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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.
Way back in 2006, Dontrelle Willis set a record for first-time eligible starting pitchers by earning a $4.35MM salary. Arbitration records rarely last eight years, but Willis’ record has. This year, however, three pitchers emerged as possible contenders to top this record. There have been a number of pitchers who looked destined to break this record before. Notably, Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw had cases that were far stronger than Willis. But each signed a multi-year deal, which does not count towards arbitration records. As a result, there have been a number of pitchers who have crept closely up to Willis’ record but failed to top it. Had Lincecum or Kershaw signed a one-year deal to avoid arbitration, it is likely that other pitchers would have ended up earning more than the $4.35MM that Willis earned in 2006.
This type of situation is one that can break a model of arbitration salaries. My model sees Lance Lynn earning $5.5MM, Chris Tillman earning $5.4MM, and Alex Cobb earning $4.5MM. Of course, “The Kimbrel Rule” would cap Lynn and Tillman at $5.35MM, letting them only eclipse the previous record by $1MM. But these are all sort of path-dependent. Only Lynn looks likely to break the arbitration record on his own, but if he does that it is likely to affect what Tillman and Cobb earn. The effect that records have for a given service class and role can make the model look bad in that respect. There have been nine different pitchers in the last five years who have gotten within $50K of Willis’ record, but in each case something led the players to earn just less than him.
The lower run-scoring environment in the league in recent years has certainly helped Lynn, Tillman, and Cobb put together better cases than some of the other nine guys. Last year, Lynn had a 2.74 ERA while Cobb allowed 2.87 earned per nine. The only two starting pitchers in recent years to reach their first year of arbitration eligibility with ERAs under 3.00 have actually been Lincecum and Kershaw. Stephen Strasburg had an ERA of 3.00 exactly and earned $3.97MM last year, but he struggled with run support and only had an 8-9 record. Travis Wood and Mike Minor earned $3.90MM and $3.85MM last year with low ERAs of 3.11 and 3.21, but their records were 9-12 and 13-9. Lance Lynn had a 15-10 record, which should help him put together a better case than any of them. Cobb only mustered a 10-9 record despite his 2.87 ERA. Tillman went 13-6 with a 3.34 ERA, so his ERA is more in line with these other pitchers, but he had a better record than many of them. Tillman also has a lot of innings under his belt for a first-time eligible pitcher. He not only threw 207.1 innings in 2014, but logged 473 innings in his pre-platform years, which is basically as many as any of the nine pitchers who earned within that $3.85-4.35MM range that I mentioned earlier.
David Price actually matched Willis’ record with a 12-13 record in 2011 and a 3.49 ERA in 224.1 innings, so he might be that person that would be considered if any of these pitchers try to set a new high mark. Lance Lynn seems the most likely to do so, and his case actually compares pretty favorably to Price’s. Lynn had a better record and ERA (15-10, 2.74) than Price (12-13, 3.49) in his platform year. Although Price threw 224.1 innings, Lynn did throw 203.2. Lynn also had a 34-18 record with a 3.82 ERA in 412.1 innings in his pre-platform seasons, while Price had a 29-13 record with a 3.31 ERA in 351 innings. Lynn’s case also is pretty good compared to the next highest case in recent years. In 2010, Jered Weaver went 16-8 with a 3.75 ERA in 211 innings, after having a 35-19 record with a 3.71 ERA in 460.2 innings in his pre-platform years. Lynn’s pre-platform numbers are very similar to Weaver’s but his platform year ERA is a run better. Putting Lynn’s case up against Price and Weaver makes it look likely that he could set the record.
That being said, I doubt that Lynn will crush the record and end up with the $5.5MM the model projects without applying the Kimbrel Rule, or even the $5.35MM that he would earn once the Kimbrel Rule was applied. But it does seem likely that he will find himself earning north of $4.35MM.
