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November 29, 2010

Contractual Matters

AL East Arbitration Forecast

by Jeff Euston

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The flurry of activity that is the Winter Meetings won’t begin for another week, but this week has a noteworthy event as well. Thursday is the deadline for clubs to offer 2011 contracts to unsigned players on their rosters. Last offseason, nearly 40 players joined the free-agent market at the non-tender deadline, and a few proved to be cost-effective contributors in 2010. Among those non-tenders who rebounded with solid performances were John Buck, Jack Cust, Matt Capps, and Kelly Johnson. So let’s check the arbitration outlook for 2011 for clubs in the American League East, the final installment in a six-part series spotlighting each of the divisions in the major leagues.

Tampa Bay Rays

The Tampa Bay front office has its work cut out for the winter. The Rays face significant losses to free agency with left fielder Carl Crawford, first baseman Carlos Pena, and closer Rafael Soriano all hitting the open market. But nine other Rays are eligible to file for arbitration, including starters at shortstop and in center field, as well as a key member of the starting rotation.

The Rays took center fielder B.J. Upton to an arbitration hearing last winter despite a difference of just $300,000 between his salary request and the club’s offer. The Rays won the case—giving the team a 5-0 record in cases that have gone to a hearing—and paid Upton $3 million in 2010 as he put together a 5.3-WARP season. In 2009, the Rays unilaterally renewed his contract at the club’s chosen salary of $435,000, so the two sides have not exactly taken a holistic approach to contract negotiations in the past. With Upton’s attitude still in question—he was criticized for a lack of hustle and involved in a dugout altercation with teammate Evan Longoria in late June—his name has become grist for the rumor mill this winter. But the Rays have the luxury of going down the arbitration road again this winter while waiting for a trade offer to their liking. Upton is likely to submit a 2011 salary request topping Shane Victorino’s $5.8 million filing last winter. Philadelphia offered its center fielder $4.75 million before signing him to a three-year deal worth $22 million in January.

Right-handed starter Matt Garza is another second-time eligible, though he was a Super Two last winter and cannot become a free agent until after the 2013 season. Garza started 32 games in 2010, his third consecutive season of 30 or more. Although he won 15 games, he posted a 4.29 SIERA, and his strikeouts per nine innings fell from 8.4 in 2009 to 6.6. Garza should land a salary somewhere between Chien-Ming Wang’s $5 million for 2009 and Dontrelle Willis’ $6.45 million for 2007.

Hitting arbitration for the third and final time this winter is shortstop Jason Bartlett, who made $4 million in 2010. Despite a drop in TAv from .307 in 2009 to .257, Bartlett’s role as an everyday middle infielder should put him in line for at least $6 million. With the less expensive Reid Brignac poised to compete for the shortstop job, Bartlett could generate trade interest.

The Rays also face arbitration decisions at first base and designated hitter, where switch-hitter Willy Aybar and left-handed-hitting Dan Johnson logged part-time duty in 2010. Tampa Bay declined a $2.2 million option on Aybar in early November, and now they must decide whether to make him an offer for 2011. Aybar probably will do well to match his 2010 base salary of $1.35 million, while Johnson should see a slight raise from $500,000.

With their bullpen depleted by free agency, the Rays have reason to retain relatively inexpensive relievers Lance Cormier ($1.2 million in 2010), J.P. Howell ($1.8 million), and Andy Sonnanstine ($416,900). Catcher Dioner Navarro is a likely non-tender.

New York Yankees

The Yankees’ patience with Phil Hughes paid off in 2010 as he won a spot in the starting rotation and flourished, giving Joe Girardi 174 1/3 innings in 29 starts. With a 4.00 SIERA, Hughes compiled a gaudy 18-8 won-loss record and earned a spot on the AL All-Star roster, two achievements which should pad his resume as he heads for arbitration for the first time this winter. Run support provided Hughes with a big boost in 2010. The Bombers scored six or more runs in 16 of his starts, and Hughes checked in with a pristine 15-0 record in those games. But in an arbitration hearing room, “18 wins” translates much more clearly than “a .501 support neutral winning percentage.” So Hughes can expect a nice raise from his 2010 salary of $447,000.

After the 2008 season, first-timer Ervin Santana parlayed an All-Star selection and a 16-7 record into a four-year, $30 million extension. He had submitted a request of $4.325 million, with the Angels offering $3.6 million. That same winter, Justin Verlander filed for $4.15 million and Detroit offered $3.2 million, with the two sides eventually settling at the midpoint, $3.675 million. However, Verlander already was operating from a seven-figure salary because his first pro contract had been a major-league deal. The Yankees might point to John Danks, a less expensive comparable with numbers superior to those on Hughes’ resume. As a 2010 first-timer, the White Sox lefty settled for $3.45 million after posting WARP totals of 6.1 in 2008 and 5.0 in 2009.

