Kenley Jansen Rumors

Arbitration Breakdown: Greg Holland, Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, Steve Cishek

Over the next few weeks, I will be discussing some of the higher profile upcoming arbitration cases. I will rely partly on my arbitration model developed exclusively for MLB Trade Rumors, but will also break out some interesting comparables and determine where the model might be wrong.

Four relievers enter their second year of arbitration eligibility this winter, with a chance to collectively make a huge impact on that market. Each will influence each other’s salary as they did last year, and will influence many players that follow in the coming years. Greg Holland, Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, and Steve Cishek each became full-time closers during their second full seasons in 2012, and have dominated hitters since.

Becoming a closer so early was a rare feat just a few years ago. Teams used to give three-year or four-year deals worth upwards of $10 million per year for an “established” closer. Players like Francisco Cordero, Joe Nathan, Mariano Rivera, Brad Lidge, Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano, and Jonathan Papelbon signed such deals that began between 2008 and 2012, and few of those worked out. As I wrote several years ago, teams were paying far more per WAR for relievers than any other position on the diamond by far. Obviously the measurement of WAR is tricky, but regardless of how it is measured, it was clear that allocating $10 million to a guy to throw 60 innings three years down the line was not working out for many teams.

Fortunately, something happened that gave a number of teams the opportunity to change their ways. An onslaught of talented young pitchers emerged onto the scene with incredible fastballs, and many were given the opportunity to be closers quickly. Craig Kimbrel is actually from the same service class as these four players but he signed a four-year deal last winter. However, that makes five teams who quickly established a young arm in the closing position and had some success with it. Of course, now that these guys have some experience, the price has gone up.

Holland had the best year of the foursome, with a 1.44 ERA and 46 saves. Jansen was no slouch with a 2.12 ERA and 44 saves, Chapman’s ERA was just 2.00 and he had 36 saves, while Cishek had 39 saves but a more pedestrian 3.17 ERA. As a result, the model predicted a $4.62MM raise for Holland, $3.5MM for Jansen, $3.1MM for Cishek, and $3.05MM for Chapman. The model weighs heavily on saves since the market for relievers has done so in recent years, so it has unsurprisingly ranked their raises by saves. Holland’s raise is actually subject to “The Kimbrel Rule,” which states that a player cannot beat the record for his role and service time by more than $1MM, so his projected raise is limited to $4.275MM (topping Francisco Rodriguez’s $3.275MM raise from 2007 by $1MM), which gives him a $8.95MM projected salary.

What makes these guys even more unique is the fact that so few teams have gone year-to-year in arbitration with their closers. Jason Motte, Jonathan Broxton, and Carlos Marmol have each gotten two-year or three-year deals in recent years. Obviously Kimbrel’s four-year deal meets those criteria as well.

In fact, the only closer with 30 saves in his platform season, 45 saves in his pre-platform seasons, and an ERA under 3.50 in the last five years who did get a one-year deal during his second year of arbitration was Jonathan Papelbon. He got a $3.1MM raise from the Red Sox in 2010 after putting together 38 saves and a 1.85 ERA. Before him, Francisco Rodriguez’s 2007 raise of $3.275MM is a possible clue (1.73 ERA and 47 saves), as could be Jose Valverde’s $2.7MM raise in 2008 (2.66 ERA, 47 saves), or Chad Cordero’s $2.05MM raise in 2008 (3.36 ERA, 37 saves). However, those last three cases are very old and are less likely to be considered in an arbitration case.

All four of the closers in question will basically have Jonathan Papelbon’s $3.1MM raise and whatever each other get as a reference. I think that there is a strong possibility that Chapman and Cishek do get right around their projected numbers, which are within $50K of Papelbon’s raise. I could see Chapman’s reputation pushing him a little higher, though. And I’m also inclined to agree with the model that Kenley Jansen and Greg Holland, with similar ERA’s and more saves than Papelbon, plus a few years of salary inflation behind their cases, are likely to top Papelbon’s raise. Jansen’s $3.5MM raise seems about right, and while I think the model’s estimate for Holland of a $4.62MM raise strikes me as unlikely, a Kimbrel rule-adjusted $4.275MM raise sounds reasonable.

