How Much Will Ortiz, K-Rod, and Kelly Johnson Earn Next Year?

Free agents David Ortiz, Francisco Rodriguez, and Kelly Johnson accepted their teams' offers of arbitration last week, making them signed players for 2012.  In recent years we've seen the occasional setup-type free agent reliever accept arbitration, but not position player regulars or a closer.  Without much recent precedent, determining the salaries of Ortiz, Rodriguez, and Johnson will be tricky. 

The players have incentive to avoid hearings.  If a deal is agreed upon, the player asks for a Signing Guaranteed Provision, guaranteeing the contract.  A hearing, however, opens up the small chance of the player being released in spring training.  The team would have to prove the player "failed to to exhibit sufficient skill or competitive ability" during spring training.  The Padres pulled this off with Todd Walker in 2007, but it's rare.  The Red Sox are happy to have Ortiz next year, and the Blue Jays have use for Johnson.  While I imagine the Brewers would like a do-over on offering K-Rod arbitration, I don't think they'll try to release him in spring training and then go toe-to-toe with Scott Boras.

I talked to a team executive, a former agency employee, and MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz about the salaries Ortiz, Rodriguez, and Johnson might receive.  The details:

  • Estimates ranged from $13-15MM on Ortiz.  He's working from a $12.5MM salary, and his raise will probably be relatively small.  The Red Sox could point to Travis Hafner as a $13MM comparable, while Ortiz's agents at SFX could look to top Adam Dunn's $14MM by virtue of Ortiz's higher batting average.  A two-year deal is possible for Ortiz, but if the Red Sox are at $18MM, Big Papi might as well stop worrying about multiyear security since he can easily get more than $4-5MM in 2013 with a passable 2012.
  • K-Rod should be an interesting case.  On the high end, Boras could argue for Mariano Rivera's $15MM salary.  If they're feeling adventurous, the Brewers could actually try to cut Rodriguez's $11.5MM salary, citing Jonathan Papelbon's $11MM salary for 2012 or Rafael Soriano's $10MM salary.  Rest assured that trying to cut Rodriguez's salary would lead to a hearing, so a settlement closer to Rivera's figure seems possible.
  • Johnson's case might involve bringing in a third baseman such as Miguel Tejada, who signed at $6.5MM for 2011.  Johnson earned $5.85MM in an off-2011, so $7MM is probably his ceiling.  A multiyear deal is possible here.  

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