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November 22, 2010

Contractual Matters

NL East Arbitration Forecast

by Jeff Euston

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Major-league teams have a full week after Thanksgiving to offer 2011 contracts to unsigned players on their rosters. But with space at a premium at the November 19 deadline to set rosters before the Rule 5 draft, a number of arbitration-eligible players have been jettisoned early. With those “early non-tenders” hitting the free-agent market, let’s check out the 2011 arbitration cases for clubs in the National League East, the fifth in a six-part series evaluating each division.

Philadelphia Phillies

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. chose to release pinch-hitting specialist Greg Dobbs during the World Series rather than offer him a contract, leaving the Phillies with just two potential arbitration cases.

Fifth starter Kyle Kendrick qualifies for the first time this winter as a Super Two. The right-hander made $480,000 in 2010, giving Philadelphia 180 2/3 innings and 11 wins in his 31 starts. That, despite an underwhelming SIERA of 4.94, puts Kendrick in line for a nice raise. He probably won’t top the $2.4 million salary Super Two Ricky Nolasco earned in 2009, but a filing matching Brian Bannister’s 2009 request of $2.025 million would not be unreasonable. Bannister settled for $1,737,500 before his hearing.

Also due for a nice bump in pay is Ben Francisco, who made $470,000 as Philadelphia’s fourth outfielder while posting a nifty .284/.344/.557 slash line against left-handed pitching. Now that right fielder Jayson Werth apparently has left and gone away, Francisco could open 2011 as the right-handed portion of a right-field platoon with Domonic Brown. However, two years in a backup role with the Phillies have done little to help Francisco compile gaudy numbers to sell to an arbitration panel. He should top $1 million and can make a good case for matching Matt Diaz’s $1,237,500 salary for 2009.

Atlanta Braves

GM Frank Wren and the Braves were the winners in Florida’s Great Dan Uggla Auction of 2010, but their new prize comes with a chore the Marlins did not want. Atlanta now must hammer out a deal with the second baseman or take him to a high-stakes arbitration hearing. As a first-timer in 2009, Uggla beat the Marlins, winning a salary award of $5.35 million. Last year, Florida settled on a $7.8 million deal before the two sides exchanged figures. This time around, it’s the Braves on the other side of the table, and Uggla is coming off career highs in home runs (33), runs batted in (105), batting average (.287), on-base percentage (.369), and TAv (.307).

With Florida’s four-year, $48 million offer in his rear-view mirror, Uggla is a sure bet to submit an eight-figure salary request if the two sides let negotiations drag out until February. But judging from the positive comments coming from both sides during Uggla’s introductory press conference in Atlanta, a multi-year extension is a more likely outcome. Uggla’s agent reportedly countered Florida’s final offer with a proposal for a deal worth $71 million over five years (an average annual value of $14.2 million). Like the Marlins, the Braves might not be willing to offer a five-year deal extending through Uggla’s age-35 season. But a four-year guarantee of north of $52 million would make Uggla the game’s highest-paid second baseman by AAV and might be enough to get an agreement.

Uggla’s arrival in Atlanta displaces Martin Prado, who made his first All-Star team and scored 100 runs in 2010 while logging time at both second and third base. Though Prado now is tentatively set for duty in left field in 2011, he probably will approach the 2009 salary of $2.825 million for former Braves second baseman Kelly Johnson.

A hamstring problem limited Braves starter Jair Jurrjens to 20 starts and 116 1/3 innings in 2010, but as a first-time eligible, he’s in line for a substantial raise from his $480,000 salary. His performances in 2008 (2.8 WARP) and 2009 (6.5 WARP) should propel him into the range of Chad Billingsley’s $3.85 million salary for 2010.

Solid 2010 seasons should pay off in modest raises for relievers Peter Moylan ($1.15 million) and Eric O’Flaherty ($440,000). Atlanta’s acquisition of outfielder Joe Mather raises the possibility of a non-tender for Diaz, who is now relatively pricey at $2.55 million.

Florida Marlins

Marlins who are eligible for arbitration often quickly find that they are former Marlins. In the last year alone, Florida has cut ties with Uggla, Matt Lindstrom, Cody Ross, and Jeremy Hermida, all of whom were in line for arbitration. They join a catalog of Marlins to be traded or non-tendered before getting pay raises, a list that includes Miguel Cabrera, Miguel Olivo, Kevin Gregg, Josh Beckett, and Edgar Renteria, among others.

