contract extension would be unprecedented for the Indians.

Extending this logic to temeritous lengths allows us to speculate what an extension would look like if it were to give six or seven years beginning in his free agency year (2025), setting the total duration at 10 or 11 years and totaling $196 or $221 million respectively.  Expecting Bieber to put pen to paper on a deal that only pays him $20 million per season and ties him to the team into his mid-30’s is where this experiment ventures into “pipe dream” territory, but it’s a fun conversation to entertain at least.

The good news is that Antonetti and company have four years to try to work out the details.  That means that they don’t necessarily need to rush out and commit all this money to Bieber today.  They can try to get him to nibble at a lower offer like they reportedly did early on in negotiations with Lindor, who they reportedly offered a deal around $100 million.  The risk, of course, is that another strong season would probably double this figure by next offseason and set the organization on a crash course for the same quagmire they found themselves in with the bright young star they were forced to scrap for parts this offseason. 

Meanwhile, fan cynicism towards an ownership group that seemingly refuses to pony up to keep star talent continues to swell.  Tying the best pitcher in the game to Cleveland through his prime years may be one of the only moves at the front office’s disposal capable of salvaging some bit of fan sentimentality in an offseason that closed the books on an entire era of baseball in Cleveland.

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