If Lynn established the record, then he may be used as a comparable for Tillman and/or Cobb. But I suspect that they will still not be able to top $4.35MM despite what the model says. Cobb’s 10-9 record will hurt him, although his 2.87 ERA is obviously outstanding. Price’s numbers look better when you consider the fact that he threw 58 more innings than Cobb in his platform year and won two more games. He also had 80 more pre-platform innings and four more pre-platform wins with a similar pre-platform ERA. I suspect Price will be seen as a ceiling for Cobb unless his ERA matters more than I suspect. I could see Doug Fister’s 2013 case, which earned him $4.00MM, serving as a floor for Cobb though. Fister also struggled with run support and only went 10-10, so he had the same number of wins as Cobb. Fister only had 161.2 innings, too, which is almost equal to Cobb’s 161.1. But Fister had a 3.45 ERA, which is more than half a run higher than Cobb. Fister also had only a 20-31 record pre-platform with a 3.49 ERA in 448.1 innings, while Cobb had a 25-14 record and a 3.39 ERA in 332.1 pre-platform innings. Obviously Fister has the edge in pre-platform innings, but I suspect the superior ERA will make Cobb’s case look better. I think somewhere between $4-4.35MM is likely for Cobb, falling somewhat short of his $4.5MM projection but still in the same ballpark.
Chris Tillman’s projection looks less likely to be close. Tillman went 13-6 with a 3.34 ERA in 207.1 innings last year and 32-25 with a 4.28 ERA in 473 pre-platform innings. His case actually looks a lot like Price—he has one more win with an ERA 0.15 lower in his platform season, but with 17 fewer innings. He also won 29 games pre-platform, shy of Price’s 32, but had a 4.28 ERA. Price’s ERA was nearly a run better at 3.31. At the same time, Tillman had 473 pre-platform innings to Price’s 351. So depending on whether pre-platform ERA or pre-platform innings are more important, Tillman could beat Price or fall short of him. Mike Minor from last year might serve as a solid comparable for Tillman too. He won 13 games like Tillman did, with a 3.21 ERA and 204.2 innings. However, he had only 19 pre-platform wins in 302.2 pre-platform innings and an ERA even higher than Tillman at 4.37. So Minor would actually be more of a floor at $3.85MM. I suspect Tillman will probably match Price, but if not I doubt that he will fall below Minor’s numbers.
Overall, I think the model is going to be high on all three of these pitchers. They will probably move together, so if one of them ends up hitting the model, then the others are more likely to do so as well, but if they fall short, they will probably do so together. I think that Tillman and Cobb are probably not going to top the $4.35MM record, although I suspect Lynn will. If any of them do—and without signing multi-year deals—then they may make it easier for future starters to do so as well.
The signing of a former closer, Jason Grilli, led to some speculation from Braves fans, but a team official tells David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that a trade of Craig Kimbrel hasn’t even been discussed (Twitter link). President of baseball operations John Hart said tonight that he hopes the club can build the bullpen around Kimbrel for the next 10 years, O’Brien tweets. The Braves have moved both Jason Heyward and Justin Upton this offseason, but each is a free agent following the season. Kimbrel is locked up for at least three more seasons at a total of $34MM, and the Braves hold a $13MM club option for the 2018 season as well.
Here are some more notes from the NL…
- The Cardinals made a bid for Jung-ho Kang but lost out to the Pirates, writes Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. GM John Mozeliak spoke with Hummel about the team’s desire to continue to develop a better understanding of Asian baseball and the talent in Nippon Professional Baseball and the Korea Baseball Organization.
- Bryce Dixon, agent for Johnny Cueto, has already stated that his client will not listen to extension offers after the season begins, but he spoke at a bit more length with MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon about Cueto’s desire to remain with the Reds. Cueto “loves” Cincinnati, though Dixon did add the troubling caveat “if the numbers are right.” Dixon says he had preliminary contract talks with the Reds at the Winter Meetings and have exchanged a few text messages since, but there have been no further verbal discussions.
