Colorado Rockies Rumors

Colorado Rockies trade and free agent rumors from MLBTradeRumors.com.

How Clubs Determine Pre-Arbitration Salaries

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.


New York Notes: Cashman, Drew, Niese, Tulo, Franklin

Earlier today, it was reported that the Yankees will be monitoring the market for infielders in Spring Training but aren't looking to spend any significant cash in order to upgrade their infield. Here are some more items pertaining to New York's teams…

  • Despite the Yankees' 85-77 record, GM Brian Cashman approached the winter as if his club had only achieved its Pythagorean record of 79-83.  “Our team over-performed last year,” Cashman told reporters, including Ken Davidoff of the New York Post. “It’s a credit to everybody involved in that process. But the record didn’t reflect the talent. And so when you take a sledgehammer to the roster like we did this winter and spend the money we did, it’s more reflective of recognizing. Of not being fooled.” 
    the Bombers’ best insurance policy
    the Bombers’ best insurance policy
  • Stephen Drew is "the Bombers' best insurance policy" given the Yankees' thin infield situation, The Record's Bob Klapsich writes.  While the Yankees are concerned about Drew's medicals and seemingly have no payroll space left, Klapisch notes that the club is already putting a lot of hope in an infield with major injury risks (i.e. Derek Jeter, Brian Roberts, Mark Teixeira).  "Basically, we have to keep everyone from breaking down," a Yankees official tells Klapisch.
  • According to Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com, Mets GM Sandy Alderson acknowledged that his team appears to be a logical landing spot for Drew, but the team has made its own cost-benefit evaluation and acted accordingly to this point. Alderson opined the Drew and agent Scott Boras "are reviewing the situation and perhaps looking at a strategy that prolongs this situation into the regular season or even into June."
  • Mets lefty Jon Niese was shut down due to a dead arm and is heading back to New York for an MRI, according to MLB.com's Anthony DiComo (on Twitter). Manager Terry Collins told reporters, including the Daily News' Kristie Ackert, that the MRI is a precaution at this time.
  • In a video blog at ESPN.com, Jim Bowden addresses rumors surrounding Troy Tulowitzki and the Yankees, noting that the Rockies star won't be traded to New York to replace Jeter no matter how much talk of the possibility surfaces.  Bowden says that Rockies president Dan O'Dowd has told him repeatedly that Tulo won't be traded.
  • The Mets will scout Nick Franklin throughout Spring Training and pay special attention to his defense, a team source tells John Harper of the Daily News (Twitter link). The club likes Franklin's pop but isn't sure about his glove at short, the source said. Reports earlier this week connected the Mets to Franklin.

MLBTR's Mark Polishuk also contributed to this post


Ervin Santana’s Asking Price Not Dropping

Ervin Santana isn't lowering his asking price as Opening Day inches closer, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Executives from teams with interest in the right-hander tell Heyman that despite the onset of Spring Training, Santana is still seeking something in the range of $50MM over four years — the same contract signed by Ubaldo Jimenez with the Orioles and Matt Garza with the Brewers, and $1MM more than Ricky Nolasco got from the Twins.

Heyman adds that Santana has been seeking four years "for a while now," and that won't change no based on the calendar or fellow draft-pick free agent Nelson Cruz settling for a surprising one-year, $8MM deal. According to Heyman, the Orioles, Mariners, Rangers and Rockies are looking at Santana right now, and the Blue Jays are believed by some to still be a possibility.

Colorado's interest in Santana could be tied to the fate of right-hander Jhoulys Chacin, who underwent an MRI due to shoulder pain. Fresh off a 3.47 ERA in 197 1/3 innings for the Rockies last season, the 26-year-old entered Spring Training as a lock for the club's rotation. However, the team announced today (on Twitter) that Chacin has a strained right shoulder with inflammation and will not be able to throw for at least a week.

It's logical to assume that a serious setback for Chacin would heighten Colorado's interest, but Troy Renck of the Denver Post writes that even with the somewhat negative news from today's MRI, the team isn't interested in Santana at four years and $50MM. Renck has written previously that the club is turned off by Santana's history of fly balls and homer problems, though it's worth noting that Santana's fly-ball rate has drastically declined over the past three seasons as his ground-ball rate has risen.

