Cleveland Indians Rumors
Big-league ballplayers make plenty of money, but that doesn't mean free agency isn't stressful. Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal takes a fascinating look at free agency as seen through the eyes of Red Sox players. Chris Capuano reports that, whenever he's a free agent, he sends his agent a list of teams in order of preference, but then has to wait to see if there's mutual interest. He also notes that, typically, playing for a winner becomes more and more important to a player the older he gets. David Ross says that, before the 2009 season, he signed to be a backup with the Braves rather than a starter with the Astros because the Braves offered a two-year deal.
Here are more notes from around the American League:
- Conflicting reports yesterday regarding Ervin Santana has everyone confused. "I really don’t know what’s real and what’s not real in that case," Orioles Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette told reporters, including Rich Dubroff of CSNBaltimore.com.
- The biggest culprit for Santana's situation is the right-hander's own camp, which dramatically overestimated his market and then was slow to change gears, ESPN's Buster Olney writes (Insider subscription required). Olney suggests that, if Santana's demands had been more realistic, he could have at least wound up with a contract similar to Matt Garza's or Ricky Nolasco's, rather than the one-year deal he now appears likely to receive.
- Back to the Orioles, Duquette still has the financial flexibility to improve the roster, but is confident in the pitching they currently have in camp, according to MLB.com's Brittany Ghiroli. "We have some more resources that we can invest in our team, and we'll take a look at each case as it comes up," Duquette said. "We do have a little more pitching depth with our starting pitching going into the season, and some of the young pitchers we have high hopes for are continuing to develop their skills."
- GM Dave Dombrowski says the Tigers won't be trading any starting pitchers, including Rick Porcello, reports Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press. Earlier today, the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo reported that the Tigers would field offers for Porcello.
- Starting pitcher Justin Masterson, who is eligible for free agency after the 2014 season, has surprisingly suggested to the Indians that he might be willing to sign a shorter-term extension, perhaps three years, but the Indians have not yet responded with an offer, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman tweets.
- The Rangers are trying to develop a long-term answer at catcher, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports. Texas hasn't had stability at catcher since Ivan Rodriguez left over a decade ago. "It’s a topic of conversation, absolutely," says GM Jon Daniels. "We’ve had some guys come over here as big-time catching prospects, but we haven’t developed our own long-term championship-caliber starter." The Rangers have beefed up their coaching staff in an attempt to help their catchers develop. The Rangers' best hope of becoming a homegrown regular catcher is, of course, top prospect Jorge Alfaro, who played most of the 2013 season with Class A Hickory.
Edward Creech contributed to this post.
Many have been quick to call Justin Masterson's reported three-year extension proposal to the Indians a bargain, but Dave Cameron of Fangraphs takes a step back and wonders how benevolent Masterson is really being. Cameron admits that he, too, initially considered a three-year, $45MM or four-year, $60MM deal to be a huge value, but he looks at the cognitive bias of "anchoring," in which we subconsciously turn an initial price for one item into an anchor price for others. Cameron argues that rather than comparing Masterson to the statistically similar Homer Bailey, who signed away five free agent years for $95MM, we should look at Masterson's expected value over the next three to four years. Doing so presents the case that Masterson's offer is fair, but hardly a tremendous discount for Cleveland. He adds that the Indians aren't a club that can afford to pay market value for too many wins, so it may not be as much of a no-brainer as many initially believed.
More from the AL Central...
- While he's yet to determine if the Twins have placed a call, Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN knows that White Sox outfielder Alejandro De Aza has quite a few fans in Minnesota's front office (Twitter link). De Aza would seem a peculiar fit for the Twins in my opinion, given the fact that he has just two years of team control and Minnesota has a number of young outfielders and outfield prospects.
- Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes that while he didn't look like a catcher trying to play third base in practice, that's exactly how Carlos Santana has looked thus far in Cactus League games. Hoynes describes his play as "stiff and uncomfortable," though he notes that Santana has had few chances to this point and could improve by playing consecutive games at the position. For the time being, it appears to be good news for Lonnie Chisenhall, as if Santana doesn't man third, he would DH and serve as a backup at first, catcher and occasionally third.
