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January 21, 2009

On the Beat

Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down

by John Perrotto

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The exchange of salary arbitration figures on Tuesday between players and management contained at least one lesson: It's good to be a power-hitting first baseman.

Ryan Howard, who last year won $10 million in arbitration, asked for an $18 million salary in 2009, with the Phillies offering $14 million, while Prince Fielder submitted a figure of $8 million-second-highest among the 46 players who traded figures-compared to the Brewers' $6 million. Howard's request is the third-largest since the arbitration system was put into place in 1974 (Roger Clemens had asked for $22 million in 2005, and Derek Jeter made an $18.5 million request in 2001).

The Phillies promoted Ruben Amaro Jr. to general manager less than a week after they had beaten the Rays in last year's World Series, and he is no stranger to the arbitration process after having worked as an assistant GM in the organization for 10 years. He admits that he did flinch when Howard submitted his arbitration figure. "It's high, but I'm not surprised," Amaro told Jim Salisbury of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Amaro is still hopeful that the Phillies can reach an agreement with Howard this time around without going to a hearing. "I'm optimistic we'll get something done with him," said Amaro.

The Brewers would appear to have a fight on their hands with Fielder and agent Scott Boras. Fielder was angered last spring after his contract was renewed at $670,000 before he had put in enough service time to earn arbitration rights, but Brewers GM Doug Melvin believes that a resolution can be achieved without acrimony. "I don't anticipate a confrontation with Boras," Melvin said. "I know you find that hard to believe."

Melvin also shot down continuing speculation that he might trade Fielder in spring training to give the Brewers some payroll relief. The latest rumor making the rounds has the Red Sox targeting Fielder after failing to land free-agent first baseman Mark Teixeira, who signed with the Yankees. "I have never talked to clubs about trading Prince," Melvin said. "No team has called me about Prince."

Here's the rub, though; neither Howard nor Fielder rank in the top 10 among those players still involved in arbitration when it comes to their WARP3 figures in 2008 (not counting Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis, who has agreed to a six-year, $66 million contract to be finalized once he passes a physical exam later in the week). If the three-member arbitration panel took WARP3 into account-and some enterprising front offices use Baseball Prospectus metrics to help argue their cases-then Howard and Fielder will go home losers... as much as someone making the team offers of $14 million or $6 million for the year could be termed a loser.

Let's look at the top 10 arbitration-eligible players, and see how their potential hearings might turn out by using some of BP's stats as a guide. Players are ranked according to their '08 WARP3, and I'll note their 2008 salary, the arbitration figures for the player and their team, give a brief rundown, how I'd rule, and what the arbitrator's send-off might be:

  • Ryan Ludwick (10.9) $421,000
    Player/Team: $4.25 million / Cardinals, $2.85 million
    He hit .299/.375/.591 in 617 plate appearances, ranking fourth in the National League in EqA (.320) and 10th in VORP (54.7). He also proved to be a contributor in other facets of the game with his baserunning and fielding.
    Ruling: Ludwick, but tell him to be grateful for his performance in 2008, because he's not likely to match that performance in the future.

  • Dan Uggla (9.1) $417,000
    Player/Team: $5.35 million / Marlins, $4.4 million
    Last year Uggla hit .260/.360/.514 in 619 plate appearances. He ranked 21st in the NL in EqA (.296) and 23rd in VORP (40.6).
    Ruling: Uggla, and wish him a safe trip when the Marlins dump his salary at the July 31 trading deadline.

  • Dioner Navarro (8.6) $432,500
    Player/Team: $2.5 million / Rays, $2.1 million
    He hit .295/.349/.407 in 470 plate appearances, ranking 56th in the American League in VORP (18.1).
    Ruling: Rays. The sides are so close that they'll almost certainly reach an agreement in time to avoid a hearing.

  • Kelly Johnson (7.8) $430,000
    Player/Team: $3.3 million / Braves, $2.35 million
    By hitting .287/.349/.446 in 614 plate appearances, he ranked 38th in the NL in EqA (.277), 48th in VORP (21.1).
    Ruling: Johnson, while the team hopes that he finds more consistency at the upper reaches of his game.

  • Zack Greinke (7.7) $1.475 million
    Player/Team: $4.4 million / Royals, $3.4 million
    Greinke posted a 3.47 ERA in 202 1/3 innings, allowing 202 hits, walking 56, and striking out 183. He was 10th among AL pitchers in VORP (44.3) and 12th in SNLVAR (5.3).
    Ruling: Greinke; money may not buy him happiness, but it might at least help him find a better cast of supporting characters.

  • Ervin Santana (7.7) $445,000
    Player/Team: $4.325 million / Angels, $3.6 million
    He had a 3.49 ERA in 219 innings while allowing 198 hits, walking 47, and striking out 214. He was fifth among AL pitchers in VORP (52.8) and sixth in SNLVAR (5.7).
    Ruling: Santana, which is one way of letting him know that he should appreciate the talent with which he has been blessed.

  • Nate McLouth (7.6) $425,000
    Player/Team: $3.8 million / Pirates, $2.75 million
    McLouth hit .276/.356/.497 in 685 plate appearances. He was 12th in the NL in VORP (49.4) and 16th in EqA (.300). He somehow won a Gold Glove, that despite -17 FRAA.
    Ruling: McLouth / Make him write thank-you notes to each NL manager and coach who voted for him in the Gold Glove balloting.