Heyman closes by saying that Santana is said to be willing to wait for the right deal to present itself and could consider waiting until after the June Draft to sign, which would rid him of the draft pick compensation attached to his name. Earlier today, MLBTR's Tim Dierkes looked at which pick each of the 30 teams would have to surrender to sign Santana (or Stephen Drew or Kendrys Morales). While not all of those teams are logical fits at this time, it takes just one major injury for a new suitor to emerge.



Quick Hits: Santana, Billingsley, Tejada, Drew, Hanrahan, Diaz

MLBPA chief Tony Clark addressed today the situation of Ben Wetzler, the Phillies' draft choice who was recently suspended by the NCAA for having an agent present while he negotiated with the club, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca reports"What we're doing in the short-term is trying to make sure we understand exactly what happened and what led to what happened with that young man in college," said Clark. "Rest assured it's a concern, it's something that we're paying attention to, but outside what's been bantered about through the media, we don't know much else at this point." For their part, the Phillies have yet to offer any comment other than acknowledging that they "did participate in the NCAA investigation." One agent tells Nicholson-Smith that, if the team did report Wetzler's use of an agent, "it was extremely short-sighted and impulsive on the part of the team."

Here are a few more links to round out the evening:

  • The Rockies have recently made contact with free agent starter Ervin Santana, reports CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman. The team's interest may be dependent upon the status of Jhoulys Chacin, whose shoulder issues are still being assessed. A Rockies official denied interest in Santana, however, reports MLB.com's Thomas Harding.
  • Though the Dodgers needed a roster spot to make room for new signee Erisbel Arruebarrena, the club elected to designate Justin Sellers for assignment rather than putting Chad Billingsley on the 60-day DL, writes Chris Gabel for MLB.com. That constitutes something of a vote of confidence in Billingsley's ability to return from Tommy John rehab in a relatively short time frame. The 29-year-old is entering the final year of a three-year, $35MM pact, with the club holding a $14MM option ($3MM buyout) on his 2015 season.
  • While Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada has reportedly shed some pounds, the club is nevertheless reportedly less than happy with his athletic form, reports Kevin Kernan of the New York Post. If that translates to an underwhelming start to camp, Kernan implies, there could be increasing impetus to sign Stephen Drew. "I would not be surprised if we signed Drew," an official said, "but at the same time, I don't expect it to happen." 
  • Across town, the Yankees are keeping tabs on reliever Joel Hanrahan after inking another rehabbing former closer in Andrew Bailey, reports Andy Martino of the New York Daily News. As Martino explains, interest in arms like Bailey and Hanrahan shows that the club has some concern with its pen depth.
  • The Twins are a very unlikely landing spot for Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz, tweets Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN. Diaz is looking to land a deal like the five-year, $25MM contract given Arruebarrena, says Wolfson, but Minnesota does not believe he is as good as his countrymate.

Quick Hits: Rangers, Pirates, Rockies, Bonds

Mitch Moreland and Elvis Andrus are the only two position players remaining on the Rangers roster who played in the 2010 World Series against the Giants, the Associated Press writes.  "You realize sometimes how crazy baseball is and how everything can change in a couple of years," Andrus said. "It's crazy. That's why you have to enjoy every second, every moment of this. Because you never know what's going to happen in the future." Here's more from around baseball.


NL West Notes: Quentin, Fried, Belt, Tulo, Owings

Carlos Quentin tells Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune that at one point in the 2013 season, his injuries were nagging him to the point where he weighed retirement. The 31-year-old recalls thinking, "I can’t produce and do well, so I shouldn’t be out here." Quentin admitted to Acee that he wasn't honest last Spring when speaking about how healthy he was, but Acee notes the change in Quentin's demeanor this offseason as he told reporters that he wants to set a new career-high in games played this season.