- Jimmy Rollins had an exclusive interview with Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com following his trade to the Dodgers, and CSN’s Enrico Campitelli breaks down one of the more interesting takeaways from the conversation. Rollins spoke about Phillies minority owner John Middleton, who is rumored to be pushing for majority ownership and reportedly has 48 percent ownership of the club right now. Rollins praised Middleton’s vision and desire to put a winning product on the field, adding that he thinks it’d be good for the Phillies if Middleton were given the reins. Rollins feels that Middleton would “be doing a lot of different things with the team.”
- The Dodgers are still looking for bullpen help, president of baseball ops Andrew Friedman tells Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com. Friedman says the bullpen will almost always be an area of potential improvement at any point of any offseason. “It has to be my nature never to feel comfortable with a bullpen in the offseason,” Friedman tells Saxon.
7:35pm: Walden receives a $350K signing bonus before earning $2.5MM in 2015 and $3.5MM in 2016, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweets. The $5.25MM club option comes with a $250K buyout.
12:07pm: The Cardinals have announced a two-year deal with righty Jordan Walden to avoid arbitration, via Twitter. The deal includes a club option for 2017, giving St. Louis control over Walden for one season of expected free agent eligibility.
The deal is for $6.6MM over two years, per SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo (via Twitter). The club option will cost $5.25MM to exercise.
Walden came to the Cardinals along with Jason Heyward by way of trade earlier in the offseason, and this signing confirms that he was hardly a throw-in. Atlanta had picked him up in a swap for Tommy Hanson before the 2013 campaign.
With Atlanta last year, Walden pitched to a 2.88 ERA with 11.2 K/9 against 4.9 BB/9. Those strong results are now fairly typical for the 27-year-old power reliever, who has established himself as a dependable back-of-the-pen arm. Walden owns a 3.10 career earned run average in 211 2/3 frames over five seasons, and has not yet finished a season with lower-than double-digit strikeouts per nine.
Though his fastball velocity is down a few ticks from his first few seasons, Walden still averages nearly 96mph on his heater. And pitch values suggest that he has deployed it with even greater success, while also dialing up the effectiveness of his low-to-mid-80’s slider.
The Braves have reportedly been trying to package Chris Johnson or B.J. Upton along with one of their more desirable trade targets, and the Royals at least had some interest in Johnson, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports. Kansas City’s greater interest was in Justin Upton, though the Royals were considering using Johnson as a platoon partner with Mike Moustakas at third base. Now that K.C. has signed Alex Rios, however, they can probably be counted out of the running for the younger Upton brother.
Here’s some more from around the baseball world…
- The Twins aren’t seriously interested in either Asdrubal Cabrera or Jung-ho Kang, ESPN 1500’s Darren Wolfson reports (Twitter links), though Minnesota might “place [a] small bid” on Kang’s services. Teams have until Friday at 4pm CT to post their bids for Kang.
- Also from Wolfson, the Twins aren’t interested in signing outfielder Colby Rasmus.
- Three or four teams are getting “more engaged” with Kevin Correia, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick tweets. The clubs in question are looking at Correia as a low-cost add as a fourth or fifth starter.
- The Cardinals could still add another starting pitcher as a depth option, MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch writes as part of a reader mailbag. This would be a low-cost signing, Langosch notes, speculating that the Cards would look for a pitcher trying to recover from either an injury or just a poor 2014 season.
- The Giants could also be looking to make a similar buy-low signing, as Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle (Twitter link) hears that the club could fill its left field hole with a player coming off a rough season.
- It’s been a surprisingly busy offseason for scouting director moves, as MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo notes that eight different teams have installed new scouting directors since the start of October.
- Padres director of baseball options Nick Ennis discusses analytics, the evaluation of new ideas and much more in an interview with Fangraphs’ Eno Sarris.
DEC. 18: Reynolds can earn up to $800K of incentives, tweets Heyman. He will earn an additional $200K for reaching 250, 350, 450 and 550 plate appearances.