If I had to guess, I think that these four guys will follow the model well. However, I think that they will either all collectively make the model look good, or the first guy will make it look bad, and the following three guys to sign will make it look worse as they affect each other’s cases. Without many historical comparables that look anything like this foursome, they will all become comparables for each other. Unless their teams follow the Braves and ink a multi-year deal, I would not be surprised if these four guys affect each other’s 2016 salaries as well.


Dodgers Avoid Arbitration With Kenley Jansen

The Dodgers have avoided arbitration with closer Kenley Jansen, with the two sides agreeing to a $4.3MM salary for the coming season, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (via Twitter). Jansen, 26, is a client of Wasserman Media Group.

Jansen's settlement amount comes in just above the mid-point between the hurler's $5.05MM filing figure and the team's $3.5MM counter. He falls a full half-million dollars shy of the projection of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz. Though Jansen has been among the most dominant relievers in the game — last year, in 76 2/3 innings, he maintained a 1.88 ERA with 13.0 K/9 against just 2.1 BB/9 — he has not racked up quite the save tallies (28 last year and 25 in 2012) of several other big-name closers who earned more in their first run through arbitration.


Quick Hits: Parity, Jansen, Rays, Red Sox

As the NFL season comes to an end, ESPN's Jayson Stark writes that, contrary to popular belief, there's more parity in baseball than football. True, the Red Sox and Cardinals were this year's World Series teams, but five MLB teams made the playoffs in 2013 who didn't make it the year before, including the upstart Pirates and Indians. Meanwhile, every team except the Mets and Astros has had one or more winning seasons in the past five years, whereas six NFL teams haven't had any in that span. Here are more notes from around baseball.



Arbitration Filing Numbers

MLBTR's Arbitration Tracker is the place to go to see the arbitration contracts agreed upon thus far, as well as the figures exchanged between teams and players that were not able to reach agreement before today's noon deadline to swap salary positions. Matt Swartz's arbitration projections are available here.

As MLBTR has previously explained, 146 players officially filed for arbitration (after some eligible and tendered players had alread reached agreement). Of those, 40 players will exchange figures with their clubs. Of course, those players can still reach agreements before their hearings (which will take place betwee February 1st and 21st). If the case goes to a hearing, the arbitrator must choose one side's figures, rather than settling on a midpoint.

For the Braves players listed below, however, Atlanta says it will cease negotiations and take all cases to a hearing. Two other teams that have swapped figures with some players — the Nationals and Indians — also have employed variations of the "file and trial" approach with their arbitration cases.

Though a tweet from FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal indicates that the Reds have joined the list of teams employing "file and trial," GM Walt Jocketty did not seem to echo that position in comments today to MLB.com's Mark Sheldon. It turns out that the team has only taken that position with respect to players whose deals were valued under the $2MM level, tweets Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports.

We will use this post to keep tabs on the the highest-stakes arbitration situations remaining — those where the player files for at least $4.5MM:


Arbitration Breakdown: Cishek, Jansen, Holland, Frieri

Over the next few months, I will be discussing some of the higher profile upcoming arbitration cases. I will rely partly on my arbitration model developed exclusively for MLB Trade Rumors, but will also break out some interesting comparables and determine where the model might be wrong.