- Left-hander Blaine Hardy has gone from being released by the Royals last year to a minor league flier for the Tigers to a leading candidate to join Detroit's bullpen this season, writes James Schmel of MLive.com. Hardy posted a 1.67 ERA with 7.8 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 between Double-A and Triple-A last season, serving as both a starter and reliever. He's allowed one hit in five innings this spring, catching the eye of manager Brad Ausmus and establishing himself as one of the top candidates to fill a long reliever role at the big league level.
The following 40-man roster players have less than five years service time and are out of minor league options. That means they must clear waivers before being sent to the minors, so the team would be at risk of losing them in attempting to do so. I've included players on multiyear deals. This list was compiled through MLBTR's sources. Next, we'll take a look at the AL Central.
Both Carrasco and Outman will be on the Indians' pitching staff, noted Tony Lastoria of FOX Sports Ohio on Monday. Carrasco is battling a few others for the fifth starter job, but if he doesn't earn it he'll go to the pen.
Hayes seems to be the favorite to back up Salvador Perez at catcher, as 24-year-old Francisco Pena can get more seasoning at Triple-A. Veteran Ramon Hernandez, signed to a minor league deal, is also in the mix for the Royals' backup catcher job.
Dyson is expected to make the team as the center field backup for Lorenzo Cain, wrote Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star last week. That leaves Maxwell and Peguero battling for the fifth outfield spot. Maxwell would seem to have a leg up, having played well upon joining the team in a trade last July. His right-handed bat might be of more use to the Royals, who avoided arbitration with Maxwell in a January agreement about a week before acquiring Peguero.
The Royals seem to have room for five infielders, and Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star wrote last week that Valencia is likely to make the team. That would leave the team without a reserve middle infielder behind Omar Infante and Alcides Escobar. If the Royals do surprise and find a way to include a reserve middle infielder, it would be a competition of Ciriaco, Christian Colon, and Johnny Giavotella.
Kelly is in good standing as a super-utility man. There appears to be one bullpen job up for grabs, with pitchers such as Luke Putkonen, Justin Miller, Blaine Hardy, and Casey Crosby (if healthy) among those battling with Reed. The Tigers claimed Reed off waivers from the Marlins about a year ago, and will probably need to put him in their bullpen to start the season to retain him.
Plouffe and Swarzak are locks to make the club. Plouffe figures to man third base on an everyday basis now that Miguel Sano is out for the season, and Swarzak was among the league's best swingmen in 2013.
Diamond, Deduno and Worley are in the mix for the fifth spot in the rotation, and each can make their case based on historical context. Diamond was the club's best starter in 2012, Deduno has outperformed him since, and Worley was a key component of the Ben Revere trade just one offseason ago before a disastrous 2013 dropped his stock. The trio also has deal with top prospect Kyle Gibson, who is fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. Any of the three could end up in the bullpen, but at least one seems likely to go.
Presley has the inside track to make the club either as the Opening Day center fielder -- should Aaron Hicks struggle in Spring Training -- or as a fourth outfielder.
Escobar's versatility is appealing to the Twins, and his case for the Opening Day roster has been strengthened now that starter Pedro Florimon had his appendix removed two weeks ago. Florimon is fielding grounders pain-free as of yesterday, per MLB.com's Rhett Bollinger, but his Opening Day status is up in the air. Former Twin Jason Bartlett is in camp as a non-roster invitee and could serve as competition.
Parmelee is a former first-rounder that hasn't hit since a 2011 September call-up. The now-26-year-old demolished Triple-A pitching in 2012 but has batted just .228/.302/.364 over his past 543 PAs in the Majors. He didn't fare much better at Triple-A in 2013. With Oswaldo Arcia and Josh Willingham at the outfield corners, Joe Mauer at first base and Jason Kubel likely to make the club as a DH/corner outfielder, Parmelee's best hope is to lock down a bench role. His experience at first base could give him an edge for that spot.
