24. Cleveland Guardians
The Guardians — and in their previous iteration as the Indians — have never signed an outside free agent for more than $60 million. That’s what they gave Edwin Encarnacion in exchange for a three-year commitment prior to the 207 season.
Encarnacion gave the Indians two decent seasons and then was included in a three team, five player trade that shipped him to Seattle.
At $20 million per season, Encarnacion’s contract was also the Cleveland franchise record for AAV … until the spring of 2022, when the Guardians came to terms with their own star third baseman, Jose Ramirez. His seven year, $141 million deal more than doubles the Encarnacion deal for raw value, and the, and the $20.1 million AAV is also a franchise record, albeit barely
Ramirez will earn $14 million this year, that amount rising to $23 million by 2027.
How long the Ramirez contract will be the benchmark is another question. Star pitcher Shane Bieber and infielder Amed Rosario are both approaching free agent eligibility, and the pressure to keep them is likely to be strong.
The question is the element of payroll flexibility the Guardians do or do not have. The recent signing of free agent Josh Bell drove Cleveland’s 2023 payroll to a projected $89 million, which is far higher than the $51 million of the past three seasons but far lower than the $128 million average the team then known as the Indians spent on talent between 2017 and 2019.
If Guardians management is willing to spend at 2018 levels, then they can compete for Bieber and Rosario.