Over the next few days, 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.
Two corner infielders, Todd Frazier and Eric Hosmer, enter arbitration this offseason after completing two-year deals that paid them each $8.25MM in the latter year (including a prorated portion of Frazier’s signing bonus). Both had solid years as power hitters, and my model projects each to receive a raise of $5.25MM for Frazier and $5.05MM for Hosmer, to $13.5MM and $13.3MM, respectively).
Only ten position players in the past decade have received additional single-year salaries through arbitration after receiving multi-year deals earlier in their eligibility. Most of these players had poor seasons, and only five of these ten have met these criteria since 2009.
As a result, it’s difficult to find good comparables for the situations in which Frazier and Hosmer find themselves. Perhaps the best match would be Prince Fielder, who received a $4MM raise in 2011 after a solid season in which he batted .261 with 32 homers and 83 RBIs. Frazier actually had more home runs last season but a worse average, posting a .225/40/98 line with 15 steals, while Hosmer was very similar at .266/25/104.
It’s rare for six-year old cases to be used in arbitration hearings, so Fielder is probably not a great match. However, applying some salary inflation to his $4MM raise suggests the model’s projections for Frazier and Hosmer are probably somewhat reasonable.
We can also check if players going to arbitration following multi-year deals fare better or worse than players who have been going year to year, and the evidence here suggests looking for regular comparables among the year-to-year group is reasonable. The average raise for the ten players coming off multi-year deals was $1.6MM, compared to projected earnings of $1.5MM. This difference is not significant enough to worry about a systematic bias. Therefore, looking for comparables in the year-to-year group makes sense to pin things down more precisely.
Of course, it is rare for power hitters to go year to year at all, so few players emerge as possibilities. No one in the last three years has entered their third or fourth year of arbitration eligibility coming off a platform year with 20 home runs and 90 runs batted in. A couple players did so in 2013, including Chase Headley, who received a $5.1MM raise after a .286/31/115 campaign with 17 steals. Hunter Pence only got a $3.4MM raise after his .253/24/104 campaign the year prior. Pence could prove a reasonable comparable for Hosmer’s .266/25/104, which suggests Hosmer’s $5.05MM projected raise is probably high. However, Headley clearly did not do all that much better than Hosmer in his platform year, and both cases are old, so it remains possible that Headley is the better comparable and a $5MM raise is reasonable.
Frazier’s case is tricky in that no one in the last decade has entered their third or fourth year of arbitration eligibility with a batting average below .260 and at least 30 home runs. Although Frazier’s batting average was much poorer, I have found that batting average is a somewhat less important criteria than ran home run totals in arbitration, so I believe Frazier’s case is strong. I think Headley’s 60 points of batting average probably roughly offset the nine fewer home runs, and a $5MM raise or slightly higher does seem more believable for Frazier.
Three players in the last decade have gotten $5MM raises as part of multi-year deals—Jose Bautista, Carlos Pena, and Matt Kemp. However, none of them are great comparables, since they all had much better numbers than either Frazier and Hosmer. Additionally, multi-year deals are generally not used in arbitration hearings, although they may be in these instances where comparables are tough to find.
Ultimately, I think both Frazier and Hosmer have good cases to top Fielder’s $4MM raise and either could make a case for being near Headley’s $5.1MM raise. I suspect Hosmer may fall short of his projected $5.05MM raise, and get somewhere closer to $4.5MM—which would put him around $12.75MM. Frazier’s 40 home runs allow for more upside, and his $5.25MM projected raise to $13.5MM seems like a reasonable estimate.