The Sox seem to only have one spot open for a third baseman at this time, though that could change if they trade an outfielder like Dayan Viciedo or Alejandro De Aza. As it stands, Gillaspie is competing for third base with Jeff Keppinger and rookie Matt Davidson. It would be sensible to start Davidson at Triple-A, and it's possible lingering effects of Keppinger's September shoulder surgery could cause him to start the year on the DL.
Boggs and Belisario seem locks for the bullpen after signing as free agents, though Belisario has yet to arrive in camp due to visa issues. A few of the team's relievers are dealing with nagging injuries, but if everyone is healthy and Belisario is in camp as Opening Day approaches, there would seem to be one spot for either Veal (a lefty) or Cleto. Veal is the favorite over Cleto, who joined the team in a waiver claim just last week.
Steve Adams contributed to this post.
In his latest piece for FOX Sports, Ken Rosenthal wonders how the Indians could possibly say no to Justin Masterson's proposed extension. Rosenthal's sources tell him Masterson is seeking a three-year extension on top of his current deal at roughly market value in terms of average annual salary (Rosenthal speculates $17-18MM). Few Cleveland stars in any sport express a willingness to take a discount to stay, adds Rosenthal, and it would send a poor message to fans and the Indians' players to make the decision not to pay Masterson. Here are some more highlights from a jam-packed Rosenthal column...
- Outfielder Billy Burns might be the most intriguing player in Athletics camp, writes Rosenthal. Acquired from the Nationals in exchange for Jerry Blevins, Burns was attractive to the A's because he was one of just three players in all of minor league baseball with more than 50 stolen bases and an OBP north of .400 last season. Burns has swiped seven bags in eight Spring Training games thus far, and scouts have raved about his instincts as a leadoff man, says Rosenthal.
- Mike Olt has looked good thus far in camp with the Cubs, and the team's preference is for him to win the third base job out of Spring Training rather than head back to Triple-A. Doing so would allow the club to start Christian Villanueva at third in Triple-A and Kris Bryant at the hot corner in Double-A. Rosenthal points out that if Olt were to rebound from the concussion/vision issues that plagued him last season, the Cubs' haul for Matt Garza would look all the more impressive. Chicago also plucked C.J. Edwards from the Rangers, who enters the 2014 season ranked as the game's No. 26 prospect, per Baseball America.
- Brewers first baseman Juan Francisco could be squeezed out again and find himself on the move, writes Rosenthal. Francisco is out of options, and the Brew Crew could prefer to take Lyle Overbay as a potential pairing with Mark Reynolds due to Overbay's superior glove. Rosenthal speculates that the Tigers could be a good fit for Francisco, as they have just four players capable of hitting left-handed on their roster. MLBTR's Tim Dierkes ran down all of the NL Central's out-of-options players yesterday.
- It's been reported in recent days that the Royals and James Shields aren't likely to work out an extension, and sources tell Rosenthal the same thing. A Masterson extension would be a clear benefit to Shields, as Shields would have less competition on next year's open market. MLBTR recently examined what Shields might earn as a free agent next offseason.
Justin Masterson is only looking for a three- or four-year extension from the Indians, a short-term arrangement that speaks to comfort in Cleveland both on and off the field, MLB.com's Jordan Bastian writes. While Masterson said that contract talks are "a challenging situation, especially for me. [I'm] not doing this because we need to get the most money ever. We also think about others who may come behind us. There are a lot of different factors you try to work in. Are we being true to our value or are we skewing it?" Also, by staying with the Tribe, Masterson noted that he could further enhance the Indians' growing reputation as an attractive destination for people to play.
Here's some more from around the AL Central...
