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November 8, 2010

Contractual Matters

AL Central Arbitration Forecast

by Jeff Euston

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The road to an arbitration hearing begins as a negotiation, becomes something resembling a high-stakes poker game then finally morphs into full-scale litigation. The process began in earnest last week as the Commissioner’s Office and Major League Baseball Players Association announced that 20 players will qualify as Super Twos, those players with less than three years of big-league service who are eligible to file for arbitration. So let’s break down the 2011 arbitration cases—including five Super Twos—for clubs in the American League Central, the third in a six-part series evaluating each of the divisions in the majors.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins opened Target Field to rave reviews in 2010, with an accompanying payroll leap into the $100 million range. Now, with Joe Mauer’s salary doubling and as many as 10 potential arbitration cases, the financial crunch begins for general manager Bill Smith.

At the head of Minnesota’s arbitration class is lefty ace Francisco Liriano, who rebounded from elbow surgery to make 31 starts, striking out 201 in 191 2/3 innings. Liriano’s 2010 performance was good for a 4.5 WARP, tied with Carl Pavano for the club’s third-best mark behind Mauer and Justin Morneau. But his injury-marred 2007-09 numbers do not support a figure in line with Justin Verlander’s $9.5 million request as a second-time eligible player last winter. A more realistic comparable might be Houston’s Wandy Rodriguez, who asked for $7 million last offseason but lost his case and was paid $5 million. Templates for a multi-year deal might be the four-year, $38 million contracts signed by Zack Greinke and Jeremy Bonderman two years before they reached free agency.

Mid-season acquisition Matt Capps earned $3.5 million while combining with Jon Rauch and Brian Fuentes to fill in for closer Joe Nathan. Capps will likely seek to match Fuentes’ $5.05 million deal with Colorado for 2008, his last season before hitting the free-agent market.

After settling his case as a first-time arbitration-eligible last winter, left fielder Delmon Young provided the Twins with a 2010 WARP of 2.5 at a cost of just $2.6 million. That gives him some leverage as he and the Twins begin discussing a deal for 2011. He should fall in the range between the 2010 deal for Jeff Francoeur ($5 million) and the $3.85 million request by Jeremy Hermida.

Shortstop J.J. Hardy has seen his production decline in recent years, and at a price of $5.1 million, he’s no longer cost-effective. At a salary of less than $1 million, Alexi Casilla should provide the Twins with affordable infield insurance in the event Hardy does not return or second baseman Orlando Hudson moves elsewhere as a free agent. Starter Kevin Slowey and reliever Clay Condrey warrant offers, though probably nothing much beyond the $1 million mark. First-timers Pat Neshek, Glen Perkins and Jason Repko should receive only slight raises if they’re offered contracts.

Chicago White Sox

Lefty John Danks has given the White Sox 608 1/3 innings in 97 starts over the last three seasons. His career WARP of 18.7 tops the career total for Verlander (17.9) through the 2009 season, just before Detroit signed him to a five-year extension worth $80 million. Danks settled for $3.45 million in 2010, just $225,000 less than Verlander’s platform season of 2009. Verlander’s 2010 request ($9.5 million) and Detroit’s offer ($6.9 million) will likely serve as parameters for Danks’ case for 2011.

Bobby Jenks teetered on the brink of being non-tendered last winter before reaching an agreement for $7.5 million just before the deadline for exchanging salary figures. He’s likely to be non-tendered this time around, given his high salary, continued physical issues and the emergence of Matt Thornton at the back of the Chicago bullpen.

Injuries likewise have slowed outfielder/DH Carlos Quentin, who hit .243/.342/.479 with 26 home runs while earning $3.2 million in 2010. But he could approach the $4.45 million figure won by Cody Ross at a hearing last February.

Reliever Tony Pena should receive a modest raise from his 2010 salary of $1.2 million.

Detroit Tigers

Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski faces four potential arbitration cases this off-season. But because of injury, only two Tigers have realistic chances to go to a hearing with any hope of success.

Armando Galarraga qualifies as a Super Two after making 24 starts, striking out just 74 hitters in 144 1/3 innings and nearly throwing a perfect game. Several factors are working against Galarraga, from a declining strikeout rate, a low 2010 victory total (four) and a two-week demotion in July. However, he can expect to land a deal north of $1 million, with the 2009 deals for Brian Bannister ($1.7375 million) and Colorado’s Taylor Buchholz ($1.055 million) serving as possible comparables.

