Inside The Clubhouse: Will the Indians be able to extend Shane Bieber?

This week, Inside the Clubhouse has notes on extension odds for Shane Bieber, the Mets’ GM search and what’s next for retired veteran Erik Kratz.

When Erik Kratz walks through his front door, the first thing he sees is a family portrait from the Milwaukee Brewers’ Family Day in 2018.

For Kratz, it provides a reminder of why he made the two-hour drive back and forth from Yankee Stadium each day in 2020. His wife, Sarah, has been there at every stage of his career. His three kids bearhugged him inside the Brewers’ clubhouse after he won his first postseason game in the 17th year of his career and each told him, “Dad, I’m so proud of you.”

“I came home to a quiet house knowing that the hard work that I put into my career was for my family that is sleeping soundly at 1-1:30 a.m.,” Kratz said. “It’s way easier to do difficult things like a two-hour drive when you come home to your family every night and know they’re taken care of.”

Kratz recently retired from baseball at the age of 40, putting an end to his 18-year career. Physically, he believes he can play for another five years. But with the increasing uncertainty surrounding baseball and his oldest son, Brayden, about to start his freshman year of high school, Kratz entered the season knowing it would be his last.

He is proud of the career he led. In 11 major-league seasons, he hit .209/.256/.355 with 31 home runs and 105 RBI. He was an above-average defensive catcher and played a pivotal role in the Brewers coming within one game of the World Series in 2018. But his greatest impact perhaps came off the field.

Inside the clubhouse, it was common to see Kratz interact with teammates. He became a sounding board for Christian Yelich in Milwaukee. He gets emotional talking about his relationships with the Latin players he worked with. Most importantly, he said, he made an impact on his three children — Brayden, 13; Ethan, 11; Avery, 8.

“I played baseball, but that’s not who I was,” Kratz said. “I said that before I was in the big leagues and even when I was in the big leagues. I don’t want to be remembered as a baseball player. I want to be remembered for the impact I had on the people I met along the way.”

Added Payton Henry, a teammate of Kratz’s with the Brewers: “Probably the best dude I’ve ever met in baseball.”

Kratz intends to continue working in baseball at some point. For now, he plans to spend time with his family, watch his kids grow up and take care of the puppy he bought his daughter after he retired. But when he is at the right spot in his personal life, he wants to return to the game in some capacity, though he is not sure what that will look like.

Managing, however, has always intrigued Kratz. He singles out Charlie Manuel, John Gibbons and Craig Counsell as three managers who influenced him the most. Coming up, former players Ernie Whitt and Frank Kremblas taught him the ins and outs of catching and how to call a game behind the plate.

“There are coaches that I have had in college or even before then that have been awful and they’ve shaped how I’ll be as a coach or as a front office person or as an announcer,” Kratz said. “But then there are also some managing styles that I really liked. You take little bits and pieces of every person. It’s shaped me as a man and as a player. If I get to manage some day, it’ll shape me as a manager.”

Kratz is not sure when that opportunity will come. He is happy just being a husband and father. But in one of his first days of retirement, as he walked through the front door after taking his kids to school, he started to yell. He had to go. The dog was running away.

“Uh oh. She’s on the run,” he said. “Welcome to my new life.”

Will the Indians be able to extend Shane Bieber?

A veteran scout who watched Cleveland Indians pitcher Shane Bieber in a spring training start against the Colorado Rockies noticed he was missing bats by “more than a foot” and painting the corners with more consistency than in years past.

“Buckle up,” the scout said at the time. “He’s about to explode.”

Bieber, of course, went on to unanimously win the American League Cy Young Award and finish fourth in the AL MVP voting. He led all of baseball in ERA (1.63) and strikeouts (122) while tying Lance Lynn and Yu Darvish in quality starts (10).

Now, the conversation shifts toward a new contract for Bieber and the early indications are an extension is highly unlikely. Bieber becomes arbitration-eligible after the 2021 season and is on pace to shatter Dallas Keuchel’s first-year arbitration record of $7.25 million.

