Author Archives: Steve Adams

Inside Arbitration: The Responsibility Felt By Teams

This offseason saw more arbitration hearings than any in recent history, with 14 players going to trial to determine their 2015 salaries. Many of the hearings were over relatively small amounts of money, a few hundred thousand dollars, prompting frustration from fans who view the process as a cheap means of cost-savings. However, executives who spoke to MLBTR used a different word — “responsibility” — to describe the process. Not financial responsibility in regards to their own payroll, but rather, responsibility to the rest of the league.

“At some point, there’s a sense of fairness to the fact that this deal not only reflects on this player and this club, but that this deal also reflects on other similar players and similar clubs,” Giants assistant GM Bobby Evans told MLBTR. “So you have somewhat of a responsibility within the market to be reasonable on both sides so you’re maintaining the correct market for a player and not creating an unfair low market or an unfair high market.”

As MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz has explained throughout his Arbitration Breakdown series, arbitration salaries are largely determined based on statistically similar players with similar service time to a player that is currently eligible. “You don’t want to go out there and make a deal that wouldn’t be fair on either side for the players that are not involved in the deal,” said Evans. In a strange way, the result of this sense of responsibility is a sense of collaboration among entities that spend every other waking moment trying to gain an edge over each other.

“It’s the one time of the year — at least in the baseball operations realm — where the clubs are working together,” said an AL exec who preferred not to be named. “Usually we’re competing on the field … we’re competing for player talent in free agency. We’re competing to get the better end of a trade. There’s 30 of us and we’re all trying to win the World Series. But, I feel like there’s a collective responsibility that we all feel to each other in salary arbitration to not try to allow that market to escalate too far.”

It may be puzzling to see a team head to trial over sums as seemingly negligible as $200K (Jerry Blevins) or $450K (Vance Worley), but when it comes to the arbitration process, “There is no such thing as trivial amounts of money,” Braves assistant GM John Coppolella said to MLBTR. “Whatever you negotiate is not only behalf of your club and ownership, but also other teams throughout the league.”

Perhaps of greater concern to fans than the financial implications is the potential to damage the relationship with a player. Arbitration hearings aren’t a friendly process; the player and his representatives are in the room with representatives from the team as the two sides argue back and forth over a player’s strengths and weaknesses. Last year, then-Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano expressed surprise to hear the team use statements he’d made to the media against him in a hearing that he eventually lost. Pestano said at the time that he “definitely” thought it would affect his views going forward, and while he didn’t express any ill will toward the team, it may be telling that he was traded to the Angels roughly six months after his hearing.

“If you look at the history of players who have gone to arbitration hearings, for whatever reason, very few remain with the same team for the long term,” said Coppolella. “I don’t think the hearings are contentious per se, but the process isn’t exactly friendly and heartwarming.” The Braves did have a hearing with Mike Minor this offseason, from which Minor emerged victorious, but Minor told reporters after the fact that it was “just business” and he didn’t have any grudges against the team.

The player’s acceptance of the situation may come down to how the team approaches their side of the hearing. As one former NL GM told MLBTR’s Zach Links, “It was always very important that in any arbitration case … I wanted to see us be straight factually, bottom line. Never ever do anything to diminish the ability or the skills of the player. … What arbitration is all about is reaching a comparative level. … The meeting isn’t the easiest path, but you don’t want to damage any relationships.”

Ultimately, the impact on the player likely varies from case to case, however. As Evans explained, “Some players might just be very curious about the process and therefore not be the least bit offended. … Some players may be inconvenienced by it and irritated that the club wasn’t making an offer to their liking. … It really depends on the spirit of the negotiation.” The aforementioned AL exec had a similar notion: “Some players and some teams are going to be more emotional and more stubborn than others. … Sometimes you know who those players are. You’ll say ‘This guy is not the right guy to take to a hearing. He’s a little soft. This could stick with him for awhile.’ Other players are much more corporate and can handle it.”

I asked Evans if that makes it more difficult to negotiate with players with whom the team does not have a longstanding relationship. For instance, San Francisco acquired third baseman Casey McGehee from the Marlins this offseason and immediately had to begin negotiating a contract in an effort to avoid arbitration. Evans felt that history was secondary to how the two sides handled the negotiation, adding that he was happy to have avoided a hearing.

