Over the last few days, I have been discussing some of the higher profile upcoming arbitration cases. I 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. 2019 projections are available right here.
After the first year of arbitration, it is typical for arbitration salaries to be rewarded as raises on top of previous year’s salaries, based on platform year performances. That sets Mookie Betts up for quite a hefty salary in 2019, since he nearly had a record high $10.5 million salary last year and had quite an accomplished 2018 campaign.
Mookie Betts won the MVP Award with a .346 average and 32 home runs. Batting out of the leadoff spot, he only had 80 RBI, but entering arbitration with the MVP Award, my model projects him to get an $8.2 million raise and earn $18.7 million. That would easily set a record for second time eligible salaries (Ryan Howard got $15 million way back in 2009), but would fall short of the record raise for second time eligible players. Bryce Harper set the latter mark in 2017 with $8.63 million riase. Harper’s case was atypical, though, because it came following a two-year deal. Other than that, Betts is projected for the largest raise ever—which does make sense following an MVP season.
In the last decade, only two players have entered their second year of arbitration coming off an MVP season—Josh Donaldson in 2016 and Josh Hamilton way back in 2011. Not only is Hamilton a stale comp at this point, but both received multi-year deals that might make them less likely to be used as comparables. While Donaldson’s $7.35 million raise would therefore not typically be a useful comparable, both he and the Blue Jays filed numbers in a tight band ($7.05 million and $7.5 million) that were also quite close to the actual result. Given that the comp is a few years out of date, it seems reasonable for Betts to argue that the Donaldson salary point represents a clear floor. Since Donaldson hit .297 with 41 HR and 123 RBI, his performance was more power-centric. But it certainly suggests roughly an $8 million raise for a reigning MVP is close to the right price.
Betts also won the batting title, which also calls back to Charlie Blackmon and Dee Gordon in recent years. The latter had only four home runs in 2015, so he is a weak comparable. Blackmon is a little stronger since his 2016 numbers — .324/29/82 — delivered some of the punch that Betts did at .346/32/80. That earned him a $3.8 million raise, which was actually well shy of what the model predicted. If there’s any added boost for the batting title, then, it’s tough to gauge.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox can certainly try to point to the Blackmon comp if they want to hold Betts’ salary down, but the Donaldson raise seems like a more compelling precedent since he won the MVP Award. And it probably does not hurt Betts’s negotiating position that he scored a major win over the Sox last year in a hearing. All things considered, I suspect Betts will get a record raise and earn quite close to his 2019 projection.