Milwaukee Brewers Rumors

Milwaukee Brewers trade and free agent rumors from MLBTradeRumors.com.

NL Notes: Hellweg, Cuddyer, Cubs, Espinosa

Fireballing Brewers prospect Johnny Hellweg, 25, has been diagnosed with a torn UCL and is headed to visit Dr. James Andrews, reports MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy. Hellweg, the club’s 7th overall prospect in the eyes of MLB.com, has been working at Triple-A after briefly reaching the bigs last year with Milwaukee. He put up a 6.75 ERA in 30 2/3 big league frames in 2013, but had a 3.14 mark in 131 2/3 minor league innings (albeit with 6.4 K/9 against 5.7 BB/9).

Here’s more from the National League:

  • Michael Cuddyer and the Rockies are in no rush to consider a new deal, writes Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post. Cuddyer, 35, is set to complete his three-year, $31.5MM deal this season, and says he hopes to play two or three more seasons. But he is planning to finish out his contract and consider his options down the line.
  • The Cubs plan to take the best player available with the fourth overall pick in the upcoming amateur draft, reports Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. Though the team is stocked with well-regarded field prospects, and somewhat less flush with young arms, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein says they will “take the best player, regardless of position,” explaining that he will look to make “the best investment, the best bet on that player’s career.” The team is hopeful of building pitching depth from this year’s amateur pool, even if that does not come through the first choice. “There’s tremendous depth in this class,” said Epstein. “It’s more depth than elite, per se. But we should be coming out with a good pitching haul when it’s said and done.”
  • Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa is in the midst of a bounce-back campaign, writes Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post. After struggling mightily last year, and reportedly drawing significant trade interest from teams looking to take a chance on a turnaround for the 26-year-old switch-hitter, Espinosa is off to a .273/.333/.455 start through his first 59 plate appearances. He has taken over as the regular at second, with Anthony Rendon shifting to third while Ryan Zimmerman is on the DL. Espinosa’s rough 2013 was not without its benefits for the Nats, as his demotion allowed the team to pause his service clock: with just 2.113 years entering this season, Espinosa will not be eligible for free agency until 2018.

NL Central Links: Maldonado, Volquez, Walker, Cubs

The Pirates and the Brewers found themselves in the midst of controversy over the weekend as the result of a benches-clearing brawl started by a verbal exchange between Gerrit Cole and Carlos Gomez. However, Martin Maldonado was also involved in the scuffle, landing a punch on Travis Snider, and ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that Maldonado will be suspended for five games and fined $2,500 (Twitter links). Maldonado, who is earning $502K this season, will end up losing a little more than $16K as a result of the suspension and fine, which translates to roughly three percent of his salary. The official announcement of all suspensions resulting from the brawl is expected today, tweets Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Here’s more from the NL Central…

  • MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince examines Edinson Volquez‘s strong start with the Pirates and wonders if he is the next successful reclamation project for pitching coach Ray Searage and special assistant to the GM Jim Benedict. Castrovince runs down many of the techniques that Searage and the Pirates have gone through with Volquez to improve his command and mechanics. He also writes that Francisco Liriano played a large role in Volquez signing with Pittsburgh, as Liriano heavily recruited his fellow Dominican to join the Bucs, telling him it was a perfect place to rebuild his career. (In addition to Liriano, both A.J. Burnett and Mark Melancon have experienced tremendous turnarounds upon arrival in Pittsburgh.)
  • Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review breaks down Neil Walker‘s continually improving approach at the plate, noting his increased contact rates and decreased chase rates over the past few years. Sawchik wonders if Walker’s approach has him on the cusp of emerging as a star-caliber second baseman.
  • Former Cubs coach Dave McKay spoke with Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times and said that both he and former manager Dale Sveum were surprised by their dismissals after two years, as president Theo Epstein had said from the beginning that the coaching staff wouldn’t be evaluated based on performance. Still, McKay praised the organization and Epstein’s rebuild, stating that he had no hard feelings toward the club and praising them for retaining pitching coach Chris Bosio and catching coach Mike Borzello. McKay, a Phoenix-area resident, caught on as a coach with the Diamondbacks this offseason.