  • Jayson Werth (7.1) $1.75 million
    Player/Team: $4 million / Phillies, $3 million
    He put up a .273/.363/.498 line in 482 plate appearances and was 39th in the NL in VORP (31.3).
    Ruling: Phillies. Advise him to be patient and wait for his payday in free agency next winter.

  • Andre Ethier (6.8) $424,500
    Player/Team: $3.75 million / Dodgers, $2.65 million
    Ethier hit .305/.375/.510 in 596 plate appearances. He was 14th in the NL in EqA (.304) and 21st in VORP (40.8).
    Ruling: Ethier, who can then hope he gets people to realize he's one of the top young hitters in the game.

  • Justin Duchscherer (6.6) $1.33 million
    Player/Team: $4.6 million / Athletics, $3 million
    He had a 2.54 ERA in 141 2/3 innings, allowing 107 hits, walking 34, and striking out 95. He was eighth among AL pitchers in VORP (45.7) and SNLVAR (5.5).
    Ruling: Duchscherer, with everyone wishing him better health.

---

Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols played for his native Dominican Republic in the first World Baseball Classic three years ago, and would like to play in the second one in March, but he's not sure if he'll be cleared to play. He had elbow surgery in October, and the Cardinals may not give him permission since standard insurance policies in baseball don't cover participation in exhibitions. "I'm real excited, looking forward to it, but I guess there are a couple of things about the injury list-there is something going on with the Classic and Major League Baseball," said Pujols. "I don't know if I'm even going to be on the roster right now because of the insurance. Something weird is going on with the whole thing. It's not just myself, it's a lot of different players from a lot of different countries. I guess insurance doesn't want to take the chance to cover us because we [have had] surgery."

The reigning NL Most Valuable Player said that he feels he is completely recovered from the operation and would not risk jeopardizing the regular season to play in the WBC. "If I get down to spring training and feel any kind of tweak, I'm not going to go," Pujols said. "That's the only thing that's going to stop me. Right now I'm feeling really good. I'm looking forward to representing the Dominican Republic."

Meanwhile, Canada could be scrambling to find enough healthy pitchers to fill out its staff for the tournament. Mariners left-hander Erik Bedard, Nationals right-hander Shawn Hill, and Phillies righty Scott Mathieson will not be able to participate because they are all coming off of surgery. Cubs right-hander Ryan Dempster has opted not to play, and Rich Harden, another Cubs righty, has a slight tear in the rotator cuff that, while not requiring surgery, might keep him from the WBC. "Dempster and Harden are premier pitchers who would be impact arms in this tournament," said Greg Hamilton, Baseball Canada's director of national teams. "Those are huge losses if we don't have either one of those."

---

The Cubs took their share of heat for bringing in a Greek Orthodox priest to remove the "Curse of the Billy Goat" from the home dugout at Wrigley Field a day before the National League Division Series opened last October. The Cubs were then swept by the Dodgers, making it exactly 100 years since their last World Series title in 1908.

Now, the priest claims that Cubs chairman Crane Kenney is misrepresenting the story. A fan asked Kenney about the blessing during the Cubs Convention last weekend in Chicago, and Kenney replied that it was "one of the dumbest things" he'd ever done. He said the Rev. James L. Greanias had approached him about with the idea, but Greanias claims that Kenney called him. "Kenney told me he wanted a Greek Orthodox priest because [William] Sianis was Greek," Greanias told the Chicago Tribune, referring to the tavern owner who had placed a hex on the Cubs during the 1945 World Series, which they then lost to the Tigers. "The last thing on my mind was calling the Cubs to ask them to bless the field. In fact, I thought it was a joke at first."

When the Cubs' winter promotional caravan made a stop in Greanias' hometown of Valparaiso, Indiana last week, he approached bench coach Matt Sinatro to offer an apology to manager Lou Piniella. "Coach Sinatro told me Lou wasn't upset, but I defended Kenney after it happened and now he's thrown me under the bus," said Greanias.

---

AL Rumors and Rumblings: The Tigers are trying to sign free-agent reliever Brandon Lyon. ... The Red Sox have considered making a bid to sign free agent Adam Dunn with the idea of moving him from the outfield to first base. ... The Orioles' acquisition of outfielder Felix Pie is setting off a chain reaction in the lineup; he will platoon in left field with Ryan Freel, while left fielder Luke Scott becomes the designated hitter, and Aubrey Huff goes from DH to first base.

NL Rumors and Rumblings: The Dodgers have intensified efforts to sign left-handed starter Randy Wolf as a free agent in recent days. ... While re-signing left-hander Oliver Perez remains the Mets' top priority, they are still interested in other free-agent starters, including Wolf and right-handers Jon Garland and Ben Sheets. ... Spurned by Wolf, the Diamondbacks are now trying to sign free-agent right-hander Braden Looper. ... The Cubs plan to have Kevin Gregg and Carlos Marmol compete for the closer's job in spring training, while left-hander Sean Marshall is the front-runner to be the fifth starter. ... Although they signed free-agent infielder Ramon Vazquez, the Pirates plan to start the season with Andy LaRoche as the starting third baseman. ... Outfielder Jason Repko has asked the Dodgers to trade him.

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

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