According to Terry Pluto, the 2005 payroll is going to be around $45M. That sounds about right. This represents an increase in salaries of about $10M, all of which should go towards a starter and a closer. I think the best-case scenario involves the Indians signing Matt Clement and Armando Benitez with that $10M, and having enough left over to keep Ronnie Belliard around for another year. However, the realist (or maybe he's a cynic?) in me leans more towards Derek Lowe, Dustin Hermanson, and no Belliard.
Also in the article, Pluto talks about the Indians not spending enough. I think what he's missing is the fact that the younger players are going to get built-in raises in the next couple years. Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez will make around $700k combined next season. That's going to change fairly quickly. Right now I see the payroll maxing out at about $60M, which will probably happen in 2006 or 2007, when most of the young core will be entering their arbitration years. Although I'd love for an owner to spend money out of his own pocket to get a winner out on the field faster, it's not going to happen. Dick Jacobs never did it when he owned the team, and aside from one season (2001), Larry Dolan probably isn't going to do it either. The encouraging thing is that the attendance increased as the season went on, so most of the fanbase (aside from the fans that only went to watch Vizquel) is still there. The economy is obviously much different in 2005 than it was when Jacobs Field opened, but if the team can contend this season, a $60M should be realistic. One (among many) advantages to being in the AL Central is that you probably won't be outspent by that much. Oakland has to contend with the lowest payroll in its division year after year. The Indians, if they win, should be on a level economic playing field with everyone in the division.
If Corey Smith was a 15th Round pick instead of a 1st Rounder, he'd be plying his wares in some other organization by now. But he was a 1st Round pick in 2000, and having done absolutely nothing to warrant prospect status, is making his 40-man roster spot even more tenuous by refusing to get reps in the outfield this winter. It's time to cut ties, and hopefully this will happen before November 20, when prospects have to be protected on the 40-man roster. As it stands now, the roster is at 33. When the 60-day guys get added back, it'll be 38. There's three "no-brainers" that will be added to the roster in a couple weeks: Franklin Gutierrez, Fausto Carmona, and Jake Dittler. That means at least one player has to go, and this isn't counting the 2-3 free agents that will be added to the fold in December or January. Three other candidates to be dropped are Cliff Bartosh, Brian Tallet, and Jason Stanford. Stanford isn't going to pitch until at least late in the 2005 season, and he wasn't much of a prospect to begin with. Tallet and Bartosh are marginal left-handers, and with Scott Sauerbeck signed for 2005, at least one will be expendable.