First-timer Ryan Raburn should be in line for a nice raise from his salary of $438,000. After putting together a 2010 slash line of .280/.340/.474, the outfielder likely will land a deal near Gabe Gross’ 2009 contract for $1.255 million or Angel Pagan’s 2010 salary of $1.45 million.

Relievers Zach Miner ($950,000) and Joel Zumaya ($915,000) will do well to receive offers near their 2010 salaries after they had elbow surgery in May and July, respectively.

Cleveland Indians

The division’s most interesting case might be that of Cleveland right fielder Shin-Soo Choo, a first-time eligible who switched to agent Scott Boras in February.

Choo’s 2008-10 WARP of 14.4 is superior to those of James Loney (who settled for $3.1 million after compiling a three-year WARP of 5.9) and Josh Hamilton ($3.25 million after a 2007-09 WARP of 9.5).

A more likely comp for Choo and Boras is Matt Kemp, who parlayed a 2007-09 WARP of 13.7 into a two-year, $10.95 million deal before exchanging salary figures with the Dodgers in January. Kemp’s deal included a first-year salary of $4 million, which figures to be a baseline for Choo’s request this offseason.

A multi-year deal for Choo—unlikely as that prospect might be—probably would have to approach Baltimore’s six-year, $66.1 million deal with Nick Markakis, who signed in January of 2009 after compiling a 15.0 WARP from 2006-08.

Asdrubal Cabrera reaches arbitration for the first time after a painful season, which included a fractured left forearm. Despite a disappointing platform season, Cabrera should approach the $2.05 million deal signed by Erick Aybar of the Angels in February.

Chris Perez took over Kerry Wood’s role as the Indians closer just in time to qualify for arbitration as a Super Two. A high-end comp for him might be San Francisco’s Brian Wilson, who requested $4.875 million as a Super Two last winter. The Giants offered their closer $4 million before the two sides settled at the mid-point, $4.4375 million.

Reliever Jensen Lewis also qualifies as a Super Two despite bouncing up and down between Cleveland and Triple-A Columbus in 2010. He should be in line for a salary in the $700,000 range. Lefty Rafael Perez rebounded nicely in 2010 after a disastrous 2009 season, and he should move past the $1 million mark. Infielder Andy Marte and pitchers Anthony Reyes were dropped off the 40-man roster and reliever Joe Smith is a candidate to be non-tendered.

Kansas City Royals

As many as 10 Royals could be headed for arbitration hearings in February, providing GM Dayton Moore with plenty of options as he waits for his highly touted collection of minor-league talent to reach Kansas City.

Moore’s most expensive case will be first baseman Billy Butler, hitting arbitration for the first time after a 4.6-WARP season in 2010. Butler will be watching the Angels’ negotiations with Kendry Morales, another first-timer. The Dodgers’ $3.1 million deal with Loney is a likely minimum for both first basemen.

After disappointing 2010 campaigns, Bannister ($2.3 million) and fellow starter Kyle Davies ($1.8 million) are arguably not worth even the minimum offers it would take to bring them back ($1.84 million and $1.44 million, respectively). But with many of the Royals’ best arms still toiling in the minors, it would not be a surprise to find either—or both—in the Kansas City rotation in April.

Super Two starting pitcher Luke Hochevar presents something of a problem as a player whose first pro contract was a major-league deal. As a result, Hochevar’s compensation has outpaced his production to this point in his career. Though his $1.76 million salary for 2010 was not a budget buster, Hochevar made just 17 starts before being shut down in June with a sprained right elbow. Though he returned in September, he enters 2011 with a career WARP of just 2.0 in 65 starts. Because a club may not cut a player’s salary by more than 20 percent, Kansas City must offer Hochevar at least $1.408 million for 2011. The former first overall pick lacks the leverage to hold out for much more.

Another Super Two, Josh Fields, figures to serve as a placeholder at third base until top prospect Mike Moustakas reaches Kansas City. After missing most of the season recovering from hip surgery, Fields should get only a modest raise from his 2010 salary of $422,000. Alex Gordon—once thought to be the Royals’ long-term answer at third base—shifted to left field last season. Like Fields, Gordon also missed much of the season with a hip injury. After earning $1.15 million in 2010, Gordon cannot expect much of a raise.

Infielder Wilson Betemit and reliever Robinson Tejeda should be in line for raises into the $1.5 million-$2 million range, while backup catcher Brayan Pena should reach the $650,000-$750,000 territory.

Finally, there is the curious case of Brian Anderson, the center fielder-turned-relief pitcher who earned $700,000 in 2010 while occupying a spot on the 40-man roster trying his hand in the bullpen in the minor leagues. He will have to impress to keep a roster spot.

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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