Brewers Outright Jose De La Torre

The Brewers have outrighted righty Jose De La Torre to Triple-A, reports Tom Haudricourt of the MIlwaukee Journal Sentinel (via Twitter). With the move, Milwaukee now has one free spot on its 40-man roster.

De La Torre was claimed off of waivers from the Red Sox back in September. The 28-year-old was solid in Triple-A last year, posting a 2.75 ERA in 52 1/3 innings with 10.1 K/9 and 4.6 BB/9. In his first taste of MLB action, however, De La Torre struggled in just 11 1/3 innings of work, allowing 6.35 earned runs per nine frames. Though he showed he could generate strikeouts of big league hitters (11.9 K/9), his walk rate (7.9 BB/9) left much to be desired.



Minor Moves: Martinez, Erbe, Liz, Olmsted

Here are some minor moves from around the league…

  • The Angels have signed righty Joe Martinez to a minor league pact, per the club's official transactions page. The 31-year-old Martinez made a pair of appearances for the Indians last season, allowing one run in five innings. He has a 5.82 ERA in 55 2/3 career innings between the Giants, D'Backs, Pirates and Indians and a 4.75 ERA in 548 Triple-A innings. 
  • Right-hander Brandon Erbe has signed a minor league deal with the Rockies, according to the team's transactions page. Erbe, 26, ranked as the game's No. 27 prospect heading into the 2007 season, per Baseball Prospectus, but 2010 shoulder surgery has stalled his once-promising career. The former third-round pick has thrown just 45 minor league innings over the past three seasons as he's battled back from a torn labrum. 
  • The Blue Jays signed right-hander Radhames Liz to a minor league contract, Baseball America's Matt Eddy tweeted this weekend. The 30-year-old was once among the game's Top 100 prospects, per BA, but hasn't pitched in the Majors since 2009. Liz has spent the past three seasons pitching for the LG Twins in the Korea Baseball Organization and led the league in strikeouts last season with 188. However, Shi Davidi of Sportsnet reported (via Twitter) that he'll begin the season rehabbing a knee injury. Liz had a 7.50 ERA in 110 1/3 Major League innings with the Orioles from 2007-09.
  • Brewers senior director of media relations Mike Vassallo tweets that the club has released right-hander Michael Olmsted. Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel spoke with manager Ron Roenicke about the decision to release the 6'6", 282-pound right-hander. Roenicke said they simply wanted to give Olmsted a chance to get an opportunity elsewhere rather than releasing him later in the spring. Olmsted posted a 5.88 ERA in 59 2/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A for the Brew Crew last season, but the 26-year-old has an excellent 3.02 ERA with 11.1 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9 in his minor league career.

Rosenthal’s Latest: Masterson, Burns, Olt, Francisco

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.

Teams Scouting David Phelps, Yankee Catchers

The Mariners sent a scout to watch David Phelps' recent Spring Training outing, George A. King III of the New York Post reports, while the White Sox and Brewers also had scouts on hand to watch the Yankees' catchers.  King previously reported last week that the White Sox had their eyes on the Yankees' catching surplus and that the Yankees were scouting Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks.

With the Yankees known to be looking for infielders, King speculates that Nick Franklin could be a target for the club, especially since Seattle is known to be exploring trades for the young second baseman.  The M's are looknig to upgrade their pitching depth thanks to injuries to Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker, though as King notes, it would take more than just Phelps to acquire Franklin. 