A lower-stakes case will be that of Joba Chamberlain, who struck out 77 in 71 1/3 innings with a team-leading 3.16 SIERA in his 2010 role in the Yankees bullpen. The task of finding a comparable pitcher is complicated by Chamberlain’s 2009 role as a starter and his 2008 role of reliever-turned-starter-turned-reliever. Despite pedestrian career totals in the traditional statistical categories of wins (18) and saves (four), Chamberlain can boast of 362 strikeouts in 353 1/3 career innings. One comp might be Carlos Marmol, who reached arbitration for the first time last winter with a career record of 14-16 in 13 starts, with 23 saves and 362 strikeouts in 307 2/3 innings. The Cubs settled with Marmol in February for a 2010 salary of $2.125 million. Texas lefty C.J. Wilson earned $1.85 million for 2009 after going 7-14 with 38 saves and 177 strikeouts in 207 innings in his first three-plus seasons.

Left-handed relief specialist Boone Logan should approach the $1 million mark after earning $590,000 in 2010. Relievers Sergio Mitre and Dustin Moseley are candidates to be non-tendered.

Boston Red Sox

In eight offseasons under general manager Theo Epstein, the Red Sox have never taken an arbitration case to a hearing. Whether that streak extends to a ninth year will likely hinge on closer Jonathan Papelbon, who endured the worst season of his career in 2010 while earning $9.35 million. Just one season away from becoming a free agent, Papelbon’s 2011 salary request could approach the $12 million mark. Boston’s offer will exceed eight figures, making him difficult to move in a trade, should the Red Sox explore that option.

Left fielder Jacoby Ellsbury is a first-timer this winter after earning $496,500 in 2010. Injuries limited him to just 83 plate appearances in 18 games, so Ellsbury did not enjoy the sort of platform season that commands a significant pay raise. He’s likely to wind up with a salary in the upper six-figure range.

Newly-acquired reliever Taylor Buchholz should see a modest raise from his $1.055 million salary, while lefty Hideki Okajima ($2.75 million) could be a non-tender candidate.

Toronto Blue Jays

In September, we analyzed the intriguing scenarios surrounding the next contract for Jose Bautista, who is poised to for a payday of up to $8 million. But the Blue Jays face potential hearings with 10 other players as well this winter.

Toronto’s next most expensive challenge figures to be Shaun Marcum’s case. The right-hander was 13-8 with a 3.59 SIERA in 2010, and at a salary of just $850,000, he was a relative bargain. As a second-timer this winter, Marcum should approach the 2010 salaries of John Maine ($3.3 million) or Wilson ($3.1 million).

Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar compiled impressive WARP marks of 5.0 in 2008 and 7.0 in 2009 while playing in Atlanta. Despite a disappointing 2010 slash line of .256/.337/.318, Escobar should receive a nice raise from his 2010 salary of $435,000 as he reaches arbitration for the first time. His career numbers are superior to those of Arizona’s Stephen Drew, who settled for $3.4 million as a first-timer last offseason.

Toronto’s new left fielder figures to be Rajai Davis, acquired in a trade from Oakland. Davis earned $1.35 million in 2010 and should match the $3.1 million salary of comparable Melky Cabrera in 2011. Fourth outfielder Fred Lewis should be in line for a slight raise from his $455,000 salary.

The Jays also face decisions on relievers Shawn Camp ($1.15 million in 2010), Jeremy Accardo ($1.08 million), Casey Janssen ($700,000), Jesse Litsch ($414,700), Dustin McGowan ($500,000), and Brandon Morrow ($409,800).

Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore’s Adam Jones is finally eligible for arbitration after missing out last offseason because of the tiebreaker used to determine Super Two status. This winter, Jones should receive a payoff after putting together a .284/.325/.442 slash line and leading the majors in putouts and assists among center fielders. His $465,000 salary could jump to as much as Victorino’s $3.125 million for 2009.

Right-hander Jeremy Guthrie has posted double-digit victory totals in each of the last three seasons. But after earning $3 million in 2010, he is becoming more expensive, leaving the Orioles to decide whether it’s a cost-effective use of resources to pay up to $5 million for his 4.62 SIERA and 5.1 strikeouts per nine innings.

A Super Two after the 2008 season, Luke Scott reaches arbitration for the third time this winter. He posted career highs in home runs (27) and total bases (239) while making $4.05 million in 2010. Though he will turn 33 in June, he is likely to top $6 million in 2011.

Left fielder Felix Pie will see a slight bump from his $420,000 salary as a first-timer. Reliever Matt Albers could reach the $1 million mark if the Orioles want him to return to their bullpen.

Jeff Euston is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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Premium Article Another Look: Willie M... (11/29)
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