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The league is full of young closers nowadays, and they all seem to be entering their first year of arbitration at the same time. There are seven different pitchers with at least 16 saves in 2013 who are entering arbitration for the first time, nearly a quarter of the entire league’s closers. Craig Kimbrel has already been discussed in a previous article and his case is far stronger than any of the other pitchers. Aroldis Chapman has a pretty unique case, if not a better one, because he has been an elite closer for two years and will be opting out of a large contract to go through arbitration. Mark Melancon is different than the others as well, because he only really was a closer in the second half of this season, and only due to injury. However, there are a number of similarities between Ernesto Frieri, Steve Cishek, Greg Holland, and Kenley Jansen, and this article will be about the cases for each of them. The model only sees arbitration salaries of $3.4MM for Frieri and $3.2MM for Cishek, while it sees $4.9MM for Holland and $4.8MM For Jansen. In this article, I will explain why the model is making these predictions and discuss whether the actual salaries will diverge this much.

For relievers, the primary determinants of their arbitration salaries are the number of saves they had in their platform season, and the number of saves they had before their platform season, as well as the number of holds in their platform season and pre-platform season. To a lesser extent, platform-year ERA and pre-platform year ERA are important as well, and innings and strikeouts all play a key role too.

Holland has the most platform year saves of the group, with 47 this past year, on top of the 20 pre-platform saves he had. This number along with his 1.21 ERA explains why he had the largest salary projection of this group at $4.9MM. Although Jansen had fewer saves than the others with 28, his 1.88 ERA was better than Cishek’s 2.33 and far better than Frieri’s 3.80 this past season. Combining that with his 2.22 ERA pre-platform (better than the other three) and his 16 holds, and Jansen is projected nearly as high as Holland, with a $4.8MM estimate. Jansen’s 34 pre-platform saves were also the highest of the four, and his 21 pre-platform holds stood only behind Holland’s 27.

Frieri did have 37 saves in 2013 and 23 more beforehand, which is definitely a good case. Although his 3.80 ERA is high for a closer, his 98 strikeouts are way more than Cishek’s 74, but less than Holland’s 103 and Jansen’s 111. Cishek had 34 saves in 2013 with 18 pre-platform. Frieri is projected to get $3.4MM and Cishek is projected for $3.2MM.

The record for closers entering their first year of eligibility still belongs to Jonathan Papelbon at $6.25MM (until Kimbrel breaks this record). His 41 platform year saves and 72 pre-platform saves puts him well ahead of this group. Even Bobby Jenks’ 30 platform year saves were augmented by his 87 pre-platform year saves, putting him ahead of this group when he got a $5.6MM salary back in 2009.

Looking for pitchers who had similar pre-platform saves as well as platform saves is important, since anyone with three years of closing will have earned more than this group of four will. Holland’s 47 platform year save count and 20 pre-platform year save count are a pretty unique pairing, so it will tough to find a perfect comparable. Everyone with over 40 saves in recent memory during their platform years had more pre-platform year saves.

Brian Wilson’s 38 platform-year saves and 48 pre-platform year saves make for an interesting comparable. In 2010, he earned $4.46MM in his first year of arbitration eligibility. Of course, his 2.74 ERA is far worse than Holland’s 1.21, so there seems to be a good chance that Holland could top this salary. On the other hand, if pre-platform year saves becomes important, than perhaps J.J. Putz’s 2007 numbers of 36 platform-year saves and 10 pre-platform year saves could be a floor—but he only earned $2.7MM. Given how stale that number is at this point, I don’t see Putz’s name coming up in negotiations. I think that Holland will have a hard time arguing for anywhere over $5MM, which is what John Axford earned last year after accumulating 35 platform year saves and 71 pre-platform year saves, so I think that the $4.9MM estimate is probably about right for him.

For Jansen, his 28 pre-platform saves are on the low side, but his 16 holds, 1.88 ERA, and 111 strikeouts augment his case. He also 34 pre-platform year saves and his 2.22 ERA and 236 strikeouts before his platform year are a strength as well, in addition to the 21 holds he had already accumulated. Andrew Bailey’s 2012 arbitration salary of $3.9MM could come up as a comparable for him. He had 24 saves in his platform-year but 51 in his pre-platform year, so he could be argued to be a ceiling for Jansen based on the pre-platform save total. However, his 3.24 platform-year ERA is far behind Jansen’s 1.88 and Jansen’s holds could help make up for the gap in pre-platform saves. Especially given the fact that Bailey had only 41 strikeouts in his platform season, I could see $3.9MM being a floor for Jansen.