- A short-term deal may also have a strategic element to it, as MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince notes that a three-year deal would cover Masterson past the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement. It's widely expected that the qualifying offer system will be modified (or even scrapped) in a new CBA, so Masterson could take the security of a short-term deal now and avoid having his market diminished as a free agent next winter if he has qualifying offer draft compensation attached to his services.
- Also from Castrovince, Masterson's love of playing for Terry Francona "is the only reason these extension conversations have had any traction."
- Twins assistant GM Rob Antony discussed his club's pursuit of Johan Santana with Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Minnesota only viewed Santana as a starting pitcher and would've been comfortable giving him a May 31 opt-out, Antony said, but the Twins simply weren't willing to sign Santana at the price he received from the Orioles. Santana will earn $3MM in base salary if he makes the Baltimore roster, plus potentially millions more in incentives.
- While Antony admitted that injuries could change the Twins' feelings about further additions, "right now I think what we’ve got in camp is what we’re working on.”
- Three months without the injured Andy Dirks as part of their left field platoon won't do much harm to the Tigers' playoff chances, Fangraphs' Jeff Sullivan writes. While Detroit is likely to replace Dirks with internal players, Sullivan notes that a more intriguing move would be to acquire an everyday outfielder who could then take over for Torii Hunter in 2015 and beyond.
- Jim Thome admits that he would "have to take that call" if another team contacted him about returning to the field, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reports. Thome was hired as a special assistant to White Sox GM Rick Hahn last summer, though he never officially retired. While he would "always listen" about another playing opportunity, Thome enjoys his current position and has spoken of wanting to become a manager in the future.
9:18pm: The proposal made by Masterson to the Indians is believed to fall in the range of $40MM to $60MM over three to four years, reports Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer. Masterson is waiting to hear back from the Indians at present. The parties will plan to cut off negotiations on March 31st, but are willing to push into the season if talks are fruitful.
Needless to say, a deal in that range would represent a significant savings over the Bailey extension. Masterson is one year older than Bailey, but arguably has the better track record with four full campaigns under his belt.
6:21pm: Though he is looking ahead to a promising free agent market, Indians starter Justin Masterson is willing to consider a lesser deal (at least in terms of years) to stay in Cleveland, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. He could be willing to stay at the negotiating table even if the team would only guarantee three years, suggests Heyman.
Notably, Cleveland is reportedly interested in an extension of only three or four years. According to Heyman, the club has indicated to Masterson that it is not going to come near the six-year, $105MM guarantee given Homer Bailey by the Reds. (Of course, that deal includes Bailey's last arbitration year, making it really more of a five-year, $95MM extension.)
Agent Randy Rowley recently provided the Indians with a figure that he and his client would be comfortable with. Though the number is not known, the team reportedly feels somewhat optimistic about the possibility of reaching agreement. Indeed, Rowley told Heyman that his side is "trying to be sensitive to something that makes sense," though they "can't be ... a sellout." The soon-to-be-29-year-old Masterson has strong reasons for preferring to play in Cleveland, says his agent, and is comfortable with the idea of having a chance at free agency in his early thirties. Nevertheless, Rowley cautions, "the burden's on them" (i.e., the Indians) with free agency only "nine months away."
Also of note is the fact that, according to Heyman, the Indians have made clear to Masterson that his market value will likely take some hit due to the impact of a prospective qualifying offer. Rowley said he did not fear that possibility. "If you're one or two at your position among free agents, or even three," he said, "it won't have that much impact. I would wager a bet every team will need pitching." Of course, even if the potential value of a lost draft pick does not represent a huge portion of Masterson's expected open-market value at present, he carries the risk that its relative importance (and relative deterrent effect) will increase if he suffers injury or performance decline.
Here are today's minor moves from around the league...
- Indians first baseman David Cooper has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A, the club announced on Twitter. He'll be back in camp as a non-roster invitee. Cleveland designated him for assignment to make room for Justin Sellers on the 40-man roster.