It would be somewhat surprising to see the Yankees move Phelps given the club's lack of starting pitching depth.  Phelps is competing with Michael Pineda and Adam Warren to be New York's fifth starter, and since Pineda hasn't pitched in a Major League game since 2011 and Warren has only three career starts over his two MLB seasons, the Yankees would have to be confident in both pitchers' development to send Phelps elsewhere.  Phelps' advanced metrics (3.81 FIP, 4.03 xFIP, 3.91 SIERA) indicate that he pitched much better last season than his 4.98 ERA over 86 2/3 IP would indicate.

The Yankees have Francisco Cervelli, J.R. Murphy and Austin Romine competing to be Brian McCann's backup, and all could fit into reserve roles in Chicago or Milwaukee.  The Sox could offer more regular time, as their catching mix of Josh Phegley, Tyler Flowers, Hector Gimenez and Rule 5 Draft pick Adrian Nieto isn't at all settled.  

With Jonathan Lucroy firmly locked into the starting job in Milwaukee, the Brewers are only looking for a backup.  If Weeks is a target, it's only a matter of how much of his $11MM salary the Crew will agree to absorb (King also suggests Aramis Ramirez as a trade possibility, but I doubt the Brewers would think to trade him unless they struggle during the season and fall out of the race).


Out Of Options Players: NL Central

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.  Today, we'll take a look at the NL Central.

Brewers: Juan FranciscoJeff Bianchi

Francisco is competing with Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay for the Brewers' first base job.  It's hard to imagine a scenario where all three make the team, wrote Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel last week.  Reynolds and Overbay signed minor league deals, but it seems likely at least one of them will make the team.  When Reynolds signed in January, it was said the Brewers told him he'll almost certainly make the team, so Overbay might have to beat out Francisco, who has the advantage of already being on the 40-man roster.

Back in February, Curt Hogg of Disciples of Uecker dissected the Brewers' reserve infielder situation, explaining that while they may need to carry seven infielders, Bianchi still seems needed as the only one capable of backing up Jean Segura at shortstop.

Cardinals: None

CubsGeorge KottarasWesley WrightJustin RuggianoJames McDonaldPedro StropWelington CastilloJeff SamardzijaLuis ValbuenaTravis WoodDonnie MurphyAlberto Cabrera

McDonald is competing with Chris Rusin for the Cubs' fifth starter job, at least until Jake Arrieta's shoulder is deemed ready.  Meanwhile, Cabrera is battling for the final bullpen spot with about a half-dozen others.

PiratesChris StewartJeanmar GomezMark MelanconTravis SniderJose TabataBryan MorrisAndy OliverStolmy PimentelPedro AlvarezVin Mazzaro

The Bucs' seven primary relievers last year were Jason Grilli, Melancon, Justin WilsonTony Watson, Gomez, Mazzaro, and Morris, and indeed, that was their bullpen for the NLDS.  It would be difficult for Oliver to break into that group, but surely the Pirates don't want to lose the hard-throwing Pimentel.  Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects thinks they'll find a place for him.  Some kind of trade makes sense to clear the logjam, barring injury.

RedsAlfredo Simon

Simon is in good standing as a member of the Reds' pen.


Offseason In Review: Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers are hoping that a pair of late free agent signings and the return of two key bats will help them improve upon their fourth-place finish in a stacked NL Central division.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Extensions

  • None

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

Though Milwaukee's starters finished the season well, the team's first-half struggles were pronounced. Even after the addition of Kyle Lohse — who pitched well in his debut season with the team — the Brewers' rotation combined for a 4.86 ERA prior to the All-Star break (third-worst in all of baseball). That mark dropped to a stellar 3.36 in the second half thanks to turnarounds from Yovani Gallardo, Wily Peralta and Marco Estrada.

Garza-Matt-Rangers

However, Milwaukee lacked a clear fifth starter, as 12 different pitchers started games for the team in 2013. That's no longer an issue, as the addition of Garza not only improves the team's chances of sustaining its second-half surge, it gives manager Ron Roenicke no questions about which five pitchers will be taking the hill on a regular basis. Garza, Lohse, Gallardo, Estrada and Peralta form a solid quintet that could be one of the better rotations in the National League.