Despite the trade of Uggla, Florida must still decide whether to offer contracts to eight other arbitration-eligible players. Starter Ricky Nolasco heads the class after going 14-9 with a 3.33 SIERA for a 2010 price tag of $3.8 million. The right-hander is still two full seasons away from free agency, the same point in his career as Florida’s Josh Johnson last winter, when he signed a four-year, $39 million extension with the Marlins. Nolasco and Johnson share the same agent, Matt Sosnick. The Marlins began talks about a multi-year deal with Nolasco in September, though the two sides were reportedly as much as $10 million apart. Given Florida’s policy requiring any multi-year contract to buy out at least one season of free agency, a three-year deal would be a starting point. If the two sides prefer to continue going year-to-year, a likely comparable would be Edwin Jackson, who filed for $6.25 million for 2010 while Arizona offered $4.6 million.

The Marlins face a similar situation with another member of the starting rotation, right-hander Anibal Sanchez. Like Nolasco, he has two more seasons before free agency and is coming off a solid platform season which saw him win 13 games and make 32 starts with 4.1 WARP and a 4.08 SIERA. But after three consecutive seasons limited by injury, Sanchez earned just $1.25 million in 2010. He should double that figure in 2011.

Leo Nunez earned $2 million as a first-timer in 2010 but faltered as Florida’s closer in August, blowing three of six save opportunities. But with 56 saves in two seasons at the back of the Marlins’ pen, Nunez could approach Jonathan Broxton’s $4 million 2010 salary.

Relievers Burke Badenhop ($407,500), Clay Hensley ($425,000), Edward Mujica ($419,800), and Jose Veras ($550,000) all should remain affordable at $1 million or less. Florida’s signing of free agent John Buck probably does not bode well for incumbent Ronny Paulino, who made $1.1 million while posting a slash line of .259/.311/.359 before being suspended for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug..

New York Mets

Everything finally came together for R.A. Dickey in 2010. Selected by Texas in the first round of the 1996 draft, Dickey had his $810,000 signing bonus reduced to $75,000 when doctors discovered he was born without an ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow. Four organizations and 14 years later, Dickey established himself as a solid member of the Mets’ starting rotation last season after his promotion from Triple-A in mid-May.

The knuckleball specialist threw 174 innings in 26 starts, compiling a SIERA of 4.04. His 2.84 ERA led the Mets’ rotation and ranked eighth in baseball among pitchers with at least 170 innings. As the season wound to a close, the Mets signaled interest in signing a long-term deal with Dickey, who can become a free agent after the 2011 season. But that was before the club’s wholesale changes in the front office. At a minimum, Dickey should approach the salaries of two other starters in their final seasons before free agency: Kevin Correia ($3.6 million in 2010) and Todd Wellemeyer ($4.05 million in 2009).

John Maine is another starter with one season to go before hitting the open market. He earned $3.3 million in 2010, but shoulder surgery limited him to 39 2/3 innings. That puts him squarely on the non-tender bubble, along with reliever Sean Green, who made $975,000 and threw just 9 1/3 innings.

After averaging 32 starts and 196 innings over the last three seasons, right-hander Mike Pelfrey should see a nice jump from his 2010 salary of $500,000. A Scott Boras client, Pelfrey’s salary request is likely to top Scott Feldman’s $2.9 million filing for 2010, if not Wandy Rodriguez’s $3 million mark for 2009.

Outfielder Angel Pagan earned $1.45 million last season and flourished with a .286 TAv and 5.2 WARP mark in his first shot at regular playing time. He should land somewhere between the 2010 earnings of Melky Cabrera ($3.1 million) and Luke Scott ($4.05 million). If either side is inclined to pursue a multi-year extension, Seattle’s four-year, $20.1 million deal with center fielder Franklin Gutierrez provides a good starting point.

Washington Nationals

Left fielder Josh Willingham hits arbitration for the third time this winter after knee surgery ended his 2010 season prematurely. His .268/.389/.459 slash line—along with the pending departure of free agent Adam Dunn—gives Willingham leverage as he seeks a raise from his 2010 salary of $4.6 million. Few relevant comparables are available for corner outfielders in their final season before free agency, but he probably will approach the $6 million mark. Willingham has expressed an interest in a long-term deal with Washington, but Nationals GM Mike Rizzo preferred to keep his options open and go year-to-year. So a trade would not be a surprise if the right offer comes along for the Nats.

First-timer John Lannan earned $458,000 in 2010 while posting an 8-8 record and a 4.71 SIERA in 25 starts, second on the club to the ageless Livan Hernandez. Lannan might seek to match Rodriguez’ 2009 salary of $2.6 million, though Houston’s offer of $2.25 million might be more reasonable.

Six Nationals—outfielder Michael Morse; relievers Sean Burnett and Joel Peralta; catchers Wil Nieves and Jesus Flores; and utility man Alberto Gonzalez—should receive slight raises to $1 million or so apiece.

 One other pitcher, starter Chien-Ming Wang, reportedly hopes to return to Washington after spending 2010 recovering from shoulder surgery. Wang made $2 million last season, so the Nationals must offer him at least $1.6 million or persuade him to agree to a lesser salary before December 2. 

Jeff Euston is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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