- The Royals have inked catcher Jesus Flores to a minor league deal that doesn't include a Spring Training invite, according to the team's transactions page. Flores, 29, hasn't appeared in a big league game since 2012 with the Nationals but spent parts of five seasons with Washington's Major League team. In 1014 career plate appearances in the Majors, the Venezuelan backstop is a .241/.289/.375 hitter.
- The Rays have signed right-hander Sergio Perez to a minor league deal with an invitation to big league Spring Training, tweets Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. The signing marks a homecoming for the 29-year-old, who was born in Tampa and played college ball at the University of Tampa. The Astros selected Perez in the second round of the 2006 draft, and he's climbed as high as Triple-A in the minor leagues, posting a career 4.74 ERA with 6.1 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9. He began the 2013 campaign with the Athletics and wound up spending the bulk of the season pitching for the Mexican League's Pericos de Puebla.
If David Price isn't traded, "almost every baseball person one talks to mentions the Rays as the team to beat in the American League," Peter Gammons writes in his latest piece for his Gammons Daily website. Price has stayed in the fold despite multiple trade rumors this winter, with the Rays instead adding roster depth instead of moving another cornerstone player for prospects. The depth and continuity carrying over from 2013 is a big factor for Evan Longoria, who notes that "for the first time since I’ve been here, we have almost everyone back. We have a team that is going to play together two years in a row.”
Here's some more from around the AL East...
- The Rays' "laid back environment" was a key reason why Mark Lowe chose to sign a minor league deal with the club, MLB.com's Bill Chastain reports. Lowe notes that his choice came down to the Rays and Indians this winter, as those were the two clubs who "pushed the hardest" for his services. Tampa manager Joe Maddon said that the Rays originally tried to sign Lowe during the 2012-13 offseason.
- Jhonny Peralta said the Yankees offered him a three-year contract and the opportunity to play third base, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports (Twitter links). The Yankees were Peralta's preferred Big Apple team since the Mets only offered him a two-year deal that Peralta described as "not really good." Of course, Peralta overcame the stigma of his 50-game PED suspension last season to sign a four-year, $53MM contract with the Cardinals as their everyday shortstop.
- Mike Napoli rejected a qualifying offer from the Red Sox last fall and the slugger felt the draft pick compensation limited his free agent options, Napoli tells Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald. “It’s tough because it’s kind of holding you back,” Napoli said. “You get (to free agency) and it should be all the teams that want you. The way it is now, if a team doesn’t want to give up a pick, they’re not going to be interested.” It ended up being something of a moot point for Napoli, as he openly wanted to return to Boston and re-signed for a two-year, $32MM deal.
- There isn't any new news about David Ortiz's contract talks with the Red Sox, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports. The two sides apparently haven't had any further negotiations since their initial meetings two weeks ago. (Cafardo shared some more items about the AL East in his regular Sunday column, as reported earlier.)
- Quintin Berry talks to WEEI.com's Rob Bradford about why he signed with the Orioles and how he appreciated his time with the Red Sox last season, though the Sox didn't push too hard to re-sign him. “Supposedly [they tried] a little bit, but I know they had a couple of things in mind they wanted to do, some guys they wanted to try and give experience to,” Berry said. “So I just wanted to test the market and see what else I could do." Berry signed a minor league deal with the O's in January.
The Indians have acquired infielder Justin Sellers from the Dodgers in exchange for cash considerations, the club announced. In a corresponding move to create a 40-man roster spot for Sellers, the Tribe has designated first baseman David Cooper for assignment.
Sellers was himself designated for assignment by L.A. last week and the move to Cleveland frees him from DFA Limbo. Sellers was originally a sixth-round draft pick for the Athletics in 2005 and he has 266 Major League PA under his belt as a Dodger from 2011-13. The 28-year-old has a career .199/.278/.301 slash line in the bigs, though he has much more impressive numbers over his last four minor league seasons.
Sellers has experience at second and third but has primarily been a shortstop for much of his professional career. He gives the Tribe more middle infield depth, as he'll be in the mix with Mike Aviles and Elliot Johnson as the primary infield backup to Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera.
