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November 15, 2010

Contractual Matters

NL Central Arbitration Forecast

by Jeff Euston

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There is no shortage of intrigue in the potential arbitration cases for teams in the National League Central. From trade candidates and non-tender candidates to an MVP candidate, the division’s six general managers face several difficult decisions. So let’s check out the 2011 cases for the NL Central, the fourth in a six-part series analyzing each of the divisions in Major League Baseball.

Cincinnati Reds

This is the offseason it all pays off for Joey Votto. Now 27 years old, Votto has never pulled down a seven-figure check as a professional. A second-round draft pick, he signed for $600,000, and his annual salaries topped out at $550,000 in 2010. But after a breakout season with 37 home runs and a slash line of .324/.424/.600, the odds-on favorite to win the NL MVP is poised to land a salary that could push eight figures. In three full seasons, Votto has 90 home runs and a career WARP mark of 16.4. So what comparable players are available for Votto’s agent, Dan Lozano?

  • The 2006 American League MVP Justin Morneau (9.5 career WARP) signed a six-year, $80 million contract with Minnesota in his second run at arbitration after the 2007 season (Morneau had qualified as a Super Two the previous year).
  • Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder (9.8 career WARP) filed for $8 million for 2009, before settling on a two-year deal worth $18 million, a contract ranking fourth all-time among first basemen with three years of experience.
  • As a Super Two with an MVP award and 14.5 career WARP in 2008, Ryan Howard’s $10 million request won the day with the panel hearing his case. Philadelphia had offered $7 million.
  • After compiling a remarkable 23.2 career WARP in his first three big-league seasons, Albert Pujols—another Lozano client—signed a seven-year deal worth $100 million, though the present value of the deal was discounted for substantial deferrals. Pujols had filed for $10.5 million, with St. Louis offering $7 million.

If Votto wants to push the salary envelope, he’d have an argument for a $10 million request. A Reds offer in the $7.5 million-$8 million range would not be unreasonable.

Right fielder Jay Bruce qualifies as a Super Two, a case that will be slightly less difficult for Cincinnati GM Walt Jocketty. Bruce hit 25 home runs and posted a .297 TAv, which should move him from $440,000 to the $3 million range. On the high end of players comparable to Bruce is Houston’s Hunter Pence (11.6 career WARP), who filed for $4.1 million as a Super Two last offseason. The Astros offered $3.1 million, and Pence signed slightly below the mid-point at $3.5 million. A better comp might have come a year earlier, when Super Two Andre Ethier (9.1 career WARP) sought $3.75 million, compared to the Dodgers’ offer of $2.65 million. He signed for $3.1 million.

Two key members of the Cincinnati starting rotation—Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez—reach arbitration for the first time. They should top the $2 million mark, matching deals for Edwin Jackson and Zach Duke ($2.2 million each in 2009) or John Maine and Wandy Rodriguez ($2.6 million each in 2009).

Relievers Bill Bray and Jared Burton should be in line for modest raises as first-timers.

St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis GM John Mozeliak avoided one of his pending arbitration cases at the trade deadline in July, when he traded outfielder Ryan Ludwick to the Padres in the Jake Westbrook deal.

That leaves the Cardinals with just two remaining cases this winter, as the organization goes about the minor detail of re-upping Pujols.

After a strong 2009, shortstop Brendan Ryan slumped with the bat in 2010, hitting .223/.297/.294. However, his impressive work with the glove continued, putting Ryan in line for something between the 2010 salaries of Erick Aybar ($2.05 million) and Stephen Drew ($3.4 million).

St. Louis reliever Kyle McClellan will be rewarded with a slight raise for his effective 2010 campaign.

Milwaukee Brewers

Fielder hits arbitration for the final time this winter after earning $10.5 million in 2010. The big first baseman had his contract renewed at the Brewers’ price in both 2007 and 2008 before agreeing to a two-year, $18 million deal in the winter of 2009. Like CC Sabathia before him, Fielder might well have priced himself out of Milwaukee, particularly given April reports which put his asking price for an extension in the lofty $180 million territory reserved for Mark Teixeira and Joe Mauer.

Fielder, who turns just 27 in May, is represented by Scott Boras, which only reduces the likelihood that the Brewers could sign him to a below-market deal.

If the now-tabled talks of a long-term extension never regain momentum, the Brewers will resort to pursuing a one-year deal, while monitoring the trade market in July, if not sooner. In that scenario, Milwaukee runs the risk of going to a hearing with an enormous spread between the club’s offer and the player’s request, a prospect that could wreak havoc with the Brewers’ 2011 payroll and GM Doug Melvin’s off-season plans.