The Brewers also entered the offseason with a good deal of uncertainty in the bullpen, which made the decision to trade Badenhop for a low-level minor league arm a bit puzzling. Nonetheless, the additions of Smith and Rodriguez give Roenicke two arms to bolster his relief corps. Smith broke out in Kansas City last season, posting a strong 3.24 ERA with 11.6 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 33 2/3 innings (he was even better as a reliever, as he yielded four runs in four innings in his lone start of 2013). Smith held opposing lefties to a .557 OPS, and even righties managed just a .684 OPS against him. He could also be deployed as a starting pitcher should the club see some injuries in the rotation. Or, the club could prefer to Smith him in his best role to date and turn to Tyler Thornburg or Mike Fiers should a starter go down.

Rodriguez, the club's only other Major League signing besides Garza, signed his third separate one-year deal with the Brewers this offseason and provides a nice fallback option should Jim Henderson falter as the club's closer. K-Rod was outstanding for the Brewers in 24 2/3 innings before being traded to Baltimore for Nick Delmonico last year. Milwaukee now gets to keep Delmonico and deploy Rodriguez from its bullpen once again.

Questions Remaining

The biggest need for Milwaukee may simply have been to make sure the starters are able to take the field. Aramis Ramirez missed much of 2013 with injury, Ryan Braun was suspended for the season's second half and Corey Hart never played a game at first base after undergoing a pair of knee surgeries.

The club now is faced with questions surrounding those players. Will Ramirez, who turns 36 in June, be able to stay healthy? How will Braun respond to the media attention that he will undoubtedly receive all season and the negative reactions in visiting parks (and potentially his own home park as well)?

Perhaps the biggest question facing Milwaukee, though, is its first base situation. The Brewers were very interested in a reunion with Hart, but they neglected to match Seattle's price. The Mariners guaranteed Hart $6MM with the chance to earn up to $13MM total after incentives. Milwaukee's best offer to Hart, reportedly, allowed him to max out at $8MM. The Brewers were also connected to James Loney, though they balked at his asking price as well, and Loney returned to the Rays on a three-year, $21MM deal. Another possibility would have been Ike Davis, but GM Doug Melvin was unwilling to part with right-hander Tyler Thornburg to make a trade happen.

In the end, Reynolds was signed with the promise that he was a virtual lock to make the club out of Spring Training. The 30-year-old possesses light-tower power but also strikes out at a prolific rate and found himself released by the Indians last year. Reynolds got off to one of the hottest starts in recent memory but fell into what could be the worst slump of his career prior to being let go. He could platoon with Overbay or Juan Francisco, but each member of that trio comes with more red flags and question marks than guarantees.

The Brewers will soon learn if Khris Davis can be their everyday left fielder, or if that will be something they need to address in future offseasons. Davis posted a whopping .279/.353/.596 batting line with 11 homers in just 153 plate appearances last season, indicating that he has the potential to hit 25 or maybe even 30-plus homers in the Major Leagues. However, he's also never been too highly regarded as a prospect and comes with some defensive limitations. Already 26 years old, this will be somewhat of a make-or-break year for Davis.

Lastly, Jean Segura is penciled in as the everyday shortstop, but he will need to prove that he's capable of producing over a full season. The one-time Rookie of the Year candidate finished with strong overall numbers but batted a mere .241/.268/.315 in the season's second half.

Deal Of Note

Brewers GM Doug Melvin had drawn plenty of ire from fans and media alike for his lack of activity on the free agent market prior to signing Garza in late January. Milwaukee was the only club not to have signed a Major League free agent at that point, but Melvin's patience paid off, as he was able to get Garza for roughly the same price that netted the Twins Ricky Nolasco more than two months earlier.