Cleveland signed Cooper to a Major League deal in December, and MLB.com's Jordan Bastian reports (via Twitter) that the Tribe will keep Cooper as a non-roster player in camp if he clears waivers. Cooper last played in the Majors in 2012 as a member of the Blue Jays as he struggled with a possible career-ending back injury before undergoing surgery and recovering enough to play 13 minor league games for the Indians last season. The left-handed hitting first baseman was Toronto's first round pick (17th overall) in 2008 and he has a .301/.376/.470 line over 2298 career PA in the minors, plus a .750 OPS in 226 Major League PA.
Earlier this month, MLBTR's Tim Dierkes learned that the Rockies have employed an unusual pre-arbitration pay scale. As you might expect, agents are less than thrilled with the system in which Colorado pays a league-minimum $500K for players with between zero and one year of service, then bumps that up by just $1K for each additional service year before arbitration. The pay scale is unique in that it offers only a minute bump over the minimum and doesn't factor in performance. However, after speaking with a number of agents and baseball officials around the league, it's clear that the Rockies are far from alone when it comes to having a rigid pay scale for players with three or less years of experience, even if theirs is less generous than others.
"I'd say about two-thirds of baseball is using some kind of formula for that," one experienced agent told MLBTR. "Every system is different. The Indians, for example, take a very sabermetric approach to it to be a little more scientific. Others will be more about service time. On one hand, those systems allow you to say to your client, 'This is why arbitration is so valuable, because you can let a third party sort it out objectively.' Of course, you can't really compare an average player with a couple years of experience to a guy with less that made the All-Star team, so I have mixed feelings about it."
Many agents mentioned the Rays as a club with a similar "sabermetric" approach to calculating pre-arbitration salaries and it's believed both teams have been using that formula for several years now. The Brewers use something similar to Tampa Bay and Cleveland, a "dumbed down" version of the sabermetric formula, as one agent put it. Other teams, like the aforementioned Rockies, have a simpler method. MLBTR's own Steve Adams learned that as recently as 2013, the Astros used the same basic formula as Colorado - players with 0-1 years experience would get the minimum salary ($490K at the time) with a $1K bump for each year. Players could earn more by making the All-Star team (+$5K), being named organizational player/pitcher of the year (+$1K), and playing time in the previous year, calculated with the following formula:
Position Players: (PA/650)*$10K
Pitchers: The greater of: 1. (GS/33)*$10K 2. (G/75)*$10K 3. (IP/200)*$10,000
Houston's system came with two interesting wrinkles. Agents were told that no player will be offered a pay cut from the salary they earned on a major league deal signed with the Astros in the previous year, an obvious plus for players and agents. On the flipside, any player who would reject the offer and opt instead for renewal would get $5K less than the calculated scale amount (or the minimum, if the $5K penalty dipped below that point). One player, Justin Maxwell, wound up getting his contract renewed by Houston at $492,500, just above the major league minimum of $490K. The Astros, citing club policy, declined to comment on their pay scale.
One baseball source told MLBTR that even though the Rockies' pay scale has gotten a great deal of attention this offseason, they've been using it for the last three winters. Even prior to that, they were using a system that was rather similar and also based on service time. Any extra money given beyond the minimum was dictated by the raise in the league minimum from the previous year. In the case of this offsesaon, the $1K increase reflected the healthy $10K boost in the minimum.
While agents may not be doing cartwheels over a $1K raise from year to year, there are instances in which nearly all of a club's pre-arb players will earn the league minimum, as was the case with the Marlins in 2012. That year year saw a drastic spike in the league minimum salary from $414K to $480K, however, so the players received a notable bump nonetheless (and in some cases more, as evidenced by Chris Coghlan's $500K salary). An executive with one club who uses a modest pay scale told MLBTR that their reasoning is rather simple.
