Arbitration Records Rumors

Arbitration Records: Position Players

Recently we looked at the arbitration records for starting pitchers and catchers.  Today let's look at the general position player records.

Howard won a hearing against the Phillies in February of '08, as his $10MM submission was chosen over the team's surprisingly low $7MM figure.  Howard had a chance to continue smashing arbitration records, but a year later he signed a three-year extension after submitting $18MM against the team's $14MM. 

Had he gone to arbitration this year, I don't think Joey Votto would have set a new first-time record.  However, he could have come close and then set a second-time record for '12.  Instead, Votto signed a deal paying $38MM for his three arbitration years.  Howard's record might stand for a while – it's been over three years, but he came into that hearing with 129 home runs, 353 RBIs, a Rookie of the Year award, an MVP, and a fifth-place MVP finish.

Cabrera's second-time record isn't much higher than Howard's first-time salary.  Still, only a superstar player can get to that level in his second arbitration year.  Cabrera signed an eight-year deal a couple of months after agreeing at $11.3MM for '08, but that salary remained unchanged.

If you exclude Fielder and Mark Teixeira from the third-year group because they did not go year-to-year, Soriano's $10MM third-time mark seems especially fragile.  The Astros' Hunter Pence, who won a $6.9MM second-year salary in a hearing this year, has a shot at Soriano for '12.  Shin-Soo Choo, a Scott Boras client with a nice first-time salary of $3.975MM, could also keep going year-to-year and exceed $10MM for his third time.

Arbitration Records: Catchers

Yesterday we looked at the arbitration records for starting pitchers.  Today let's check out the records for catchers who went year-to-year.

Martin owns two of the records, as he'd compiled excellent numbers through the '08 season.  Once he got to a $3.9MM base, it was easy for him to remain on top even with a down '09.  The arbitration process had Martin exceeding his free agent value during the most recent offseason, resulting in a non-tender by the Dodgers.  I doubt Martin minded, since he was able to choose his team and get a guaranteed contract.  The Yankees can retain Martin for 2012, as he'll still be arbitration eligible.

As MLBTR's Ben Nicholson-Smith mentioned yesterday, the Cubs' Geovany Soto is currently on the year-to-year path after scoring $3MM in his first arbitration year.  He'll need to top a $2.05MM raise in the upcoming offseason to beat Martin's second-time salary.  That possibility is heavily dependent on what Soto does in 2011.  Arizona's Miguel Montero is going year-to-year right now and Nick Hundley is heading for his first arbitration year, but they're not threatening any records.

I'm not sure about a fourth time record, but if tendered a contract the Rangers' Mike Napoli could be around $8MM.  Martin probably won't be that high, plus his arbitration years were interrupted by free agency.  Of course, Napoli is as much a first baseman/designated hitter as he is a catcher.

Arbitration Records: Starting Pitchers

Several arbitration records could fall in 2012.  Here's my best attempt at finding the current records for starting pitchers who went year-to-year.

  • First time: Dontrelle Willis – $4.35MM (2006).  If you count the $100K in award bonuses Jered Weaver earned last year, he's the record holder at $4.365MM.
  • Second time: Jered Weaver – $7.37MM (2011).  Weaver's agent Scott Boras actually aimed to push this bar up to $8.8MM, but he lost an arbitration hearing to the Angels.  There does not appear to be a challenger to this record in the upcoming offseason.
  • Third time: Carlos Zambrano – $12.4MM (2007).  Z's $5.9MM raise had precedent: the $6MM raises Kevin Millwood and Chan Ho Park received early in the decade.

Whatever you consider the first-time record, it'll probably fall unless Clayton Kershaw and David Price sign multiyear extensions.  If those two aces have their first-time salaries determined in the arbitration process, they'll probably both reach $5MM.

Weaver, who already has six wins and 49 strikeouts on the season, has a good chance of topping Zambrano's $5.9MM raise and setting a new standard for elite pitchers going to arbitration for a third time.  Based on projections, Weaver should be well ahead of where Zambrano was before his third arbitration year in everything aside from ERA (in which they could be almost dead even).  Boras could have a good case for a $7-8MM raise, taking Weaver to a $15MM salary in his final year before free agency.

Side note: if Weaver's salary gets to such dizzying heights, the rising tide will lift those below him like John Danks and Matt Garza.  If Weaver gets to $15MM before Danks' salary is determined, Danks' agent can use that to his client's benefit.

We haven't yet mentioned Tim Lincecum, who would have eclipsed Willis' record had he not signed a two-year deal.  Lincecum is untouchable, and if his 2012 salary is determined by the arbitration process it will easily top Weaver's and be an arbitration record for all non-free agent players, not just pitchers.