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November 1, 2010

Contractual Matters

NL West Arbitration Forecast

by Jeff Euston

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Let’s examine at the arbitration outlook for 2011 for the teams in the National League West, the second in a six-part series spotlighting each division.

San Francisco Giants

After signing ace Tim Lincecum to a two-year extension in February, the National League champs don’t have to worry about a high-stakes arbitration battle with their two-time Cy Young award winner this offseason. But eight Giants are eligible, including starter Jonathan Sanchez, outfielders Cody Ross and Andres Torres, and several key relievers. The number of cases alone could be enough to produce a financial squeeze for general manager Brian Sabean, whose 2011 budget will increase slightly from $96 million this season.

Sanchez made $2.1 million as a first-time arbitration-eligible in 2010. After making 33 starts and striking out 9.54 batters per nine in 193 1/3 innings this season, he is likely to seek a salary in the $6-7 million range for 2011. Houston lefty Wandy Rodriguez filed for $7 million in February but lost his case and settled for $5 million. Arizona offered second-timer Edwin Jackson $4.6 million last offseason, with the right-hander filing a $6.25 million request. He ultimately agreed to a two-year, $13.35 million contract before being dealt to the White Sox in July.

Ross, then with the Marlins, was one of just three players who took his arbitration case to a hearing last year and won. (Players won three hearings and lost five.) Now that Ross has achieved cult-hero status in San Francisco with his strong post-season performance, the Giants probably will be inclined to make him an offer. But despite a memorable October, Ross is not necessarily dealing from a position of strength. His homer total fell from 24 in 2009 to 14 in 2010, and his slugging percentage dropped by 56 points. Ross’ weak platform season gives the Giants the negotiating hammer, and he’ll do well to receive a modest raise.

Torres, a first-timer, should land a deal in the $2-3 million range. Houston’s Michael Bourn signed for $2.4 million for 2010, the first season he was eligible for arbitration.

Sabean faces a challenge in the bullpen, with left-hander Javier Lopez and right-handers Santiago Casilla, Ramon Ramirez, and Chris Ray all eligible to file. Ramirez led the group with a 2010 salary of $1.155 million, so these cases should not bust the Giants’ budget. Infielder Mike Fontenot earned $1 million this season and could return on a similar deal as a hedge against Juan Uribe leaving as a free agent and Mark DeRosa’s return from injury.

San Diego Padres

Jed Hoyer settled four arbitration cases before hearings last year, his first as San Diego’s GM. This year, eight Padres will be eligible, including July acquisition Ryan Ludwick and holdovers Heath Bell, Mike Adams, and Scott Hairston.

Bell earned $4 million in 2010, allowing just one home run in 70 innings while striking out 86. He’s also likely to catch an arbitration panel’s attention with his gaudy mark of 47 saves, giving him a major league-best two-year total of 89. Those numbers should put Bell in position to trump Jonathan Broxton’s 2011 salary of $7 million, if not Jose Valverde’s $8 million figure for 2009. Bell already has publicly lobbied for a new three-year deal, so an extension might be in the works.

Like Bell, Ludwick is eligible for the third and final time this winter, but the similarities end there. The outfielder earned $5.45 million in 2010 while posting a .251/.325/.418 slash line, a decline in production for a second consecutive season. Hoyer has suggested Ludwick will return and move from right field to left. However, he’ll turn 33 in July, and even a slight raise could be a gamble.

Along with Luke Gregerson, Adams was one of two Padres’ relievers to break the major-league single-season record for holds—another statistic, like victories, relevant in arbitration cases but flawed as a measure of a pitcher’s value. (For what it’s worth, Gregerson wound up with 40 holds, while Adams finished with 38.) A comparable from last winter’s arbitration class might be Milwaukee’s Todd Coffey, who filed for $2.45 million, received an offer of $1.7 million, and settled just below the midpoint at $2.025 million.

First-timers Tim Stauffer, Edward Mujica, and Chris Denorfia should be in line for modest raises, while outfielders Scott Hairston and Tony Gwynn Jr. could be non-tender candidates.