The latest on the Padres and the rest of the NL West below…

  • Dennis Lin of the Union-Tribune reports that Padres top prospect Max Fried has been shut down for at least two weeks due to soreness in the flexor-mass area of his left (pitching) elbow. GM Josh Byrnes said Fried initially felt the soreness when playing long-toss from 120 feet. "At this stage of his career, this time of year, we’re obviously gonna be careful and make sure he’s symptom-free before he gets going," Byrnes said. "There was still enough soreness in there that we’re gonna be conservative and make sure we knock it out."
  • Giants first baseman Brandon Belt told reporters, including MLB.com's Chris Haft, that receiving the biggest payday of his life — a $2.9MM contract to avoid arbitration two nights ago — was a "magical" moment. Belt added that he would be open to discussing a long-term deal to remain in San Francisco: "I think anybody would be open to a long-term extension, especially with this organization. It's a first-class organization."
  • Troy Tulowitzki knows that rumors will fly over the next year, as talk of the Yankees needing to replace Derek Jeter will likely connect him to the Bronx, writes Troy Renck of the Denver Post. Tulo, who has looked up to Jeter since his youth and wears No. 2 in the Yankee Captain's honor, tells Renck that he's used to trade rumors and will remain focused on helping the Rockies win games.
  • Chris Owings never let the Diamondbacks' acquisition of Didi Gregorius faze him last year, writes MLB.com's Steve Gilbert. Owings was thought of as the club's shortstop of the future when he was drafted in 2009 but looked to have been passed up by Gregorius at the time of last year's trade. Rather than dwell on it, Owings focused on his game and won the Triple-A Pacific Coast League's MVP Award, once again positioning himself a long-term answer for Arizona at short, writes Gilbert.

Long List Of Teams Interested In Ervin Santana

Ervin Santana's list of suitors includes not only the Blue Jays, Orioles and Mariners (all of whom have been connected to Santana in the past week), but also the Indians, Rockies, Royals and other teams, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman writes. Heyman cautions that it's possible that some teams may merely be trying to get Santana on a cheap deal, however.

The Royals would like Santana to return, Heyman writes. The Indians may also be a possibility, although they might be more likely to re-sign Ubaldo Jimenez (which itself seems unlikely). The Reds and Phillies could also be possibilities, although those seem more speculative.

The Blue Jays and Mariners would appear to have an edge in pursuit of Santana, since both teams could be competitive, and neither team would lose a first-round draft pick if they signed him. Perhaps the takeaway here, however, is that, with spring training camps opening and with Santana as one of five qualifying-offer players still on the market, there is plenty of uncertainty, and the team that signs him might not end up being one of the obvious contenders.


Rockies Notes: Monfort, Starters, Payroll, Fowler

The Rockies' pre-arbitration pay scale continues to be unpopular amongst agents, tweets MLBTR's Tim Dierkes. 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. Here's more from the Rockies:

  • In a Q&A with fans today over Twitter (transcript via the Denver Post), club owner Dick Monfort covered a variety of topics. Expressing confidence in executive VP and GM Dan O'Dowd, Monfort said that the club is capable of reaching 90 wins next year if it maintains a healthy roster. 
  • Colorado could be turning the corner in its efforts to put together a strong pitching staff despite a notoriously hitter-friendly home park. Monfort noted that the club's 2013 rotation was "statistically the best pitching in our history." And more improvements could be on the way: Monfort says that top prospects Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler "could potentially be pitching at Coors Field by late summer."
  • Monfort also confirmed the organizational philosophy of adding arms that can induce grounders, noting that pitchers like Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, and Stephen Strasburg all sport career ERAs of over 6.00 at Coors Field. Major off-season acquisition Brett Anderson, notably, sports a career 54.9% ground-ball rate that lands well above league-average (which sat at 44.5% last year). Though he struggled with surrendering home runs last year (17.9% HR/FB), Anderson managed a career-best 62.9% ground-ball rate, continuing a trend of increasing his induction of grounders in each of his five MLB campaigns.
  • Monfort fielded several less-than-positive inquiries regarding spending. He argued that the club's payroll has increased 20% over last year, and said that despite strong attendance (9th in the bigs), the team maintained only the 28th-highest ticket prices and boasted only the 19th-ranked market in the league. He noted, however, that the team's TV deal "will improve next year."
  • On the Dexter Fowler trade (which brought back Jordan Lyles and Brandon Barnes), Monfort said that the team was pleased to add "a good pitcher and center fielder." The owner says he is confident in the team's outfield depth, and explained that the deal was made because "it allowed us to do other things." The swap cleared the club's books of the $7.35MM owed Fowler in 2014 and, presumably, an increase through arbitration next year. It likely played an important role in allowing the club to take on Anderson's contract ($8MM in 2014, less $2MM paid by the A's, with a $12MM option for 2015) and sign Justin Morneau (two years, $12.5MM).