Another similar case to McGehee is that of the Angels and outfielder Matt Joyce. Angels assistant GM Matt Klentak went a bit more in depth when discussing the pros and cons of negotiating with a player just acquired in an offseason trade. “I think sometimes it’s easier to go to a hearing with a player you’ve never met,” said Klentak (although he was glad to have avoided one with Joyce). He continued that while teams try to be objective in these proceedings, it’s difficult to completely eliminate the bond that has formed when seeing a player develop, triumph and rise through a system to the point where he’s eligible for arbitration. That element is removed when negotiating with new players.

“I still haven’t met Matt Joyce. I’ve negotiated his contract with his agent, we’ve traded for him, but I’ve never personally met him. … I’d really have hated for the first time I met this guy to be wearing a suit, sitting across a table, arguing over a million dollars. But, that is easier when you don’t know the person.”

Arbitration can be contentious, and for onlookers it’s easy to question the motives of a team or of a player when seemingly small gaps are bridged through a potentially inflammatory process like a hearing. But those small gaps compound over time, and the overriding theme when speaking with executives is that the responsibility of managing a market shared by all sometimes makes these hearings a necessary evil.


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NL East Notes: Murphy, K-Rod, Yunel, Braves

News broke earlier today that the Mets weren’t planning to discuss extending Daniel Murphy‘s contract, and Newsday’s Marc Carig has some more details on the team’s decision.  Murphy rates as a below-average second baseman and the Mets are worried he’ll inevitably have to be moved to a corner infield position.  While Murphy hits well for a second baseman, the Mets don’t believe he has the bat necessary for third base or first base, not to mention the fact that David Wright and Lucas Duda have those positions covered for at least the next few seasons in New York.  The Mets also aren’t likely to make Murphy a qualifying offer, unless he enjoys a huge year.

Here’s some more from around the NL East…

  • Also from Carig’s piece, he hears from two rival executives that Murphy will draw a lot of interest on the free agent market.  “There will be a nice line of suitors for him.  Some will want the bat and accept the below-average glove if necessary.  He’s young enough, the bat is strong enough to warrant a multi-year [deal],” one official said.
  • The Marlins made a multi-year offer to Francisco Rodriguez before he agreed to terms with the Brewers, MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy reports (on Twitter). However, McCalvy spoke to one of K-Rod’s teammates and was told that Rodriguez “likes it a lot” in Milwaukee and was hoping to return to the club. The amount that was offered to Rodriguez isn’t known, though previous reports had indicated Miami was comfortable with something in the two-year, $10MM range.
  • Yunel Escobar wasn’t happy to be traded away from the Rays, nor was he pleased about moving from shortstop to second base, James Wagner of the Washington Post writes.  The veteran infielder changed his mind after discussions with Nationals management, however, and is looking forward to playing for a contender.  “I want to help them win a World Series. If the missing piece is me playing second base, then I’m here for anything,” Escobar said.
  • Non-roster invitees in camp on minor league deals could play a significant role in the Braves‘ plans this year, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes. Asked about the team’s collection of NRIs, manager Fredi Gonzalez listed Eric Stults, Jose Veras, Matt Capps, Brady Feigl, Kelly Johnson, Eric Young and John Buck as players with a legitimate chance, noting that he was probably leaving a few out. Gonzalez seemed particularly excited about Young. “I think the world of Eric Young,” Gonzalez said. “He can really bring a different dynamic that we haven’t had here since Michael Bourn, leading off against right-handed pitching or whatever you want to do. So that’s an exciting non-roster invitee, really.”
  • In NL East news from earlier today on MLBTR, we shared some Phillies notes.

Phillies Notes: Papelbon, Hamels, Lee, Cubans, Analytics

Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon told reporters today, including Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com, that he was happy to see the news that Francisco Rodriguez had agreed to a two-year deal in Milwaukee. Papelbon described Rodriguez a “talent that needs to be in Major League Baseball.” Asked if he was disappointed that a trade to Milwaukee was seemingly no longer an option, Papelbon said no, but he did have an interesting response when asked if he would be open to playing for the Blue Jays. “Yes, Toronto, interests me — if it interests [GM Ruben Amaro]. I know some of the guys on their coaching staff. They’re a good team. If Ruben can do a deal with them, I’d be interested.” Papelbon said he is more interested in pitching in Toronto than he had been in pitching for Milwaukee, but his ultimate hope is to contend with the Phillies. “My storybook ending here is sneaking into the wild card and getting hot in the playoffs with these Phillies.”