There was some uncertainty regarding Garza's status, as after initial reports that the agreement was reached, pending a physical, the Brewers issued a statement to say that no deal was in place. While teams often refuse to comment on signings that are reported prior to completion of the physical, it's highly uncommon for a club to actually deny the deal and say the two sides are still in discussion.

Eventually, the deal was announced with a unique and complex fifth-year option that 1) was likely the cause for the delay and 2) demonstrates just how wary teams were of Garza's health issues. The Brewers have a very cheap $5MM option on Garza for the 2018 season that drops to just $1MM if he is on the DL for 130 days during any of the previous four seasons. However, it can vest at $13MM if he pitches 110 games over the first four years of the deal, is not on the disabled list at the end of the 2017 season and throws at least 115 innings in 2017. With $1MM available in incentives each season, Garza can earn up to $67MM over five years. His $50MM guarantee marks the largest free-agent expenditure in team history.

Overview

Melvin continued a trend we've seen from his team in recent years by waiting out the market in order to secure a couple of solid values on late-signing free agents. Milwaukee's rotation should be improved and will be a strength for this team. Full seasons of Ramirez and Braun will go a long way toward improving the offense, but the production of Davis and Segura loom as uncertainties. If even one of those two performs at a high level, it may be enough to overshadow what seems likely to be a first-base deficiency. Milwaukee plays in an exceptionally difficult division, with three teams coming off a season of 90 or more wins. Despite that, there's enough talent on the team to contend for a Wild Card spot if everything breaks their way.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Cafardo On Lester, Carp, Orioles, Santana

The Brewers and Pirates have scouts watching the Red Sox, with a specific focus on Mike Carp, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes in his weekly Sunday column.  While it's still unknown whether Carp can handle an everyday job, he wouldn't have to fill that role in Pittsburgh, as the Bucs have been looking for a left-handed hitting platoon partner for first baseman Gaby Sanchez.  Carp has received a lot of trade buzz this offseason though Boston was known to be asking for a lot in return.

Here's some more from Cafardo's latest piece…

  • Sam and Seth Levinson of the ACES agency "are gaining the reputation of persuading clients to take under-market-value contracts if they’re happy where they are," which is why there is a feeling amongst general managers that Jon Lester, an ACES client, will sign an extension with the Red Sox.  “If you’re a team with a big-ticket guy out there, they are the agents you want to be dealing with right now,” said one National League GM. “The teams love it. You can get something done with them."  This past summer, ACES client Dustin Pedroia signed an eight-year, $110MM extension with the Red Sox that was perceived as a team-friendly deal (especially given what Robinson Cano was able to find on the open market this offseason), though it's worth noting that the Levinsons kept Pedroia fully informed of his market value and the second baseman just really wanted to stay in Boston.  Lester, for his part, has also said he'd be willing to take a discount to remain with the Sox.
  • Cafardo speaks to Orioles manager Buck Showalter about the team's recent signings of Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez and how the club weighed the value of the draft picks they'd have to surrender to sign the qualifying offer-rejecting free agents.  Also, Showalter doesn't think money will be an obstacle in retaining key players over the long term.  “I feel confident with Peter [Angelos] that when we come to him and say this is someone we want to hold on to, he’s going to find a way to do it,” said Showalter. “I don’t think our guys want to go anywhere."
  • Baltimore's hiring of Dave Wallace as pitching coach "may be the best acquisition we’ve made this offseason," Showalter said.  “He’s really simplified things for us. Sometimes we’re so mechanics-driven in this business.”
  • "Don't believe" the Blue Jays when they say they aren't interested in Ervin Santana, Cafardo writes.  He also thinks the Orioles could still have an eye on Santana even after the Jimenez signing.
  • Oliver Perez seemed to be close to a new contract two weeks ago when he was weighing offers from four teams, but "nothing has transpired" since then, Cafardo writes.  He opines that the Nationals and Yankees are teams who could use Perez's lefty presence in their bullpens.

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.