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January 19, 2012

On the Beat

The Arbitration Preview Edition

by John Perrotto

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Love them or hate them, reality shows get big ratings and make lots of money for the television networks. With that in mind, and knowing how much Major League Baseball and its owners love to continually look for new revenue streams, we would like to propose a reality show for the MLB Network.

Baseball Court.

MLB could take each of its arbitration hearings, which are currently not open to the public or media, and air them in their entirety. Let fans watch as the team tears down its player for one hour while making its case as to why he should not be awarded the salary he is seeking. Follow that with a 10-minute break where they can send it back to the studio for analysis of the club's argument.

After that would be the one-hour rebuttal from the player's agent to wrap up the court proceedings. Following a second 10-minute break for more analysis, the three-member arbitration panel would render its decision.

It probably wouldn't to be as interesting to the casual baseball fan as, say, Judge Joe Brown. However, it would be compelling television to the serious fan, and that's the type of audience MLB Network attracts, particularly in the offseason.

It would be fascinating to see what kind of case the Dodgers would make against Clayton Kershaw, the defending National League Cy Young Award winner. It would also be interesting to see Scott Boras and his associates try to rip the Orioles' arguments against Jeremy Guthrie to shreds.

The chances of Baseball Court becoming reality are slimmer than the Athletics' chances of winning the American League West this year. MLB would never be that transparent in its business dealings. However, that doesn't mean we can't have our own version of Baseball Court here at “On the Beat.”

We took the seven arbitration cases that have the highest player asking prices and put them to a vote of our own arbitration panel, two people who have been through hearings from the team side and one person who has represented players. We then allowed one of the three to give their rationale for the verdict in each case.

Tim Lincecum, Giants

Requested:
$21.5 million
Offered:
$17 million
The Verdict:
"This is a tough one, because you're going into uncharted waters at these dollars. I really think they'll settle like they did two years ago, because the Giants know how to deal with players and agents. If it does go to a hearing, I'll give a slight edge to the Giants, because I just see any panel having a hard time crossing that $20 million threshold."

David Ortiz, Red Sox

Requested: $16.5 million
Offered: $12.65 million
The Verdict: "The Red Sox's biggest argument would likely be that he is a one-dimensional player as a designated hitter. However, arbitration panels like numbers, and there is no denying he still puts up the big numbers. If it gets to a hearing, Big Papi has the numbers to win."

Matt Garza, Cubs

Requested: $12.5 million
Offered: $7.95 million
The Verdict: "It's very rare that these things ever go to a hearing, but I think this is headed that way because the gap ($4.55 million) between the sides is substantial. Management will hammer him on being just 10-10 last year, but Garza's side can pull out a lot of positive numbers, like his 3.32 ERA and 8.95 strikeouts per nine innings. Arbitration panels like wins, but I think Garza's side has enough ammunition to win this one."

Hunter Pence, Phillies

Requested: $11.8 million
Offered: $8.9 million
The Verdict: "Pence will win this one hands down. Guys who consistently hit around .285 with 25 home runs and 90 RBIs are $11-$12 million players in today's market. The Phillies know that, and I'd be willing to bet this will become moot because they'll sign him to a multi-year deal."

Mike Napoli, Rangers

Requested: $11.5 million
Offered: $8.3 million
The Verdict: "Napoli hit .320 with 30 home runs as a catcher on a team that won the American League pennant last season. He doesn't need any representative to win this case. He could do it by himself."

Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

Requested: $10 million
Offered: $6.5 million
The Verdict: "What makes this case tricky is that Kershaw is not limited to comparing himself to other pitchers in his service time class, but to anyone because of a special achievement, which in this case is the Cy Young. It's a little unpredictable, but I've got to think the Cy Young and the numbers Kershaw has put up so far in his career tip the scales in his favors."

Jeremy Guthrie, Orioles
Requested: $10.25 million
Offered: $7.25 million
The Verdict: "This case comes down to quantity or quality. The argument on Guthrie's side is that he is an innings eater. The argument on the Orioles' side is that he doesn't win enough games. Arbitrators are not sabermetricians. They put a lot of stock in wins and ERA, which is why I think the Orioles would win a hearing."

***

Though it has not been officially announced because some of the players involved have yet to have physical examinations, people around the game are still buzzing about the trade agreed to last Friday, in which the Mariners will send right-hander Michael Pineda and pitching prospect Jose Campos to the Yankees for catcher/designated hitter Jesus Montero and right-hander Hector Noesi.