Here are some more Phillies-related items…

  • The Red Sox don’t feel any sense of urgency to trade for Cole Hamels, writes CSN New England’s Sean McAdam. While the team’s reported agreement with Yoan Moncada prompted some speculation that Moncada’s presence made it easier for Boston to trade Mookie Betts, McAdam hears that the Sox are still steadfastly refusing to part with either Betts or Blake Swihart. The Phillies, too, are sticking to their guns, requiring that an acquiring team take on the entirety of Hamels’ salary in addition to parting with premium prospects.
  • Cliff Lee threw eight minutes of live batting practice yesterday, Salisbury writes, marking the first time he’s thrown to hitters since his injury on July 31. He threw primarily fastballs but did snap off a breaking ball to Ben Revere. Lee could throw to hitters again over the weekend, as he’s been throwing every three days, but he’s not likely to pitch in a game until the second week of the schedule. He’ll have many eyes on him as clubs evaluate Lee’s health to determine whether or not he is a viable trade candidate.
  • David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News spoke to Amaro about the team’s pursuit of Moncada and other Cuban talents that have now emerged as regulars, if not stars, at the Major League level. Amaro said that at a certain point, the risk a club takes outweighs the potential reward. “When you know you have an actual major league entity, that’s a known,” said Amaro. “I understand the devaluation as a guy gets older, there’s part of that too, but to me, it’s a risk/reward evaluation process that we go through all the time. Certain clubs have different ways of valuing or putting their dollars into the club and we have a little bit of a different one. Every club is a little bit different.” The Phillies have been involved in the pursuits of Moncada, Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig and Jorge Soler, among others. They did sign Cuban righty Miguel Gonzalez in 2013.
  • In a second article, Murphy also looks at the Phillies’ slow entrance to the era of analytics. The Phillies have made some recent hires and are investing more than $1MM in building a computer information system similar to that of the Red Sox, which will serve as a database for scouting reports, medical info and statistical models. Amaro said that while the team has used analytics to its benefit in the past, he’s looking to put more emphasis in the field now and become more creative with their usage of data and statistical trends.


Mets Not Expected To Talk Extension With Daniel Murphy

Though second baseman Daniel Murphy has been one of the Mets’ most consistent offensive performers over the past few seasons, the team has no plans to negotiate an extension with the 29-year-old during the season, reports ESPN New York’s Adam Rubin. While that wording would seem to leave open some possibility of a Spring Training extension, Rubin writes that the expectation is for New York to let Murphy walk as a free agent next offseason.

Dilson Herrera, acquired from the Pirates in the 2013 Marlon Byrd/John Buck trade, is the heir apparent for the Mets at second base. He batted a strong .323/.379/.479 between Class-A Advanced and Double-A in 2014, and he hit three homers to go along with a .220/.303/.407 batting line in an 18-game MLB cameo as well. Herrera, who turns 21 next week, seems likely to open the season at Triple-A and could be ready for a full-time gig in the Majors in 2016. The Mets also have Matt Reynolds and Wilmer Flores as potential second base options (should the team eventually find an alternative to Flores at shortstop).

Murphy told Rubin and other reporters that he’s willing to discuss an extension during the season and would love to remain with the club in the future, but his present focus is on the 2015 season. In fact, he said he didn’t even want to be involved in any theoretical extension discussions unless the talks become serious. Slated to earn $8MM in his final season of team control, Murphy said no multi-year deal was discussed while working to avoid arbitration.

If an extension isn’t in the cards, Murphy will be one of the most attractive second base options on the open market, assuming a typically strong season. Entering his age-30 season, he’ll be younger than competitors Howie Kendrick (32) and Ben Zobrist (35), and he has a better track record than comparably aged players such as Asdrubal Cabrera. Over the past four seasons, Murphy has batted .294/.333/.414 and averaged 10 homers and 15 steals per 162 games.