At the high end of the spectrum is something between Howard’s salaries of $15 million and $19 million for 2009 and 2010, his fourth and fifth full seasons, respectively (Howard had qualified as a Super Two earlier in his career, but Fielder’s annual TAv marks have been superior to Howard’s in each of the last four seasons). At the low end is probably an increase in line with the 38-percent raise Teixeira received from Atlanta in 2008, his final season before free agency. A similar jump for Fielder would bring him to about $14.6 million.

The Brewers face another challenging case with another core player, Rickie Weeks, who is entering his final season of arbitration. Weeks and the Brewers settled before a hearing in each of the last two years, though the second baseman has more leverage this winter after hitting 29 home runs with a career-high .320 TAv in 2010. Though he might like to match Chone Figgins’ $5.775 million 2009 salary, that would represent a raise of 110 percent for Weeks. Milwaukee’s counter might be more in line with the fifth-year salaries of Brandon Phillips ($4.75 million) or Mark Ellis ($3.5 million).

Milwaukee also faces lower-stakes hearings with right-handed relievers Todd Coffey and Carlos Villanueva, outfielder Carlos Gomez, and first-timers Joe Inglett, Kameron Loe, and Manny Parra.

Houston Astros

GM Ed Wade has three core players headed to arbitration this winter: center fielder Michael Bourn, Pence, and lefty starter Rodriguez.

The Astros defeated Rodriguez in arbitration last winter, with the panel choosing the club’s $5 million offer over the pitcher’s request of $7 million. Though his 2010 season was not quite as strong as his 5.3-WARP 2009 campaign, Rodriguez was solid, throwing 195 innings in 32 starts for a WARP of 3.4. Entering his final season before free agency, he’s a good bet to submit a salary request approaching Joe Blanton’s $10.25 million filing for 2010. The Phillies offered the right-hander $7.5 million before working out a three-year deal worth $24 million.

Pence, 27, posted a WARP of 2.4 in 2010 while earning $3.5 million as a Super Two. This time around, he’ll likely seek to match Ethier’s $5.5 million salary for 2010, which was part of his two-year, $15.25 million deal with the Dodgers last winter.

Bourn dropped off slightly at the plate in 2010, posting a .265/.341/.346 slash line while earning $2.4 million. Though recent comparables in Bourn’s service-time class are lacking, he should reach the $4 million range in his second trip to arbitration.

Another second-timer is reliever Matt Lindstrom, who began the year as Houston’s closer before experiencing back problems and losing save opportunities to Brandon Lyon. However, his 23 saves should be enough to boost his salary into the $2.5 million range received by Kevin Gregg in 2008.

Also eligible to file are second baseman Jeff Keppinger, catcher Humberto Quintero, and pitchers Tim Byrdak, Gustavo Chacin, Nelson Figueroa, and Felipe Paulino.

Chicago Cubs

Carlos Marmol heads a class of seven Cubs eligible to file this winter. In his first season as Chicago’s full-time closer, the right-hander notched 38 saves and struck out 138 hitters in just 77 2/3 innings, good for a stunning mark of 16 strikeouts per nine inning. Marmol filed for $2.5 million last winter before settling for $2.125 million. He should approach Jose Valverde’s $4.7 million salary for 2008.

Catcher Geovany Soto is in line for a raise from his 2010 salary of $575,000. Soto’s 2010 numbers (17 home runs and a 3.4 WARP) represented a nice comeback from a disappointing 2009. He should land a salary between Dioner Navarro’s $2.1 million in 2010 and Russell Martin’s $3.9 million in 2009.

Lefty Sean Marshall made 80 appearances out of the bullpen in 2010, striking out 90 in 74 2/3 innings. His $950,000 salary should jump to the $2 million range. In line for modest raises, if they return, are catcher Koyie Hill, infielder Jeff Baker, right-hander Angel Guzman, and lefty Tom Gorzelanny.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates already have addressed the contract status of one of their nine players closing in on arbitration, re-signing lefty reliever Wil Ledezma to a one-year deal worth $700,000.

Shortstop Ronny Cedeno made $1.125 million in 2010 while earning regular playing time and compiling a 1.8 WARP. Though his salary is likely to jump to the $2 million mark, his offensive numbers (.256/.293/.382 and a .250 TAv) will limit his leverage.

First-time eligibles Ross Ohlendorf ($453,000 in 2010) and Joel Hanrahan ($439,000) should receive contract offers with modest raises pushing the $1 million mark.

 Duke ($4.3 million in 2010), Jeff Karstens (about $400,000), Andy LaRoche ($451,000), Lastings Milledge ($452,000), and Delwyn Young ($444,500) all are candidates to be non-tendered. 

Jeff Euston is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jeff's other articles. You can contact Jeff by clicking here

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