"The thought process from our perspective always been to try and be consistent as possible," the exec said. "The [Collective Bargaining Agreement] dictates a minimum, now $500K, for these guys. The philosophical question is, what benefit do you get from paying them significantly above that, or even a dollar above that?
"It's the one time in the process that the club has the edge, if you will. We always tried to be consistent and objective and we don't want to have to try and figure out which player is more valuable than another or whether a first baseman is worth more than a relief pitcher...arbitration is all about comps, free agency is just market value, if we didn't have a pay scale, we'd effectively be choosing one of our players over another and we don't want to do that."
The exec went on to say that virtually every agent has complained about his club's pay scale and he understands their frustrations since it's the one time in the process they don't get to negotiate their client's salary. However, even though agents don't like the system, he says there have yet to be any negative consequences for it. He believes that it's partially because the scale promotes consistency. One American League executive whose club uses an "objective and subjective" method for coming up with salaries and is "in the middle of the pack" in terms of pre-arb player compensation supported that notion, saying that agents will typically protest more over how their client is paid compared to his teammates rather than the actual dollar amount.
The other reason that the official from the modest pay scale doesn't fear any sort of retribution is because agents will approach arbitration and free agency the same way regardless of how their client is paid within the first three years. The official used an example that came up numerous times in conversations with other executives and agents - Ryan Howard's $900K deal with the Phillies in his final year before arbitration. The Phillies gave their star slugger more than double their obligation, but it obviously didn't buy them a loyalty discount through the arbitration process. General Manager Pat Gillick & Co. offered $7MM, Howard's camp countered at $10MM, and the first baseman walked away with the the largest first-time arbitration salary ever. That could be of some comfort to the Angels, who took a good deal of heat from fans and the agent for Mike Trout after they opted to pay their star outfielder just $20K over minimum last year. In short, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone in baseball to bet on Craig Landis taking it easy on the Halos in their current contract talks if his client had received another $50-$100K a year ago.
It's worth noting there is at least one documented instance of a player taking his hard feelings into the arbitration process. Outfielder Cody Ross told Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports in 2012 that his previous low pay was "one of the main reasons" why he went to a hearing with the Fish in 2010. Ross won his case, coming home with $4.45MM instead of the $4.2MM he was offered. However, that doesn't appear to be the norm. In conversations with MLBTR, agents admitted that even in instances where they feel their client is underpaid in the pre-arb years, it doesn't affect how they approach arbitration or free agency since they're always pushing for top dollar no matter what. Baseball people also say that while they have seen pre-arb pay come up in hearings, there is no evidence that it factors into the arbitrator's decision.
That could help explain why most clubs have opted to use rigid formulas rather than dole out significantly more money than required. One high-ranking executive with a club that negotiates pre-arb pay with agents acknowledges that players won't take it easy on teams in arb hearings over the extra money, but he believes that it makes for a stronger relationship with the players.
"Players will pass judgment on how a club treats them relative to anything and everything," said the National League executive. "They'll think about how a club treats them when it comes to their family, travel, their contract, tickets...clubs are constantly being evaluated by players, justifiably, and every club can choose where they want to be evaluated well and where they're prepared to take a hit."
While that exec didn't like the notion of clubs giving their pre-arb players a near-minimum salary, he admitted that he understood the allure. The up-front savings, even if they're not significant, are a nice perk. On top of that, it's also less time-consuming to send an agent a dollar figure and say, "take it or leave it." "I couldn't imagine how much longer it would all take if we were negotiating with every player," said one executive with a pay scale club.
The player-friendly notion of negotiating appears to be going out of style throughout baseball. "Most clubs, if they don't have a strict formula where you input the service time and certain numbers based on performance, they at last have some basic parameters in place versus 'Hey, this is what we feel like paying you,'" one exec said. While negotiating pre-arb pay might make a player happier in the short-term, it seems that many clubs would rather expedite the process, and perhaps save a few dollars, with a pay scale.
This article was originally published on February 26th.