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Trade Talks For Jose Lobaton Heating Up

Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports (via Twitter) that trade talks for Rays catcher Jose Lobaton have begun to heat up. Topkin notes that teams with interest or need at the position include the Diamondbacks, Indians, Rockies, White Sox, Mets and Nationals.

The 29-year-old Lobaton slashed a solid .249/.320/.394 with seven homers for the Rays in 2013 and also belted one of the most dramatic and improbable home runs of the postseason. A switch-hitter, Lobaton has historically been better from the right side of the dish than the left, but he bucked that trend and swung the bat better as a lefty (.736 OPS) than as a righty (.653) in 2013.

While Lobaton is a solid, controllable bat — he is a Super Two player that is not eligible for free agency until the 2017-18 offseason — at a thin position, he also comes with some defensive question marks. Lobaton has caught just 16 percent of attempted base stealers in his career and was below average at blocking pitches in the dirt in 2013 (per Fangraphs). While he's not a poor pitch-framer, he also doesn't add significant value in that department, either (per Matthew Carruth's work at StatCorner).

Lobaton has been connected to the White Sox and Nationals in trade talks so far this offseason, with the Nats being the most recently linked club. A trade would seem to be beneficial for both Lobaton and the Rays; the Rays acquired and extended Ryan Hanigan this offseason in addition to re-signing Jose Molina, leaving Lobaton without a clear path to playing time. Additionally, a trade would save the Rays a bit of cash, as Lobaton avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $900K salary for 2014.


NL West Notes: Burnett, Arroyo, Giants, Belt, Guerrero

Now that A.J. Burnett has decided to pitch in 2014, the Diamondbacks would be interested in adding him to their rotation, tweets Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic. However, the D-Backs don't feel that Burnett is interested in pitching for a team on the West coast, according to Piecoro, so there may not be mutual interest. More on the D-Backs and the rest of the NL West below…

  • The Diamondbacks are beginning to kick the tires on Bronson Arroyo, according to the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo (on Twitter). Arroyo told ESPN's Jayson Stark earlier this week that he's yet to receive a formal offer from a club.
  • Giants manager Bruce Bochy told Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle that his team is done pursuing free agent starting pitchers (Twitter link). The Giants seem likely to head into the season with Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Tim Hudson and one of Ryan Vogelsong or Yusmeiro Petit in the rotation.
  • Schulman also spoke with Brandon Belt, who said he has no ill feelings toward the Giants for submitting a $1.55MM arbitration figure ($2.05MM lower than his own figure) and won't have any hard feelings if they go to a hearing and he listens to the team make a case against him (Sulia link). "I don't think they think little of me," said Belt. "I think that's what teams do. That's the business side of baseball. I think what both sides are trying to do is create a midpoint, maybe. … I know what I wasn't good at, so if I go in there it's not going to hurt my feelings any. If they have to tear me down a little bit, I'll be OK."
  • New Dodgers second baseman Alexander Guerrero tells Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com that shortstop and second base are "completely different" and admits to struggling to adapt to a new culture. However, he called Los Angeles "beautiful" and voiced confidence that he'll be ready to handle second base come Opening Day. Saxon reports that the Dodgers are still looking to add one more infielder to their bench, likely to serve as insurance.
  • Earlier in the week, Troy Renck of the Denver Post wrote that the Rockies have "mild" interest in Ervin Santana but aren't pursuing him at his current price and are also reluctant to surrender the 35th pick in this year's draft.