Colorado Rockies

Five Rockies will be eligible for arbitration, including second baseman Clint Barmes, third baseman Ian Stewart, starter Jason Hammel, and relievers Matt Belisle and Manny Delcarmen.

Barmes is one season away from free agency, but he could find himself on the market a year early. He earned $3.325 million in 2010 but posted an unsightly .232 TAv and lost his second-base spot to Eric Young in August. At 32, Barmes is a good bet to show up on the non-tender list on December 2.

Another non-tender possibility is Delcarmen, who struggled in nine September appearances with Colorado. The right-hander made $905,000 in 2010 and his walks were up (5.5 per nine) while his strikeouts were down (6.5 per nine).

Stewart is just 18 days short of three full years of major-league service, qualifying him for arbitration as a Super Two this offseason. Though his home run total fell from 25 in 2009 to 17 in 2010, Stewart got on base at a better rate (from .322 to .338) and posted a TAv of .270. He should be in line to easily top Alex Gordon’s 2010 salary of $1.15 million and approach Jose Bautista’s 2008 mark of $1.8 million.

Hammel, a Super Two last winter, stands to receive a raise from his 2010 salary of $1.9 million. The right-hander is likely to seek more than the $2.3 million Kansas City paid to Brian Bannister as a former Super Two hitting arbitration for the second time in 2010.

Belisle ($850,000 in 2010) should reach the low seven figures in 2011, his final season before hitting the free-agent market.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Lefty reliever Hong-Chih Kuo hits arbitration for the second time this winter. He was a bargain at $950,000 in 2010, assuming the closer role and striking out 73 in 60 innings. He likely will land somewhere between Kevin Gregg’s $2.5 million deal for 2008 and the $1.615 million deal received by Texas reliever Frank Francisco in 2009.

Starter Chad Billingsley is due for a raise from $3.85 million after winning 12 games in 31 starts. He’s a good bet to improve on the deals paying $5 million each to second-timers Jackson and Rodriguez in 2010.

GM Ned Colletti faces more difficult choices with two other second-timers, catcher Russell Martin ($5.05 million in 2010) and James Loney ($3.1 million). Martin, who turns 28 in February, will attempt to come back from disappointing year at the plate (.248/.347/.332) and a hip fracture that did not require surgery. Meanwhile, Loney’s production fell to a career-low TAv of .269 when he should have been hitting his prime at age 26. Neither player holds much leverage for a hearing, so Colletti probably can afford a hard-line approach with November offers near their 2010 salaries, with the looming threat of a December 2 non-tender if Martin and Loney have not agreed to terms by then.

Infielder Ryan Theriot and lefty reliever George Sherrill are likely to be non-tendered.

Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks could face hearings with as many as eight players, with middle infielders Kelly Johnson and Stephen Drew leading the group.

Johnson, non-tendered by Atlanta after a sub-par 2009 season, rebounded in 2010. The second baseman posted a .301 TAv with 26 home runs, making the one-year, $2.35 million contract a steal for the Diamondbacks. Johnson, now just one season away from hitting the open market again, won’t come as cheaply this year. He could seek to match the $5.775 million 2009 contract signed by Chone Figgins in his final season with the Angels before becoming a free agent.

Another bargain for Arizona in 2010 was Drew, who earned $3.4 million while putting together a .278/.352/.458 slash line. He should surpass two other recent four-year shortstops, J.J. Hardy ($4.65 million in 2009) and Khalil Greene, who filed for $4.9 million before signing an extension in 2008.

As a second-time eligible, left-hander Joe Saunders will see a raise from his $3.7 million salary, despite losing 17 games in 2010. However, he’s unlikely to match the 2010 offers made to Jackson ($4.6 million) or Rodriguez ($5 million).

 Catcher Miguel Montero should receive a slight bump after earning $2 million in an injury-marred 2010 season. Infielder Augie Ojeda, outfielder Ryan Church, and relievers Blaine Boyer and D.J. Carrasco could find themselves looking at modest offers or face being non-tendered.  

Jeff Euston is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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