Arbitration Breakdown: Buster Posey

Over the next few weeks, I will be discussing some of the higher profile upcoming arbitration cases. I will rely partly on my arbitration model developed exclusively for MLB Trade Rumors (read more about it here), but will also break out some interesting comparables and determine where the model might be wrong.

Buster Posey is eligible for arbitration for the first time in 2013, conveniently right after a successful MVP campaign. Posey also won the batting title in 2012, along with a Rookie of the Year Award in 2010. Despite the MVP, Posey is not the typical slugger who gets handsomely rewarded compared to other players in arbitration. He "only" had 24 home runs and 103 RBI in 2012, though he did hit .336 in 610 plate appearances. Due to an injury in 2011 and the fact that Posey reaches arbitration as a super two, he only had 645 plate appearances going into his platform season along with a .294 average, 22 home runs, and 88 runs batted in. What makes Posey’s situation unique is that he has a healthier trophy case than anyone else to reach arbitration in recent years, but fewer plate appearances going into his platform year than most others to get larger salaries. Even though the only other player in the last six years to have an MVP and a ROY before his first year of arbitration (Ryan Howard) earned $10MM, there was no player with as few career plate appearances as Posey to ever earn more than $3.75MM. My model has the CAA client well between these two extremes, projected to earn $5.9MM.

Posey figures to earn far less than Ryan Howard’s $10MM for several reasons. Not only did Howard have 1094 previous plate appearances, but he was also a power hitter coming off a 47 home run season. Power numbers matter to panels a lot more than other skills, so Posey will not be able to argue for more than Howard’s $10MM. There are two other players in the last six years to have MVP awards before reaching arbitration, Joey Votto (who got $8MM in 2011) and Justin Morneau ($4.5MM in 2007). Votto was coming off a .324 average, 37 home runs, and 113 runs batted in 648 plate appearances and also had 1222 PA before his platform season, in which he accumulated 53 HR, 185 RBIs, and hit .310. Votto also had 16 stolen bases in his platform year and 12 in previous seasons, while Posey is not a base stealer. This all combines to suggest Posey will fall short of Votto’s $8MM. Morneau’s $4.5MM seems low. Firstly, the fact that it is now a comparable that is over six years old makes it unlikely to be a fair comparison, but Morneau also only had a .248 average going into his platform year, making his .321/34/130 performance that year seem more anomalous. Posey, on the other hand, had won Rookie of the Year during his pre-platform tenure.

In more common cases, Posey would be more likely to be compared to other catchers. However, he has a clearly superior case than any of the catchers with whom he would be compared. The largest first-time arbitration award given to a catcher went to Russell Martin in 2009 at $3.9MM. Martin was only coming off a .280/13/69 platform season (though with 18 SB) in 650 plate appearances , although he did have 1088 PA prior to his platform season. The lack of an MVP award suggests that Martin’s salary is a very obvious floor for Posey. Joe Mauer’s 2007 case might be the most similar to Posey, although he did not have an MVP award. However, Mauer did have a batting title in 2006, hitting .347 in 608 plate appearances , and also has a pre-platform season injury in common with Posey. Mauer had just 676 plate appearances before his platform season, similar to Posey’s 645. Mauer ended up signing a multi-year deal in which he earned $3.75MM in 2007, but before that, Mauer and the Twins had exchanged figures of $3.3 and $4.5MM, so $3.75MM seems like they settled effectively in the middle and then added a few years on. Of course, this case is probably “stale” and isn’t a great comparison for Posey, but it also suggests that Posey should successfully finish with well over $4MM. No catchers other than Martin and Mauer have gotten more than $2.15MM in the last six years, so those two would be the only plausible comparisons.

Expanding beyond catchers and MVPs, I looked through the last six years to find anyone who had 20 HR, 80 RBI, and a .300 average, regardless of whether they had won any awards or what position they played. Only one player had more than $4.84MM: Miguel Cabrera at $7.4MM in 2007. Obviously, that case is now stale but it does provide a useful comparison to Posey. Cabrera had just hit .339/26/114 in 676 plate appearances , while he had a .300 average entering his platform season in 1067 PA, along with 78 HR and 290 RBI. The platform season looks very similar season to Posey’s, while the previous seasons look much better. On top of that, Cabrera already had 3 years and 101 days of service time by his first year of arbitration, compared with Posey’s 2 years and 161 days. Further, even though Cabrera didn’t have an MVP award yet, he did have three all-star appearances already and had back-to-back fifth place finishes in MVP races. Posey will probably earn less than Cabrera’s $7.4MM. The other guys on the list of .300/20/80 first-time eligibles included Chase Utley who got $4.84MM in 2007 as part of a multi-year deal and Garrett Atkins who got $4.46MM in 2008. More recently, Shin-Soo Choo got $3.975MM in 2011. All three players seem to have inferior cases to Posey’s, which provides further reason to expect Posey to obtain at least $5MM.

Other elite players to get large deals in recent years include Prince Fielder’s $7.5MM, Hanley Ramirez’s $5.55MM in 2009 (both as part of multi-year deals), and Dan Uggla’s $5.35MM in 2009. Uggla had 1411 plate appearances prior to his platform season, but his .260/32/92 platform season suggests Posey should be able to top him. Getting even further from plausible comparables, we can at least look at pitchers who got big awards—the only pitchers to get over $5MM were Lincecum and Kershaw ($9 and $7.75MM as part of multi-year deals), and relievers Jonathan Papelbon and Bobby Jenks ($6.25 and $5.6MM as one-year deals in 2009). These pitchers won't come up as comps in Posey's case.

Posey’s case is clearly unique. It seems like anything between $4.5 and $7.4MM is possible, and my model coincidentally ends up splitting the difference almost exactly at $5.9MM. I think Uggla’s $5.35MM is too low, but not by much, so something in the $6MM range makes sense for Posey.

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