Some believe the Yankees got the better end of the deal because Pineda and Campos could both be frontline starting pitchers in the major leagues for many years. Others think the Mariners won the trade because they believe Montero will become an elite hitter—even if he has to be moved from behind the plate—and that Noesi will wind up being more than just a serviceable  major-league starting pitcher.

However, the consensus among those surveyed is that was a good trade for both sides.

"I know it had to be hard for Jack Zduriencik to give up Pineda, but that Mariners lineup has been putrid for two years," said one major-league scout. "They desperately needed an impact hitter, and Montero is that guy. I see him as the type of hitter who can regularly hit .300 with 30 home runs, even in that big ballpark in Seattle.

"At the same time, the Yankees really needed someone who could step into that rotation and be a difference maker, and Pineda can do that. He's got the potential to be a No. 1 starter. Some people might think the adage that the best trades are the ones that help both clubs is just a cliché, but it's true. This trade really helps both clubs. I don't see a loser here."

***

Scouts' views:

Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish: "He's not going to be the next Daisuke, I guarantee you that. This guy is a better pitcher. His stuff is better, and his command is better. He has that rock star mentality, and he's going to relish the attention he gets in the United States. From the Rangers' standpoint, he gives them the true No. 1 they were lacking last season. C.J. Wilson is a good pitcher, but he's not a No. 1."

Brewers outfielder Norichika Aoki: "He isn't going to be a star here. I think he'll be an average major-league hitter. He won't hit with much pop, though, and his arm is pretty weak for a center fielder. That being said, he can still help the Brewers as a fourth outfielder and give them insurance in center field in case Nyjer Morgan goes off the deep end."

Tigers infielder/outfielder Ryan Raburn: "He probably stands to gain the most at-bats because of Victor Martinez's injury, but I think the Tigers have to go get a bat, whether it's Vladdy (Guerrero) or (Johnny) Damon or Magglio (Ordonez) or someone. Raburn is a good part-time player, but he's inconsistent, and he'll get exposed if he gets 500-600 at-bats."

Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels: "For me, he's worth every bit of that $15 million he'll make this season. He keeps getting better every season. He's got great stuff, but now he also has outstanding command of those pitches. If he gets to free agency next winter, he'll bust the bank and justifiably so."

Giants right-hander Ryan Vogelsong: "He had a nice year last year, and he was a great breakthrough story. Still, it's a pretty big leap of faith to give the guy a two-year contract for $8.3 million. I know it's not big money for a team like the Giants, but it's still a gamble. I want to see him repeat his success before I get too excited about him."

***

Five random thoughts:

  • Bud Selig will still be the commissioner when he is 87. He loves the job too much to retire, and the money is too good to pass up.
  • While it's a long shot, I hope the group that includes Peter O'Malley winds up being the buyer for the Dodgers. Perhaps that would open the door to the Dodgers regaining their status as one of sports' great franchises.
  • Speaking of franchises, it wasn't very reassuring that Jeff Moorad didn't have all his business in order to officially gain full control of the Padres from John Moores at the latest owners' meetings. There have been whispers that Moorad is underfinanced ever since he first bought a share of the team.
  • Is it too silly to give Darvish the nickname "The Twirling Darvish"? And when he spins and makes a pickoff throw to second base, will he be "The Whirling Darvish"?
  • I'm compelled to say thank you to Jamie Moyer for attempting a comeback with the Rockies. If the 49-year-old left-hander makes the team, it will mean I will no longer be older than every major-league player. When you've just turned 48, that means something.

***

One last thought on Hall of Fame voting:

I've always considered myself to be pretty good with words, but it's hard to explain what it's like to receive a Hall of Fame ballot and then go through the process of voting. I take it as a monumentally important task, spend a lot of time on it, and do a lot of thinking about it. I assure you the vast majority of the 550-some other voters do the same, regardless of whether you like the way they vote.

However, what constitutes a Hall of Famer is different for everyone. I don't have any particular formula to determine my vote. I take into account statistics, anecdotal evidence, and gut feeling.

I was a firm believer when I started voting in 1998 that once you determined in your mind whether a player was a Hall of Famer, your opinion could never change. But time has given me more perspective on baseball and life in general, and part of that perspective involves realizing that none of us lives in a vacuum. Thus, I've changed my mind on some players over the years.

Call if waffling, if you must. I call it being open-minded by continually reevaluating and rethinking my position.

***

This week's Must Read is Joe Christensen's story for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on how Dan Johnson has gone from pennant race hero for the Rays to looking for a job.

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

9 comments have been left for this article.

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