DEC. 11: The Cardinals have announced the signing of corner infielder Mark Reynolds. The veteran slugger will get a $2MM guarantee on the one-year contract and he can earn more through playing time incentives, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports on Twitter. News of the agreement between Reynolds and the Cards was first reported by Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (Twitter link).
Reynolds, 31, hit .196/.287/.394 with 22 homers last season. While the overall batting line was not his finest (in fact, his .681 OPS was a career low), he still gave the Brewers a good deal of power at the plate. On top of that, the advanced metrics show that he turned in a stronger season defensively than he has in years past, as Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs recently noted. According to Baseball Reference, Reynolds has earned roughly $22.5MM over the course of his career to date.
The White Sox, Yankees and Astros have spent heavily on relief help this offseason, and ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick wonders if they’ll end up regretting their expensive contracts for veteran relievers. “In the last couple of years we’ve lost a lot of games late in the eighth and ninth inning,” says White Sox manager Ventura. “After a while you sit there and think, ‘We have to have somebody who can come in and do this.’ Everything has its risks — and this is one of them — but we’re pretty confident we got a guy [David Robertson] who we can put in the bullpen and be a leader.” The reason for all the spending on players like Robertson, Zach Duke, Andrew Miller, Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek isn’t so much that teams are trying to emulate the Royals‘ ferocious 2014 bullpen, Crasnick suggests. Rather, it’s more that teams are loaded with cash and pitchers like Robertson and Miller are very good. Here are more notes from around the Majors.
- The Braves continue to explore potential trades involving Justin Upton and Evan Gattis, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports (Twitter links). The Braves have spoken about Upton and Gattis with five teams Wednesday, and continued to consider ways to include B.J. Upton or Chris Johnson in trades involving Justin Upton or Gattis. The Padres had previously looked like a potential destination for Justin Upton, but it would appear that their agreement to acquire Wil Myers today rules them out as a potential trade partner, at least for now.
- Free agent catcher David Ross is deciding between the Red Sox, Cubs and Padres, WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford writes. Meanwhile, lefty reliever Craig Breslow has spoken to the Red Sox and Cubs. Ross has played for the Red Sox, of course, and has a history with Jon Lester and Theo Epstein of the Cubs (although his signing with the Cubs would likely result in, or come as the result of, a trade of Welington Castillo). The Padres are in the process of trading both Yasmani Grandal and Rene Rivera, but are also in the process of acquiring Ryan Hanigan and Tim Federowicz, so it’s unclear where Ross would fit in.
- Asdrubal Cabrera has drawn interest from the Giants, Athletics, Mets, Cardinals and Twins, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman tweets. Heyman writes that Cabrera could play second base or third base as well as shortstop, although there have been rumblings that Cabrera prefers to play shortstop or second base only, and not third. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle would be surprised if the A’s are interested, as they’ve never shown interest in Cabrera in past years despite up-the-middle needs (Twitter links).
- Those same five teams have asked about Korean middle infielder Jung-ho Kang, although the Athletics and Mets are downplaying their interest, Heyman tweets. A’s GM Billy Beane has stated on the record that reports of his club’s interest in Kang are inaccurate. Kang was posted earlier this week.
- Heyman lists the Orioles, Reds and Mariners as possibilities for Nori Aoki, with the veteran outfielder potentially receiving two to three years at $7MM-$8MM per year. Aoki had previously been connected to the Orioles and Reds, with the Orioles mostly interested in him as a backup option. Heyman reported last week that Aoki was looking for a three-year deal. Earlier this offseason, we at MLBTR guessed he would receive two years and $16MM.
