C.J. Wilson, Mark Buehrle and (possibly) C.C. Sabathia aren’t the only left-handed starters pitching for contracts in 2011. Sure, they’re the ones hitting free agency, but this season is an important one for the bank accounts of David Price and Clayton Kershaw, too.
No, they aren’t eligible for free agency, but they are nearing salary arbitration, their first chance for a major payday since signing seven-figure bonuses as first round picks. Various agents and arbitration experts around MLB say they expect the southpaws to redefine the market for first-time arbitration eligible starters this offseason if they stay healthy and continue pitching well.
To do so, Price and Kershaw will have to pass current record holder Dontrelle Willis and Jered Weaver in the $4.3MM range (though Weaver won’t mind, as his salary will skyrocket well into eight-figure territory this offseason). Price (pictured) and Kershaw will need formidable seasons to have superior numbers to the ones Weaver had after 2009 and justify precedent-setting salaries. So far, so good for the southpaws; both are healthy and off to strong starts.
Click here to view relevant career stats for Weaver, Price and Kershaw.
At this point, Weaver has a distinct edge in stats such as starts, wins, innings and quality starts (vital stats for starters in the arbitration process). Kershaw will be able to catch L.A.’s other ace in every one of those categories except for wins if he continues his current pace. Since Kershaw’s ERA is half a run better and he allows fewer hits while striking out more batters, his representatives at Hendricks Sports should be able to argue convincingly that he has earned a salary north of $4.3MM.
Price, on the other hand, won’t catch Weaver or match Kershaw in starts, innings or quality starts. Like Kershaw, his ERA is considerably better than Weaver’s and unlike Kershaw he has award recognition (a second place finish in the 2010 Cy Young voting) and postseason success (3.93 ERA, 10.8 K/9, 2.0 BB/9 in the playoffs) on his side.
Most importantly, Price is working from a $2MM base salary because of the deal he and agent Bo McKinnis negotiated when Price was the top pick in the nation four years ago. The 25-year-old’s high base salary will provide him with leverage and figures to boost his salary into record territory, well beyond Weaver.
Kershaw and Price should both top Weaver and Willis and establish a new market for elite first-time arbitration eligible pitchers, but how high can they go? Tim Lincecum filed for $13MM as a first-time arbitration eligible pitcher before agreeing to a two-year deal last offseason. He had two Cy Young awards at the time, which makes him a poor point of reference for just about any pitcher. Kershaw and Price can forget about asking for $13MM for now.
Jonathan Papelbon technically holds the record for first time arbitration eligible pitchers with a $6.25MM salary. However, arbitrators treat starters and relievers differently, so Papelbon is hardly a better point of reference than Lincecum. Barring the unexpected, Price and Kershaw will not be able to match Papelbon's $6.25MM salary, according to every agent and arbitration analyst surveyed.
“If you are Kershaw's agent, you not only have to beat Weaver – which I think he can – but you somehow have to justify that Kershaw is almost $2MM better than Weaver,” one said. “That can't happen without a significant market shift.”
Not one person surveyed by MLBTR suggested either Price or Kershaw is headed for $6.25MM in 2012, a strong indication that they' aren't set to shatter Weaver's first year mark by $2MM or more.
The early consensus is that Kershaw’s salary figures to sit in the $5-5.5MM range, while Price’s salary will be near the $6MM mark. Either pitcher could sign an extension, instead of following Weaver’s example and going one year at a time (click here for Tim Dierkes’ take on a possible extension for Price).
If they do go year to year, both Price and Kershaw are on track to shoot past Weaver and into the $5-6MM range. It would establish a new record for first-time arbitration eligible pitchers, re-set the market for baseball’s next generation of aces and prime Kershaw and Price for even bigger paydays in the future.
Photo courtesy Icon SMI.
Dodgers should lock up Kershaw long term otherwise he will be gone by his second year of Arbitration Eligibility. I think 5 years / 60 Mil should be sufficient. Of course it would be heavily back loaded.
I think $60/5 would likely be low for Kershaw, but it’s probably not far off.
Really? Considering were talking about 3 arb years (6/9/12) and 2 FA years (13/15) that would equate to 5/55m. With those figures he would make 4/49m for the same years that Greinke & Josh Johnson signed for 38m to cover. Kershaw being a year further from free agency doesn’t exactly help his case. Turning down 5/60m would be a big gamble on Kershaw and his agents part, IMO.
