The two sides were not able to agree on a long-term deal, but the Indians were nonetheless able to settle its lone remaining arbitration case before heading to a hearing. On Friday, the Tribe inked Cabrera to a one-year pact worth $4.55 million for the upcoming season.
"We're appreciative of Asdrubal's contributions," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "We certainly value him as a member of the organization and a member of our team. He was a key part of our team over the last few seasons, and we're looking forward to him contributing in the time that he's with us.
"How long that extends, it's going to be at least two years, and it certainly could extend beyond that."
By signing Cabrera, the Indians kept their long run of avoiding arbitration intact. Cleveland has not gone to an arbitration hearing with a player since 1991, when the club had a panel decide the salaries for Greg Swindell and Jerry Browne.
The Indians were reportedly in talks with Cabrera about a multi-year contract, but that process will be put on hold for the time being. It is possible that Cleveland will continue to explore such a deal during Spring Training.
When asked about that possibility, Antonetti did not discuss Cabrera specifically.
"Generally," Antonetti said, "we're always open-minded on alternate contract structures with a variety of players. If there's something that makes sense, and there's a value and term that makes sense for both parties, we'll certainly explore it."
Cabrera's case was unique in the sense that his 2011 performance in terms of run production was a drastic improvement over earlier seasons in his career.
The 26-year-old Cabrera, who started at short for the American League in the All-Star Game in July, hit .273 with 25 home runs and 92 RBIs in 151 games for the Tribe last season. He set a franchise record for homers by a shortstop and was awarded an AL Silver Slugger Award for his impressive effort.
Heading into last season, Cabrera had averaged only four homers and 42 RBIs from 2007-2010. Six home runs (2008 and 2009) and 68 RBIs ('09) represented his previous single-season career highs. The shortstop posted a .460 slugging percentage last year after having a .394 mark in the previous four years.
The contrast in production between 2011 and the rest of his career added a wrinkle to the negotiation process. Cabrera, who earned $2.025 million in 2011, initially sought a salary of $5.2 million for this season. Cleveland's original counter offer was $3.75 million.
His arbitration hearing was scheduled for next week.
"He was a unique case," Antonetti said. "Asdrubal may not have had some of the consistency that his peers may have, but his platform year was certainly a very productive platform season. How you weigh the platform season versus the career is certainly part of the negotiation in trying to arrive at the right value.
"Each case is always a little bit unique in its respects, and that was certainly the case with Asdrubal."
The midpoint of Cabrera's initial salary figures for 2012 was $4.475 million, so his new deal leans slightly in his favor in that regard.
Prior to finalizing the deal with Cabrera, the Indians also avoided arbitration this winter with Justin Masterson, Shin-Soo Choo, Jack Hannahan, Chris Perez, Joe Smith and Rafael Perez. Last season, those seven players combined to earn roughly $11.4 million. Their combined salaries will be around $22.7 million this season.
"It didn't really deviate from what we expected in total," Antonetti said of the payroll needed to cover this winter's arbitration class. "It was certainly within the range we expected."
One issue that the Cabrera signing did not resolve was the fact that Cleveland has no guaranteed contracts in the fold after 2012. The Indians have a wealth of young players under contractual control after the coming season and three club options for 2013 (Travis Hafner, Ubaldo Jimenez and Fausto Carmona), but no guaranteed deals.
That has led to unsubstantiated rumors that the team might be in the process of being put up for sale.
Antonetti addressed the issue when discussing Cabrera's signing.
"I don't want to make too much out of that," Antonetti said. "That's just where we are right now and just circumstances that led us to this point. There's no hidden or ulterior motive behind that. I would expect at some point we will have commitments that extend past 2012. Whether that happens at some point this offseason, or at some point this spring, or next offseason, we'll see.
"But it's not necessarily a calculated strategy. We as an organization, and our ownership, have demonstrated that when multi-year commitments make sense, we're certainly prepared to make them. We'll continue to evaluate those opportunities along the way."
Antonetti noted that the Indians have discussed multi-year contracts both with free agents and with internal players.
"There needs to be an alignment in both value and term from both the player and the team," Antonetti said. "To date, we have not been able to align on those values."
As for Cabrera, the Indians have not necessarily ruled out continuing to explore a long-term contract. In the meantime, the Tribe is hoping for another strong season from its shortstop.
"We're hopeful that he'll continue to build on last year," Antonetti said, "and the progress he made as a player. Now, I'm not saying we necessarily expect the same results in home runs or RBIs or some of the power numbers. Where that ends up at the end of the year, we'll see.
"What we're counting on is that, as a player, Asdrubal will continue to mature and continue to develop and continue to become more consistent. If he does that, I think we'll look up at the end of the year and the production will be in line with what we all would expect."