Sad-sack Indians to sport sub-$50 million payroll in 2011

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According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Paul Hoynes, the Indians’ 2011 payroll is expected to fall in the $40 million-$50 million range, potentially making the team baseball’s thriftiest.

The Indians opened 2010 with a $61.2 million payroll, down from $81.6 million to begin 2009.  That ranked them 24th among the 30 teams.  The only two clubs last year to start below $50 million were the Padres and Pirates, and both of those clubs figure to spend more next year, though the Pirates may yet fall below the Indians.

With the approximately $26 million spent on Jake Westbrook, Kerry Wood and Jhonny Peralta off the books, Cleveland is currently on the hook for $26.6 million in 2011 dollars: $13.5 million to Travis Hafner, $7.5 million to Grady Sizemore and $6.1 million to Fausto Carmona.  

Shin-Soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera and Chris Perez are eligible for arbitration for the first time, and Choo could ask for at least $5 million after another impressive season.   Those three have to be penciled in for about $10 million, and then a trio of less expensive relievers — Rafael Perez, Joe Smith and Jensen Lewis — could make about $1 million each unless traded or non-tendered.   That already gets the Tribe up to about $40 million for nine players, and even if everyone else is making the major league minimum, that’s $6.4 million for the remaining 16 players on the roster.

So those Indians fans hoping for reinforcements this winter shouldn’t hold their breath.  The team will find a new Austin Kearns to help in the outfield and probably a couple of middle relievers from the Jamey Wright class.  But the upgrades will be slight.