Full Story | Comments | Categories: Atlanta Braves | B.J. Upton | Baltimore Orioles | Boston Red Sox | Chicago Cubs | Chris Johnson | Cincinnati Reds | Craig Breslow | David Ross | Evan Gattis | Jung-ho Kang | Justin Upton | Kansas City Royals | Minnesota Twins | New York Mets | New York Yankees | Oakland Athletics | San Diego Padres | San Francisco Giants | Seattle Mariners | St. Louis Cardinals
The Marlins do not think they’ll have to pay out the entire $325MM balance of Giancarlo Stanton‘s contract, Pirates president Frank Coonelly told a crowd (including the Tribune-Review’s Rob Biertempfel) at PirateFest Saturday. Speaking very candidly for a team president, Coonelly recalled a recent conversation with Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and president David Samson: “They said to me, ‘You don’t understand. (Stanton) has an out clause after six years. Those first six years are only going to cost $107 million. After that, he’ll leave and play for somebody else. So, it’s not really $325 million.'” Here are more notes from around the big leagues.
- The Mets should trade for Troy Tulowitzki, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes. Yes, Sherman says, Tulowitzki has $106MM on his contract and a long list of injuries, but if he were a perfect player, the Rockies would not trade him at a reasonable price. (In fact, they still might not trade him at a reasonable price.) And the time is right for the Mets, who have plenty of promising pitching but don’t have a shortstop. A trade for Tulowitzki could be just the risk the Mets need, Sherman writes, like their trade for Gary Carter 30 years ago. As for Tulowitzki, Sherman says that it’s “a poorly kept secret in the game is just how badly he wants out of Colorado now.” He doesn’t have a no-trade clause, but the Rockies’ front office would likely consult him about a possible trade, and Sherman thinks he would appreciate the chance to play for the Mets.
- The Cardinals say they are not actively pursuing Max Scherzer, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweets. Scherzer is from the St. Louis area, and he reportedly met with the team earlier in the offseason.
- A Mariners official says the team doesn’t want to trade Brad Miller, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports. “[U]nderstand this: We’re not looking to trade him,” the official says. “I’m not saying it won’t happen, but it’s a lot less likely than some people seem to think.” Dutton adds, however, that Miller was part of a deal the Mariners proposed to try to get Matt Kemp from the Dodgers. The Dodgers then demanded the Mariners include either Taijuan Walker or James Paxton. The Mariners declined, and the Dodgers agreed to trade Kemp to the Padres instead.
- The Twins have shown interest in former Reds third baseman Jack Hannahan, Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN.com tweets. Hannahan was born in St. Paul and went to both high school and college in the Twin Cities. He played sparingly in 2014 and posted just a .470 OPS in 50 plate appearances, so as Wolfson notes, the Twins would likely have interest in him only on a minor league deal.
Full Story | Comments | Categories: Brad Miller | Colorado Rockies | Giancarlo Stanton | Jack Hannahan | James Paxton | Los Angeles Dodgers | Matt Kemp | Max Scherzer | Miami Marlins | Minnesota Twins | New York Mets | Pittsburgh Pirates | Seattle Mariners | St. Louis Cardinals | Taijuan Walker | Troy Tulowitzki
The Pirates seem willing to spend on relievers, as Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. “We have typically stayed away from large dollars in the bullpen,” Huntington said. “That said, we are evolving as a organization. We’ve got a little more to spend now. For the right guy, we can go a little bit beyond our comfort zone.” More out of the NL Central..
- There’s mutual interest between the Cardinals and Lance Lynn in discussing an extension this winter, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Yesterday, GM John Mozeliak inferred that he had a chat with someone from Excel Sports Management about Lynn.
- Pat Neshek signed with the Astros earlier today, but he nearly joined the Pirates, according to Brian McTaggart of MLB.com (via Twitter). The reliever was about to join the Bucs, but Houston upped their offer at the last second. Neshek had eight two-year offers in front of him.
- The Cardinals are not only interested in Rickie Weeks, they’re also looking at another ex-Brewer in Mark Reynolds, according to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (via Twitter). Reynolds, 31, hit .196/.287/.394 with 22 homers last season.
