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January 26, 2004
Bustin' Out the Cripple Stick
I'm going to pull some of the good stuff from my Inbox for today's column. Before I get into it, though, I want to thank all the people who wrote in with feedback on the Pete Rose piece. I meandered into that minefield with some trepidation, but the response from the readership was tremendous.
I can only hope that Bud Selig is hearing the same kind of groundswell against reinstating Rose that I am.
On to the more interesting stuff.
Thanks, M.S. You've pointed out an excellent example of how arbitration is a less-costly system for management than the free market is. Let's say that Santana wins his case and makes $2.5 million for 2004. It seems like a lot of money, and it will be a huge raise over the $335,000 he made in 2003, but does it approach his market value?
Over the last two seasons, Santana has an ERA of 3.04 in 266 2/3 innings. He would have pitched more, but the Twins' have been quite stubborn about letting other people fail before turning to Santana. He has 306 strikeouts and 96 walks in those two seasons, during which time he's been the Twins' best pitcher.
The following pitchers, all of whom were available on the free-agent market this winter, will make more than Santana does this year or just slightly less:
2002-03 stats IP ERA WARP Age '04 salary ------------------------------------------------------------- Johan Santana 266.6 3.04 10.6 25 <=$2.50MM Kelvim Escobar 258.1 4.29 9.8 28 $5.75MM John Thomson 271.3 4.74 5.9 30 $2.25MM Jeff Suppan 412.0 4.76 10.3 29 $3.00MM Cory Lidle 384.2 4.82 8.0 32 $2.75MM Jason Johnson 321.0 4.35 7.2 30 $3.00MM Kenny Rogers 405.2 4.19 11.2 39 $2.50MM Brian Anderson 353.7 4.22 7.6 32 $3.25MM '04 salary includes pro-rated signing bonus, as applicable. Suppan and Anderson's salaries reflect average annual value of two-year deals.
Santana has been by far the best pitcher of this bunch--Rogers' slim WARP edge over him is entirely due to the whims of Terry Ryan and Ron Gardenhire--and will be no better than the sixth-best paid of the group. It's fair to say that he would get considerably more than a one-year, $2.5-million deal on the open market, which is why the Twins never once considered non-tendering him.
I don't mean to give the impression that I think arbitration is some kind of bad system for the players. Because of their significant investments in talent development, teams should retain exclusive negotiating rights to players for a period of time. The current six-year window is a good one. Rather than demonize the arbitration process, however, people should see it for what it is: a middle ground that has significantly more positives than negatives.
Given the choice between arbitration and a lower threshold for full-fledged free agency, management always chooses arbitration. Johan Santana is just one more reason why.
Well, as you can see from the charts above, the ability to negotiate on the open market can get you a lot more money and years than you would think. It was pretty lousy market for third basemen, and a 26-year-old Beltre would have looked like a pretty good option for any number of teams.
Here are this winter's FA third basemen, and their 2003 stats:
AB AVG OBP SLG WARP Age '04 salary ---------------------------------------------------------------- Adrian Beltre 559 .240 .290 .424 3.5 26 $5.00MM Vinny Castilla 542 .277 .310 .461 3.1 36 $2.10MM Scott Spiezio 521 .265 .326 .451 3.7 31 $3.05MM Chris Stynes 443 .255 .335 .413 1.8 31 $975,000 Tony Batista 631 .235 .270 .393 2.6 30 $1.50MM Joe Randa 502 .291 .348 .452 3.5 34 $3.75MM Robin Ventura 392 .242 .340 .401 2.4 36 $1.20MM Spiezio's salary is average annual value of a three-year deal.I think keeping Beltre is a good gamble for the Dodgers. They otherwise would have been left with Robin Ventura at third base, and he started to look very, very slow last year. Beltre's performance was right in line with the top of this group, and he is the only one of the bunch with much chance to improve to the five- or six-win level. Based on that, I think Beltre would almost certainly have received a multi-year contract for at least $4 million a year had he been on the market, making his one-year, $5-million contract an acceptable risk.
Five reasons why I don't think the Keith Foulke signing was anything special: