The principles of determining the arbitration salaries of hitters were established long ago by MLBTR and contributor Matt Swartz. While the arb projection model is always being tweaked as it reacts to subtle changes in the process, the fundamental elements remain the same: for hitters to get paid, they need to take a lot of plate appearances, sock a lot of dingers, and rack up those RBIs. Other factors matter too, of course — and quite a bit more goes into making an actually productive player — but those are the major drivers of arb dollars.
So, who is set to cash in this year in their first time through the arbitration system? Players like Nick Castellanos and Yangervis Solarte have some of the attributes of big arbitration earners, but have had their playing time curtailed by injury. Other reasonably productive players, including Billy Hamilton and Ender Inciarte, just don’t add value in the right kinds of ways.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some hitters who are well on their way to commanding sizable first-year arbitration salaries this winter — locking up a first big payday and setting the a high starting point for future arb raises:
Khris Davis, OF, Athletics: With 33 home runs already in the bank, Davis has a decent chance to reach the 40-dinger plateau and reach the century mark for his career. And he’s a good bet to clear 100 RBI with 82 already on his ledger. As Swartz has explained before, awards and milestones can help boost an arb case. Davis’s lack of walks, middling .300 OBP, and subpar defensive work matter quite a bit more in real life than they do in the arbitration world.
George Springer, OF, Astros (Likely Super Two): Though he’ll only be eligible for Super Two status, that means that Springer is going to be setting a nice, high starting point for his three additional seasons of arbitration control beyond 2017. He leads all players on this list with 581 plate appearances, and he has produced 25 long balls and 72 RBI over that stretch. Though runs don’t seem to have a major impact on the arb valuation process, it can’t hurt that Springer is sure to top 100. And monster production in 2014-15 bolsters Springer’s case as well. Now we can see why the ’Stros tried to get Springer locked up to an extension before he was a fully established big leaguer.
Wil Myers, 1B, Padres: Though he doesn’t feature monster power, Myers is sitting with 23 bombs and could reach 30 by season’s end. He also has matched Springer with 72 RBI to date over his 530 plate appearances, to go with a sturdy .267/.343/.473 slash line. Plus, while steals don’t pay all that much, the 22 accumulated by Myers could help some. It was an advantageous time for Myers to finally play in over 100 MLB games in a season, though his prior injuries will tamp down his earnings somewhat since he hasn’t accumulated as many plate appearances and counting stats as he could have.
Jackie Bradley Jr., OF, Red Sox (Likely Super Two): Though he is actually out-slugging everybody else named in this post (.509), JBJ is tied for the lead in ribbies (72) and lags just a bit in dingers (21). Still, he’s going to command a healthy Super Two payday. (It seems safe to assume that he’ll qualify for that status with what will end up being 2.150 years of service at year end.)
Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox: Bradley’s teammate is playing every day and producing at a fantastic rate for a shortstop, with the positional value likely to help his case somewhat. He has a chance to end the year with twenty homers and around 90 runs batted in, and Bogaerts is also tops among this group with a .310 batting average. Given his extensive action coming into the season, moreover, Bogaerts has more total career plate appearances than anyone named here — except for the next guy down.
Marcell Ozuna, OF, Marlins: Like Bogaerts, Ozuna has over 1,800 career PAs coming into the year and plays a premium defensive position. His demotion last year prevented him from reaching Super Two status last fall, but he’s making up for it with a big .277/.331/.489 campaign. Ozuna will probably top 600 trips to the plate, could approach (or maybe even reach) thirty long balls, and may end up with around eighty ribbies.
Brad Miller, INF, Rays: This year has had some peaks and valleys for Miller, who was moved off of the shortstop position but has largely thrived with the bat. Most notably, he has already banged out 25 home runs and carries a robust .262/.321/.522 batting line. There are some limitations here, including the slightly lower PA (455) and RBI (60) tallies thus far, but Miller is going to command a large first-time salary.
Jonathan Schoop, 2B, Orioles: Good news, Fantex investors! Having already topped twenty dingers after twice popping double-digit home run tallies, Schoop is ready to cash in. He plays up the middle, which helps, and he’s likely to reach 600 plate appearances.