Athletics Claim Chad Smith From Tigers

The Athletics have claimed right-hander Chad Smith off waivers from the Tigers, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press tweets. Detroit had designated the 25-year-old for assignment in order to clear space on the 40-man roster for the recently re-signed Joba Chamberlain.

Smith is a former 17th-round pick of the Tigers that made his big league debut in 2014, allowing seven runs on 15 hits and three walks with nine strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings. He has worked to a strong 2.68 ERA over his minor league career, averaging 8.8 strikeouts and 2.6 walks per nine innings pitched. After working as a starter for part of his first minor league season, he transitioned to the bullpen in 2013 and has posted solid numbers since, though he did struggle in 27 innings at the Triple-A level last year.


Minor Moves: Ransom, McCoy, Diaz, Gaudin

Here are today’s minor moves from around the league…

  • The MLB.com transactions page lists a few new minor league deals. Infielder Cody Ransom has joined the Diamondbacks after spending some time in Japan last year. Ransom, 39, has seen action in eleven big league seasons, though he has broken the 100 plate appearance barrier only twice — in 2012-13, oddly enough. Ransom played well in that late-career run, putting up 505 plate appearances with a .207/.301/.414 slash and twenty home runs over those two seasons.
  • The Padres signed utilityman Mike McCoy. Now 33, McCoy has yet to pass the 400 plate appearance barrier at the big league level and has struggled at Triple-A in the last two seasons, but does have a better prior track record.
  • Catcher Robinzon Diaz, 31, is joining the Brewers on a minor league deal. Diaz last saw MLB action back in 2008-09 and has bounced around the upper minors since. In parts of eight seasons at Triple-A, Diaz has slashed .278/.305.387.
  • The Dodgers will sign right-hander Chad Gaudin to a minor league deal, and he will be a non-roster invitee to Major League Spring Training, tweets MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick. The 31-year-old Gaudin sat out the 2014 season as he recovered from neck surgery but was quite good with the 2013 Giants, working to a 3.06 ERA (with a 3.34 FIP and 4.00 xFIP) in 97 innings. Gaudin has experience as both a starter and a reliever in parts of 11 Major League seasons — the bulk of which have come with the Athletics. He has a lifetime 4.44 ERA with 7.1 K/9, 4.2 BB/9 and a 42.4 percent ground-ball rate in 836 1/3 Major League innings. Gaudin also worked out for the division-rival Diamondbacks recently.

Bullpen Notes: Bailey, Coke, Blue Jays

Andrew Bailey decided to stay with the Yankees because he was treated so well last year, as Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News writes. The former closer is still working his way back from shoulder surgery in the summer of 2013. “For [the Yankees] to put the time, effort, and investment into myself, I wasn’t going to look anywhere else to go,” said Bailey, who has now tossed five bullpen sessions and hopes to be ready to compete for a job out of camp.

A few more bullpen-related items from around the league…

  • Left-hander Phil Coke is still holding out for a Major League deal in the neighborhood of Craig Breslow‘s one-year, $2MM contract with the Red Sox, tweets SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo. Coke has been connected to a number of clubs, including the Rangers, Marlins, Blue Jays and Royals, over the past two weeks, but the Rangers’ interest has reportedly waned, and Miami is said to be interested only in a minor league deal. Last year, the 32-year-old posted a 3.88 ERA with 6.4 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 in 58 innings with Detroit. ERA estimators such as FIP (3.98), xFIP (3.79) and SIERA (3.55) felt Coke was at least as good, if not better than that mark would suggest.
  • If the Blue Jays pick up another reliever, it will not be one of the names left on the open market, writes Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi. “If we were to add right now, I don’t see it being in free agency,” GM Alex Anthopoulos told Davidi.

MLBTR Chat Transcript

Click here to read a transcript of this week’s live chat, hosted by MLBTR’s Steve Adams.


