Arbitration eligible outfielders Nelson Cruz, Adam Jones, and Alex Gordon all remain unsigned. As outfielders with at least four years of big league service and less than five, their cases are tied together. Let's take a closer look.
Cruz and Jones submitted near-identical salaries of $7.5MM and $7.4MM, respectively. The Orioles value Jones less than the Rangers value Cruz, submitting a figure $500K below Cruz's $5.5MM. It's no coincidence MLB scheduled the players' arbitration hearings for the same day, as that way a win by one can't benefit another. Should one of the two reach an agreement soon, the salary figure might be kept under wraps until the other's is determined. Gordon's hearing is scheduled one day earlier, but they're reportedly close to an agreement. The Cruz-Jones argument can be tailored either way — Cruz has more career power, but Jones is more durable and plays a premium position.
Gordon is valued below Cruz and Jones by all parties, as he submitted $5.45MM and the Royals $4.15MM. All things considered Gordon had the best platform year, topping Cruz and Jones easily in batting average, on-base percentage, runs, and stolen bases while posting similar home run and RBI totals. He's further boosted by a Gold Glove, so one separator here has to be the players' career numbers and related previous year earnings. Though Gordon wins in career OBP, his home run and RBI totals lag well behind the other two players.
Looking at past precedent, how strong are the cases of Cruz, Jones, and Gordon?
- Cruz wants a $3.85MM raise, while the Rangers are trying for the same $1.85MM one Carlos Quentin received after the 2010 season. Using Quentin's numbers through 2010, Cruz has better career numbers and a similar platform year. Ryan Ludwick and Josh Willingham received $1.75MM and $1.65MM raises in similar situations, though Cruz trumps all in career power numbers. However, Cruz does not have an advantage over where Luke Scott was after 2010, and Scott received a $2.35MM bump. Scott seems to push the argument in the Rangers' favor, except that Scott spent much of 2010 at designated hitter. Another point in Cruz's favor, MLBTR's Ben Nicholson-Smith mentioned to me, is his fantastic postseason production.
- Jones wants a $4.15MM increase. He's short on career home runs compared to his arbitration peers, so maybe his argument will be based on his ability to play center field regularly and a better platform year than B.J. Upton's 2010.
- Gordon seeks a $4.05MM raise. Given his batting average, run total, and Gold Glove award, he had the best platform year of his peers. He also has the worst career power numbers, plus the Royals filed a million bucks higher than the Rangers and Orioles did for their guys.
- We always hear that arbitration hearings are a crapshoot, and perhaps none of these players will end up going to one. However, the arguments seem to favor the teams in the cases of Cruz, Jones, and Gordon, who are seeking to top Hunter Pence's $3.5MM raise despite inferior numbers. Additionally, Matt Swartz's arbitration projections came in below the midpoint for all three players.