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, but will also break out some interesting comparables and determine where the model might be wrong.
Manny Machado has reached arbitration eligibility at the young age of 23, and has already put up solid numbers in his career, including a breakout year in 2015. Machado hit .286 this past year, which is not all that much better than the .278 career mark he had going in, but his 35 home runs more than doubled his career high. After Machado’s 51 doubles in 2013 suggested he would eventually show more power than the 14 home runs that accompanied them, injuries in 2014 limited him to 354 PA. As a result, Machado’s pre-platform performance and overall career numbers are not as strong as his platform year, which makes him somewhat of a tricky case. Few comparables cases present themselves, so although his $5.9 million projected salary seems plausible, it could easily miss by a lot.
Machado’s strong defense also makes his case trickier as well. Although my model has repeatedly shown that defense does not consistently affect arbitration cases, many of the hitters who could be considered comparables for Machado were far worse fielders, and this could certainly help him earn more than them. Just because the model does not prove the importance of any specific defensive statistic, that does not mean that defense never enters into a case—we know from firsthand reports that it does. Machado’s relatively low number of RBIs for a guy who hit 35 home runs also makes his case unique as well.
Perhaps the best comparable could be Chris Davis’ case three years ago, although nearly everything about Davis’ case is slightly worse. Davis hit .270 with 33 home runs and 85 RBIs, which is a near match of Machado’s .286/35/86 in his platform year. Davis also did not have many home runs pre-platform, so his career 77 home runs at the time are not much different than Machado’s 68. However, Davis’ career average of .258 is way below Machado’s .281. Davis also plays an easier defensive position than Machado. However, the Orioles could certainly try to argue that Machado should not out-earn Davis’ $3.3 million award by too much.
Although it was seven years ago, Ryan Ludwick’s case looks very similar to Machado’s when Ludwick earned $3.7 million in 2009. He hit .299/37/113 in his platform year and had .273/65/209 career numbers, and although Ludwick’s platform numbers were slightly better, Machado’s career .281/65/215 is extremely similar. The Orioles could try to argue that a little salary inflation on Ludwick’s $3.7 million would put Machado between $4 and $5 million.
If Machado wants to argue for a salary closer to his $5.9 million projection, one potential comparable that Machado could consider is Dan Uggla, who had 32 home runs and 92 RBIs in his platform year before reaching arbitration eligibility, and who received $5.3 million. However, this was back in 2009 and cases that old are rarely used. Uggla also only hit .260, although he did have 90 career home runs, far exceeding Machado’s 68.
Another possibility Machado could use to try to push his salary closer to his projection, who is more recent than Uggla, is Giancarlo Stanton’s case just two years ago. Although Machado could be a similar match in terms of stardom, Stanton’s injuries kept him to 504 PA in his platform year and only 24 home runs, while he hit .249. He did have 117 career home runs though. While he played a different position, Stanton could be considered a comparable. He earned $6.5 million in 2014. Like with Uggla, the difficulty for Machado if he tries to argue for Stanton as a comparable is that both Uggla and Stanton had many more career home runs than Machado does.
Other potential comparables that Machado could use are Mark Trumbo, Chris Carter, and Pedro Alvarez, who all reached their first year of arbitration eligibility in the last couple years and earned $4.8, $4.175, and $4.25 million. They each hit between 34 and 37 home runs and between 88 to 100 RBIs in their platform year. Although they had more career home runs than Machado, ranging from 85 to 95 between them, their batting averages are much worse than Machado’s. They each hit between .227 and .233 in their platform year and between .222 and .250 in their careers. Machado could make the case that he had similar power to them, but a better average, so he deserves to have somewhere above $5 million.
It is difficult to find obvious cases where Machado exceeds his $5.9 million projection. There are a number of players with higher salaries who had similar platform years, but more home runs, while there are a couple of players who earned less money with career numbers that look similar to Machado, but whose cases are weaker in one way or another. Machado has a better batting average and defense than just about all of these players, including the players with more career home runs. However, I think Machado is probably likely to under-earn his projection.
A potential wild card that could come into play is a similar player who is also reaching his first year of eligibility this year, Nolan Arenado. With a similar breakout performance in 2015 along with strong defense at the same position, Arenado could easily help or hurt Machado’s case for arbitration this year if he reaches an agreement first.