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.

Michael Pineda throws off mound for first time since Tommy John surgery

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According to MLB.com associate reporter Jarrid Denney, right-hander Michael Pineda threw off a mound Wednesday morning at Target Field for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Pineda was signed to a two-year, $10 million free agent contract this winter by the Twins, who are probably more focused on what he might be able to do in 2019 rather than 2018.

He had the reconstructive elbow surgery last July 18, so he won’t be an option for the Minnesota rotation until probably late August or September of this year. Still, that deal seems like a nice gamble given the price point and the possibility that he will regain his form as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter. That he’s making steady progress in his rehab makes the situation all the more encouraging.

Pineda, 29, holds a 4.05 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 687 strikeouts in 680 career major league innings.