- The Cardinals aren’t necessarily looking for a platoon partner to pair with Matt Adams, writes Goold. “I believe we saw Matt Adams put together some fantastic at-bats against lefties in big situations,” manager Mike Matheny said Tuesday. “We can’t get too far away from the fact that this kid is still not really long into his career. Lumping him into this idea that he can’t hit lefthanded pitching isn’t really fair right now.”
The Padres would be willing to trade pitcher Jesse Hahn in order to add a hitter, Yahoo! Sports’ Tim Brown tweets. Hahn, 25, had a relatively promising rookie season with the Padres in 2014, posting a 3.07 ERA with 8.6 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 in 73 1/3 innings, most of them in the starting rotation. Hahn also got plenty of ground ball outs in his rookie season and got impressive results with his changeup. While he likely wouldn’t lure a top hitter on his own, he would certainly have appeal for most potential trading partners. Here are more notes from the National League.
- The Cardinals are looking for a right-handed first base option to pair with Matt Adams, but there’s a chance they might find that option within the organization, Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com writes. One possibility would be to use Stephen Piscotty, a third baseman and the Cards’ top prospect. Xavier Scruggs, who hit .286/.370/.494 for Triple-A Memphis last season, is another possibility.
- The Pirates lost Russell Martin earlier this offseason, but they’re currently satisfied with newly acquired Francisco Cervelli along with Chris Stewart at catcher, MLB.com’s Tom Singer writes. “Francisco was an aggressive get for us. We feel very comfortable with his defensive side, and we think his bat has an upside. If Opening Day were tomorrow, we’d feel very comfortable with our catching mix,” says GM Neal Huntington. That’s not surprising, given the lack of remaining options on the free agent market. The Pirates also have prospect Elias Diaz, who should be ready for the big leagues after another year or so in the minors.
- Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg is ready for the team to rebuild, Ryan Lawrence of the Daily News writes. “[Y]ou have to start somewhere. Like the bullpen last year was young players that had to prove something,” says Sandberg. “They had energy and youth on their side and they were successful. To have that a little bit more on the field on a regular basis, and to get that process started building a new core group, I think that’s necessary.”
- Now that the Pirates have re-signed Francisco Liriano, they’re probably not going to look for any more starting pitching and will instead focus on the bullpen, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports (Twitter links). The Bucs are willing to give a multiyear contract to a reliever “if it’s right guy-right deal situation.”
- The Reds met with Johnny Cueto‘s agent today to explore a long-term extension, GM Walt Jocketty told reporters (including MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon). “If it’s possible, I’m not sure it will be, I think it’s still something we have to take a look at as we explore every possibility,” Jocketty said.
- Teams have reportedly been calling the Reds about Cueto and Aroldis Chapman, though Jocketty said that the Reds aren’t themselves shopping those pitchers. “I don’t know where the Chapman stuff came from….I walked into the room today and asked our guys if there was anything on Chapman,” the GM said. “I got three texts and a phone call this morning. I’ll listen to anything that makes sense. It was not something we initiated….I don’t consider, unless we get proposals from clubs, that it’s anything legitimate. It’s just inquiring.”
- Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak told reporters (including MLB.com’s Jen Langosch) that it’s “fair to say” that Lance Lynn‘s name came up during Mozeliak’s meeting today with an Excel Sports Management agent, as Lynn is an Excel client. While Mozeliak didn’t comment on the meeting, Langosch wonders if the two sides could’ve discussed Lynn’s forthcoming arbitration eligibility or perhaps even a multiyear extension for the right-hander.
- The Cardinals have some interest in Rickie Weeks, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tweets. The Cards would use Weeks as a right-handed bench bat and possibly also as first base depth, which would require Weeks to learn a new position.
- How quiet has this Winter Meetings been for the Brewers? Haudricourt reports (Twitter link) that as of earlier tonight, the Crew had yet to personally meet with any agents or with representatives from another team.