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D-Backs Notes: Lopez, Contracts, Payroll

D-Backs right-hander Yoan Lopez doesn’t mind one bit that fellow Cuban (and fellow Yoan) Yoan Moncada quickly broke his record $8.27MM bonus, writes Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports. Rather, Lopez is pleased to see Moncada continue a trend of Cubans realizing their dreams to play in the Major Leagues. Manager Chip Hale tells Morosi that Lopez has impressed the organization with his work ethic, charisma and explosive fastball. And while he may no longer hold the record for largest bonus for an international amateur, Morosi notes that the 22-year-old Lopez stands a much better chance of getting to the Majors in 2015 than Moncada. (Morosi’s piece also contains an amusing anecdote from Lopez detailing his dominance over now-teammate Yasmany Tomas in Cuba.)

Here’s the latest on the Diamondbacks…

  • The Diamondbacks will not be afraid to eat bad contracts in order to take their best group of 25 players to Opening Day, CEO Derrick Hall told reporters, including Jack Magruder of FOX Sports Arizona (Twitter link). The D-Backs currently have a number of bad contracts, most notably including Trevor Cahill (owed $12.5MM including the buyout on next year’s option) and Cody Ross (guaranteed $10.5MM including his own buyout). Aaron Hill‘s remaining two years and $24MM also seem steep, though it’s tougher (for me, at least) to envision a scenario in which Hill is let go. (Though the team could always eat some money in a potential trade of Hill.)
  • MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert also has some notes from Hall (in these four tweets). Hall said that the team is comfortable with a payroll in the $90-91MM range, but they’re currently north of that mark (presumably including Lopez’s bonus) and may have to get “creative” to find flexibility. That could mean moves at the end of Spring Training, or the budget could grow with increased ticket sales if the team gets off to a good start. Hall emphasized, however, that the D-Backs are not looking to move players at this time.
  • Hall also said that while the D-Backs have previously had a policy against including performance bonuses in contracts, they may be open to adjusting that line of thinking in the future.
  • For those who missed it earlier this week, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reported that the team’s new TV deal is worth more than $1.5 billion and contains an equity stake in FOX Sports Arizona. However, as Hall explained to Piecoro, the D-Backs’ offseason spending — they invested heavily in Lopez and Tomas — was made under the assumption that a new deal would be reached, so the effects of that new contract won’t be seen immediately.

NL East Notes: Turner, Moncada, Ichiro, Markakis

Shortstop Trea Turner is technically still a member of the Padres, but it’s one of baseball’s worst-kept “secrets” that he’ll be headed to the Nationals in June as a player to be named later in the three-team Wil Myers trade once he’s a year removed from being drafted. Turner tells Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune that while he does find the situation to be a bit weird, he’s happy to have had a normal camp thus far. “A little bit. It’s been awesome, though, because a lot of my teammates don’t really care too much about it. They know the business side, and things like this can happen all the time, so I haven’t been treated differently than I thought I would.” Turner’s agent, Jeff Berry of CAA Sports, called the situation “unconscionable” at the time of the trade but released the following statement yesterday, per Lin: “Trea has put this matter behind him and is focusing on his development and being a productive member of the Padres organization.”

Some more notes pertaining to the NL East…

  • Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. tells MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki that his team was in contact with Yoan Moncada‘s agent, David Hastings, right up until the end when Moncada agreed to sign with the Red Sox this week. However, Amaro declined to get into specifics or even give a “yes” or “no” answer when asked by Zolecki if the Phillies submitted a formal offer for the highly touted 19-year-old.
  • Ichiro Suzuki is appreciative of how accommodating the Marlins were during negotiations, and the positive feelings he got from the organization are a large reason that he signed there, writes Christina De Nicola of FOX Sports Florida. (For example, the Marlins have added facilities for Ichiro’s Pilates machine in their Spring Training and regular season homes, said Ichiro through a translator.) He’s also very accepting of his role as a fourth outfielder, which manager Mike Redmond said was a key component in the deal.
  • New Braves right fielder Nick Markakis has been cleared for running and extensive workouts, reports David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Markakis won’t be in the lineup for the early games in Spring Training and isn’t sure if he’ll be ready to compete come Opening Day, but he tells O’Brien that’s absolutely his goal. Manager Fredi Gonzalez tells O’Brien that he is optimistic that Markakis, who signed a four-year, $44MM contract this winter, will be ready for the opener come April 6.