Except FA years aren’t escalating. Those 2 FA years would cost 18 each probably making a 5/65-70 more reasonable
Yeah exactly. There’s no way Kershaw would or should value his free agent years at $13-15MM. I’d estimate about $20MM per year so were talking $67MM or so.
He’d be an idiot to do that unless the Dodgers throw a ton of money at him. Why settle for maybe 3-5 million a year , when he can go free agent after he has 6 years in and can get 18-20 million a year?
To keep him, the Dodgers need to start the offer with 10 million a year and build untikl he gets 20 million per year
Limbo in ownership, but I would imagine if Schiefer is provided fair market value numbers by Kershaw/Colletti, MLB would approve. Probably not the multi-year deal deal until an ownership group comes forward though. Just hate to see him go to Arbitration at all.
I normally don’t post on the boards unless I am making a joke about the Pirates or have something relevant to add, but this was a fantastic article. Thanks.
Hey wtk, I really appreciate it! Have a good one – BNS
Kershaw will so young when he hits FA. A extension is a must
At any cost?
Oh youre the one who doesn’t want him to get extended,then let him go year to year and let him leave as a FA because extensions and LT deals are “risky” right??
No, I’m the one that thinks that Kershaw and his agent won’t sign an under market deal just to be nice guys.
It’s hard to believe that wins are taken seriously as a stat for setting salaries. Of all the stats that a pitcher compiles, wins is the one that least correlates to his talent.
You know it, I know it, however high profile talking heads (Jim Bowden) and the lawyers who decide these cases don’t know it. To them, this guy has higher numbers than this guy so he deserves more money.
Everybody is going to make their best argument for whatever they want. I just don’t see the evidence that wins for pitchers would be a persuasive one in pro baseball circles. Maybe the lights at MLBTR can tell us why they think it’s a useful selling point in real-world negotiations. I just don’t see it.
Wins matter because there’s always the possibility of going to a hearing. Arbitrators are easily swayed by wins and losses and since you have only a couple of hours to make your case, you aren’t going to spend tons of time explaining to them why WAR or xFIP or whatever other stat you like is a better indication of talent. Arbitration isn’t there to measure who is a more talented or more promising pitcher/player, it’s there to measure what you have already done. And the system uses some out-dated stats like wins and RBI to measure career accomplishments to date.
If you’re taking mental toughness into consideration I’d argue the guy who has good overall stats and is light on W’s is more valuable than the guy who receives sufficient enough run support to rack up W’s. Some guys breakdown when they know they have to go out and pitch a shutout to get a win.
Other than being left handed, there is no reason to include Mark buehrle in this article. The guy is nothing more than a LH back of the rotation innings eater at this point in his career. He was a good pitcher once, but those days are well behind him and his trajectory is pointed south, sharply south.
Yes, his K rate is going in the wrong direction, but his walk rate has remained stable, and the only significant shift in his ERA came last year, where it went all the way up to 4.28 (the 2nd highest mark in his career). The guy will be 33 when the 2012 season starts, has logged over 200 innings in 10 consecutive years, fields his position well, and was an all-star in 2009. Depending on how well he pitches this year, he could be in line for another decent contract. Certainly not close to what CC will get, but I can at least understand him being mentioned with CJ. While CJ has been more effective, he has only done it for 1 year at this point (as a starter).
Every year now you hear how “x player” is going to redefine the market. My question is where is the ceiling to all of this. Ten years from now, is the average MLB player going to be a billionaire?
I think the Dodgers should trade Kershaw and go after prospects. He has value right now and just in case he clunks out or gets injured the #Dodgers need to think about rebuilding now to be decent in two to four years. Best case scenario with Kershaw is that he becomes an ace but the Dodgers will still be losers with all the back room trouble. I think the Dodgers should build their farm system now and have payroll room for a big free agent signing down the road. Kershaw would be nice but with him or without we’re a 70 win team at best right now. Let’s trade Kemp and Loney too….
I am a little surprised Price is going to get 6 million for 1st year of arbitration. That seems steep! He is worth it, but the Rays prolly got to get rid of B.J. Upton to make up the difference.
If David Price gets more in his first year of arbitration than Clayton Kershaw then something is wrong. Baring a miracle Kershaw is gonna win the triple crown and Cy Young awards at 23 years old. Price didn’t even win 19 games until he was 24 and now he’s on the verge of finishing off the 2011 season with a losing record. Outside of playing in the playoffs Price has nothing on Kershaw to justify getting more money. Kershaw is younger and more talented.