The price to extend Bieber, 25, will not be cheap. Zack Wheeler signed a five-year, $118 million deal with the Phillies last winter and Jacob deGrom is in the third year of a five-year, $137.5 million contract. Bieber is younger than both at the time of their extensions and does not come with the same injury concerns as Wheeler, leading some rival executives to believe he could command $35 million per year.

The Indians have traded Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger before they landed mega deals and appear primed to do the same with Francisco Lindor. It is a long way away, but some executives are beginning to wonder: could Bieber be next?

Marcell Ozuna switching agents raises eyebrows

Marcell Ozuna did not hide his frustration last year after settling for a one-year, $18 million deal with the Atlanta Braves, telling Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “If I knew before it was going to happen like this, I would have taken (the $17.8 million qualifying offer).”

Ozuna remained with agent Melvin Roman during the season and into the first couple of weeks of the offseason. But he grew increasingly frustrated after his market was slow to develop for a second consecutive offseason, as Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported, and is now represented by Nez Balelo and Gio Rodriguez of CAA Baseball.

The switch three weeks into the offseason has led some around the game to believe that Ozuna will want to sign quickly, and CAA has a history of doing such deals. Will Smith signed a three-year, $39 million deal with the Atlanta Braves last November. Drew Pomeranz signed a four-year, $34 million deal with the Padres less than two weeks later. Before that, Ian Desmond inked a five-year, $70 million deal with the Colorado Rockies in 2016 after facing a similar situation to Ozuna.

The early indication, however, is that CAA will take it slow. But Ozuna, who is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to sign a four-year, $72 million deal, may have no other choice. The free-agent market has been slow to develop with teams finalizing their payrolls for next season and waiting for clarity on whether the designated hitter will remain in the National League.

Mets’ search for a GM leads to more questions than answers.

Steve Cohen and Sandy Alderson promised change and that they would find the “most accomplished baseball person we can find” to lead the New York Mets’ baseball operations department.

Two weeks later, Alderson told reporters that the Mets will not be hiring a president of baseball operations and instead focus on hiring a general manager.

The primary reason, simply, is that the Mets were not granted permission to interview other teams’ top executives. David Stearns, who grew up a Mets fan and interned with the organization, was denied by the Milwaukee Brewers. Cleveland Indians GM Mike Chernoff, widely considered a leading candidate for a prominent position with the Mets, did not interview. And there are believed to be others who were not allowed to interview.

So where do the Mets go from here? Cohen said in his introductory press conference that he is “not crazy about people learning on my dime,” which would seem to strengthen former Miami Marlins GM Michael Hill’s candidacy. But the list of reported candidates outside of Hill is small.

Among them is Tampa Bay Rays executive Bobby Heck. He came highly recommended to Cohen and received consideration for the job with the Mets prioritizing building their farm system. But Heck, who is responsible for scouting George Springer, Carlos Correa, Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers, among others, is no longer a candidate for the job, according to Andy Martino of SNY.

The Mets believed they would land a top name to head their baseball operations department and it is viewed by candidates as “far and away” the most attractive job. So far, the search has led to more questions than answers with no end in sight.

Around the Horn:

  • One National League official on pitcher Jeff Hoffman, who was acquired by the Cincinnati Reds in a four-player trade with the Colorado Rockies: “Love Hoffman. We’ve been trying to get him for 3 years.”
  • The Braves identified Charlie Morton as a primary target from the beginning of free agency. They believed Morton, who has a career 52.1 groundball percentage, would thrive behind a solid defensive infield. And on a one-year deal, he provides strong depth along with Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson and allows Atlanta to ease back Mike Soroka from an Achilles injury. “Great fit,” one Braves executive said. “Makeup is perfect for our clubhouse and brings a ton of playoff experience to help with the young pitchers.”

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