Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dodger Arbitration Projections

Hi everybody. While the Dodgers' season is sadly over due to an uncharacteristic failure by Jonathan Broxton, who is still the best closer in the game, and a head on collision with a locked in Phillies team that is on its way to dismantling the not-as-good-as-advertised Yankees, the off-season is just beginning.

This article isn't going to look at what the Dodgers are going to do with their free agents, but rather their arbitration eligible players. For those who don't know, and you really should, the standard baseball contract includes provisions to essentially protect a player's initial organization from the market factors of free agency by allowing them to have some sort of cost control on contracts during the first 6-7 years of major league service time. A "year" of service time counts as 172 days on the 25 man roster or the major league disabled list. Essentially, that is a full season, minus about two weeks. Hence why you hear so much about cheap teams holding their best prospects back in the minors during the season they are ready to join the majors. Pretty fucked up, right? Essentially, you have to get six of those 172 day "years" to qualify for complete free agency.

Anyway, in the first three years of major league time, the team essentially gets to decide how much the player gets paid, so long as they pay him above the league minimum, which currently stands at $400,000. Usually, unless they are the Marlins or something, a team will throw a guy a little raise each year to make him feel special. Ryan Howard's $900,000 salary in his third (not quite, but we'll discuss that in a moment) year was a record, as the Phillies were trying to woo him into lessening his demands, which didn't happen and he set a record for a first year of arbitration. Another example is Tim Lincecum's $650,000 salary last year in his second year.

After these first three years, a player is eligible to go to salary arbitration in front of a panel of three arbitrators who decide how much the player will make. It is an interesting process, as no ranges are agreed to. The Player submits one figure and the team submits another. The arbitrators are given briefs and a hearing is held (funny point: the collective bargaining agreement states that the hearing has to be in L.A., Phoenix or Vegas I believe). These hearings are supposedly brutal cat fights and have caused more than one MLB player to start hating an organization that he once loved, but it just seems to be part of the game. Ironically, teams and players are rarely THAT far apart, so they usually settle on a mid-range number before going to the hearing.

Incidentally, there is a rule that allows players with less than 516 days (3x172) of service to go to arbitration. Aside from filing a grievance like Tony Abreu did over his hip injury, any player who has less than a full 3 years but is in the top 10% of service time for those with more than 2 full years can go to arbitration. Free agency will still be delayed a year, but players make substantially more in arbitration than in their first three years. For the Dodgers, they have two players who qualified for this "Super Two" status last year, Andre Ethier and Russell Martin. Ethier got screwed because his advisers didn't really look deeply enough at who was getting what, and Ethier settled for $3.1 million, while the vastly inferior Jeff Francoeur got $3.375 million. Martin got $3.9 million without getting to the number submitting phase, and most accounts say he negotiated that himself over dinner with the McCourts (when they still ate together) as he was between agents. Martin's deal was a record for a first year arbitration catcher, both because he was the team's best player for quite some time and because Joe Mauer signed a longer term deal before it got that far.

Anyway, with that primer in mind, here are the arbitration eligible Dodgers, their 2009 salary and a projection for this year:

Russell Martin - $3.9m - Projection - $4.8m

Andre Ethier - $3.1m - Projection - $6m

Matt Kemp - $467,000 - Projection - $4m

James Loney - $465,000 - Projection - $1.9m

Chad Billingsley - $475,000 - Projection - $4m

Jason Repko (yes, really) - $500,000 - Projection - Non-Tender (I Hope)

George Sherrill - $2.75m - Projection - $4m (He's getting expensive)

Jonathan Broxton - $1.85m - Projection - $6m (there is precedent for this)

Hong-Chih Kuo - $437,000 - Projection - $1.2m

Interesting numbers there. Why would Billingsley get so much in his first year of arb? Starting Pitchers are generally valued very highly, especially ones with his history. His late season issues factored in, because he likely would have gotten $6 million or so if he had duplicated 2008. Why would Broxton, a guy who pitches one inning most of the time, get so much? Take a look at what some other first year arbitration elite closers got. Jonathan Papelbon got $6.25m. Bobby Jenks, of all people, got $5.6m. Broxton is actually in his second year of arbitration. His number was low because he spent most of 2008 as a set up man for Takashi Saito, but he established himself as an elite closer this year.

If Kemp's agent is any good (or if he hires me ;-)) they will know that Kemp presents much more value than Ethier did. Premium position, more speed numbers, higher batting average and similar power numbers. That equates to a big pay day. Ethier shouldn't be upset, because his 30-100 season should translate to a big raise. He will certainly leapfrog Martin, who had a disappointing year with the bat despite still excellent defense. I just have my doubts over how good the people at CAA's sports division are after the way Ethier's arbitration was mishandled last year. Kim Ng is good, but even she couldn't convince an arbitration panel that Ethier should be paid less than a swing happy rock head like Francoeur.

One interesting guy is Sherrill. I advocated for his acquisition over at Memories of Kevin Malone, but he is in line for a decent sized jump in salary, despite the fact that he turned into a pumpkin against the Phillies. That he could conceivably make more than Jonathan Broxton, though he shouldn't for reasons I mentioned above, is ridiculous. Hell, Kuo is significantly better than him (and just about anybody when healthy), but his injury history will hurt him in negotiations.

One thing I will say is that all the money the Dodgers are saving by no longer having Jason Schmidt on the books and part of Andruw Jones is getting swallowed up here, with my estimated total of $18,460,000 in raises (Kemp, Broxton and Billingsley are especially big jumps). Those who think the Blue have a chance at a guy like John Lackey, especially given the McCourt divorce issues, are probably off, even if the team can afford him. What a big signing like that would mean is that the Dodgers would have to otherwise go for scrap heap stuff and hope for Blake DeWitt to recapture the magic that was the first and last part of the 2008 season, this time at second base. Then again, if Andre Ethier's BABIP goes up 10 points, Matt Kemp further progresses and Russell Martin bounces back, who really gives a shit?

The conclusion? The Kids are hardly making kid money anymore.

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