Another potential comparable could be Chad Cordero, who received $4.15MM back in 2007. Although this is a stale number at this point, the 29 saves that Cordero had in his platform year are similar to Jansen’s 28, and even though his 62 pre-platform year saves beat Jansen, his 3.19 ERA and 69 strikeouts fall short of him. Furthmore, Jansen’s holds are really unique for a guy who has mostly been a closer and give him a small leg up on other names that keep coming up. In the end, something in the $4.8MM neighborhood could be a good bet, though I could see him ending up with less than this if platform year saves become too large of a factor.

Looking for comparables for Frieri is tricky if the high ERA comes into play. Even though he accumulated 37 saves in 2013, the 3.80 ERA that went along with them is abnormally high for a closer. In recent years, few such pitchers have met their criteria. Axford had a 4.68 ERA going into last year’s negotiations, which yielded him $5MM, but given that he had 71 pre-platform saves, that would dwarf Frieri’s 23, despite the similar number of saves during their platform years. Chad Cordero’s name might make some sense as well, when he earned $4.15MM in 2007, but his 62 pre-platform year saves are also too many to make for a good comparable and an ERA of 3.19 isn’t so bad either.

Another name that could come up in the negotiations over Frieri’s salary is Juan Carlos Oviedo, who had a 4.06 ERA in 2009. He only had 26 saves though and no pre-platform saves. These factors got him only a $2MM salary, which probably is way below what Frieri will receive. Brian Wilson keeps coming up as a ceiling for Frieri. He had 38 platfrom year saves and 48 pre-platfrom year saves, so he has Frieri on the pre-platform year saves, and his 2.74 ERA is much better as well. His $4.46MM salary will almost definitely exceed Frieri’s.

It’s hard to pick anyone who makes sense in between these numbers so really anywhere from $2MM to 4.4MM seems possible for Frieri. Of course, I suspect he’ll be somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, so I think that the $3.4MM projection is about right.

Cishek had 34 saves last year, but with only 18 pre-platform saves, he probably has a weaker case than these other closers. Pre-platform year saves matter a lot for first-time eligible closers, so looking for his comparables will entail limiting this. Akinori Otsuka seems to line up in some ways, but his projection is very stale. Back in 2007, he earned $3MM after recording 32 saves and a 2.11 ERA, but he only had 3 saves prior to his platform year. Since Cishek’s ERA was 2.33, it could be that $3MM becomes a floor for Cishek. On the other hand, David Aardsma received $2.75MM in 2010 after recording 38 saves, but those were the first of his career. Given his 18 career holds are similar to Cishek’s 16, and his 2.52 ERA is also near Cishek’s, I could see the Marlins trying to hold down Cishek’s salary by suggesting this comparable.

Of course, if Cishek can downplay the importance of pre-platform saves, he may be able to sneak Brian Wilson’s $4.46MM salary into the argument. Wilson had 38 platform year saves, which is similar to Cishek’s 34, and his 2.74 ERA was higher than Cishek’s 2.33. However, I suspect the 48 pre-platform saves will make it hard to make this argument. Cishek coming in near $3.2MM as he is projected, just above Otsuka’s $3MM and Aardma’s $2.75MM seems likely.

Overall, despite the uncertainty and the difficulties in finding perfect comparables, it seems like the model is probably about right on all four of these guys. Although they each may be used as comparables for each other if one or two sign earlier than the others, drawing their salaries closer together based on the similarities between their platform year and pre-platform year saves, I suspect that the large gap in ERA and strikeouts ends up pushing them further apart, as well as Holland’s standout headline of 47 saves.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.