If they don't sign extensions, starters John Danks, Matt Garza, Jeremy Guthrie, and Jered Weaver will enter fairly uncharted waters in the upcoming offseason as their agents attempt to establish their 2012 salaries. As I mentioned earlier this month, top starters are unwilling to go year-to-year through arbitration these days. We rarely see a healthy, ace-type pitcher make it to his third arbitration year, but Danks, Garza, Guthrie, and Weaver are primed to do just that.
Using Danks as a case study, I asked five arbitration experts what they think he'll earn in 2012. Danks is at an even $6MM this year, and we're assuming a normal platform season from him in 2011.
The ceiling for Danks appears to be around $12MM. Carlos Zambrano, who received a $5.9MM raise to $12.4MM for the 2007 season, is the comparable Danks' agent at CAA Sports (Jeff Berry) might aim for. However, none of the five experts I spoke to thought Danks' career or platform year numbers will top Zambrano's. Everyone instead predicted a salary in the $10-11MM range for Danks. Zambrano had comparables of his own, by the way, as Chan Ho Park and Kevin Millwood received $6MM raises early in the decade.
There is an interesting possibility, depending on which pitcher in Danks' class settles first. One arbitration consultant noted, "The best evidence in any arbitration hearing is the current class, and if these guys work together they could really redefine this entire market. I could see Danks getting $10.5-11MM right now. But would not be shocked if this group of pitchers changed that." He gave an example of the first-time starting pitcher market shifting during the 2010-11 offseason, as Armando Galarraga became the new $2.3MM type and Kyle Kendrick and Kevin Slowey were able to do better.
Chicago pitchers Danks and Garza are particularly comparable, so that'll be an interesting parallel to follow throughout the season. The 2012 starting pitching arbitration class is loaded with intrigue. Clayton Kershaw and David Price will duke it out trying to top Dontrelle Willis' first-time record of $4.35MM (it appears both will succeed). As a third-year arbitration eligible starter Weaver could post a Cy Young season and fly past $13MM. Tim Lincecum, who is already at $13MM, is headed for an arbitration record-breaking salary. Cole Hamels is in line for a huge bump as well, entering his fourth arbitration year coming off a $9.5MM salary. If like many MLBTR readers you're fascinated by this stuff, January and February should be exciting months.