Mike Napoli And The Arbitration Process

One area that's always been murky for baseball fans is the process by which salaries for arbitration-eligible players are determined.  Using Angels catcher Mike Napoli as an example, let's attempt to shed some light on arbitration.

The first conclusion I reached when looking into Napoli's comparables is that there aren't any good ones.  Do you know any catchers who went to arbitration for a third time in recent years?  All the good ones were locked up, and all the bad ones were non-tendered.  John Buck might have been a comparable, but the Royals cut him loose before he could go to arbitration a third time.  The only catcher we found who recently went to arbitration a third time was the Tigers' Gerald Laird.  Laird's offensive stats after the '09 season paled in comparision to Napoli's current body of work, so we need to look elsewhere.

If an agent and team are forced to go to an arbitration hearing over a player's salary, the statistics used to make arguments are simple.  For Napoli it might be his .251 batting average, 92 home runs, 249 RBIs, and 246 runs.  He's heading to arbitration for the third time.  He has four years and 151 days of service and will be building off his 2010 salary of $3.6MM.

A baseball source gave me two comparables he thought Napoli's agent Brian Grieper might be able to use: Jorge Cantu after '09 and Xavier Nady after '08.  The criteria for an arbitration comparison talks about service levels, but not positions.  It's already been proven that catchers get extra credit in arbitration for being catchers – in his first year of arbitration, Russell Martin got $3.9MM.  You might expect that salary for a 30 home run, 100 RBI player, not a 13 home run, 69 RBI guy like Martin.  Napoli himself got $2MM in his first arbitration year coming off a season in which he played 78 games.

So even though Napoli falls short of Cantu and Nady in most basic offensive categories, they're workable comparables given the lack of similar catchers.  Napoli has a half-season of playing first base on his resume, so that might strengthen the comparison.  Cantu went from $3.5MM to $6MM, while Nady went from $3.35MM to $6.55MM.  Their raises were between $2.5-3.2MM, or 71-96%.  Napoli's agent might be able to argue for a $6-7MM salary for 2011, unless the Angels find more similar players who were paid less.

Could Napoli be non-tendered by the Angels this winter? One baseball source agreed with my estimate of a 10% chance, while another put it below 5%.  We all agreed Napoli is more likely to be traded than cut loose, though one of them remarked, "I think if they are stuck with him they will wish they would have non-tendered him."  The Angels won't be desperate – they can afford Napoli if no one wants him, but they should be able to find a taker for a 26 home run catcher even if his defense is poorly-regarded.  Keep in mind that even though Napoli is technically under team control through 2012, his 2011 salary could make him a likely non-tender.

11 Responses to Mike Napoli And The Arbitration Process Leave a Reply

  1. bjsguess 5 years ago

    Tim – good writeup.

    I wonder if playing 1st base this year will hurt or help his valuation in arbitration. Certainly adding a new position as competency SHOULD help. In small sample sizes, Napoli was slightly better than LA according to UZR/150 at 1B (although my eyes tell me something different).

    However, if the Angels decide to market him (for arbitration purposes) as primarily a DH/1B I could see that hurting his value. His time this year was nearly 50/50 between catching and 1B.

  2. foxtown 5 years ago

    Good points here. I think Carlos Quentin faces a similar situation in Chicago although he is obviously not a catcher. Carlos has large power numbers combined with a low batting average and could get a substantial raise in arbitration if he is tendered.

  3. bigpat 5 years ago

    I would love for my team to be “stuck” with Mike Napoli. Such a terrible problem…

  4. The title sounds like an independent film by some of us baseball nerds about an epic arbitration bout.

  5. I could see the O’s having some interest in trading for Napoli. He basically could be the same thing to them that Victor Martinez would be (as was rumored a week or two ago) though wouldn’t cost them a draft pick. Have him play first and DH, then catch whenever Wieters needs a day off. Wouldn’t hate to see it.

    • bjsguess 5 years ago

      He will cost significantly more than a pick if traded. It won’t be a pick but an asset valued more than an early 2nd rounder (which is what Martinez would most likely cost).

      • I understand your point. However, the idea is that giving a known may be better than giving an unknown. For example, we could trade from our pitching depth (e.g. Erbe) as opposed to giving up a pick that could allow us to select say a middle-infielder.

        That make sense?

    • bjsguess 5 years ago

      He will cost significantly more than a pick if traded. It won’t be a pick but an asset valued more than an early 2nd rounder (which is what Martinez would most likely cost).

  6. kdub53 5 years ago

    I think that keeping napoli would be great for the angels…the thing is that scoscia doesnt like him for some reason or another…
    this guy probably could have got to 35 homers this season if played every day…
    get rid of mathis…wood…etc…
    the “dead wood” offensively…

    • What puts off Angel fans about Mike Napoli, and myself, is that he hit .186 with RISP this year. Those 26 HR’s came in meaningless situations and with no one on base.

      Moreover, his catcher’s ERA is extremely higher than Mathis’, Conger’s, or Wilson’s and his defensive skills aren’t anything to write home about.

      I think he would flourish well, and would love to see, if he played everyday at the catching position with a more potent offense (i.e. Free Agent bats added). That would take pressure off of him to perform and give him more opprotunities to hit with RISP; which would raise that batting average with RISP and utilize that power in key/clutch situations.

      The Napoli issue is only exaggerated because of his hefty price tag and we didn’t make the playoffs.

    • Ill give Wood another shot. Hes playing in the Arizona Fall League to try to get into form. I see no point in “getting” rid of him. Will he be on a short leash yes, but give the kid a chance. He once had a lot going for him not long ago.

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