With a reduced pool of free agents that can promise a significant yield this offseason, teams that are looking to build in 2013 could find the best value from within, by offering arbitration to some of their youngest talent.
This season was dominated by young teams that looked poised for the future. The San Francisco Giants proved that their youth can win a title and teams like the Nationals and Orioles should be trying to follow that blueprint. In particular, the Nationals must undoubtedly be preparing to spend on Stephen Strasburg in 2013 and value at other positions will help them to do so.
But, as we enter the 2012 offseason, here are 5 players who can pull significant earnings through arbitration this offseason.
In his first season as the Cardinal’s full-time closer, Jason Motte earned his keep at the back end of the St. Louis bullpen.
In 2012, Motte closed out 42 games in 49 save opportunities. Performances like this are exactly what Cardinals fans had come to expect after Motte assumed closing duties during the improbable September comeback in 2011, which eventually resulted in a World Series title.
Despite those seven blown saves in the regular season, Motte demonstrated his consistency in the postseason, earning 3 saves and a win, and allowing runs in just two of his six postseason appearances.
The Baltimore Orioles reached the postseason for the first time since 1997 and did it through pitching as much as anything else. At the receiving end of those pitchers is Matt Wieters, who has developed into a staple in Baltimore since arriving on the scene in 2009.
Despite being a career .260 hitter, Wieters has consistently increased his RBI total over four seasons, but his greatest value is arguably behind the plate. Wieters has been named to the All-Star Game in each of the last two seasons, but also won a Gold Glove in 2011.
Earning just $500,000 this season, Wieters' $4.6 million value, as projected by Matt Swartz of MLB Trade Rumors, would be a substantial increase this offseason.
His 4.67 ERA was not the most impressive, but his performance when it mattered was invaluable. In the month of September, Axford earned 11 saves while the Brewers made a run that brought them within two games of a Wild Card spot.
It is not unthinkable that the Brewers—who went to the NLCS just a year ago—could be contenders again in 2013, but, if that is the case, it will not be with blowout performances, especially without Prince Fielder in the middle of the order.
That said, maybe the most valuable position for the Brewers in 2013 will be at closer and Axford has proven himself to be that role player.
After missing the better part of 2011 with an injury, Buster Posey returned to the San Francisco Giants lineup with a vengeance in 2012. While he will likely be the Comeback Player of the Year, Posey also put up MVP numbers, hitting .336 with 24 home runs and 103 RBI.
Posey’s body of work in three years as a starter includes a start in the 2012 All-Star Game and a Rookie of the Year title, not to mention winning two world championships in three years.
When Posey is contributing, the Giants have won the World Series. It is a simple and anecdotal argument, but truthful nonetheless. In the clinching game of the 2012 World Series, Posey hit a two-run home run to take the lead for the moment and, during the 2010 run, he batted .344 with five RBI.
At just 25 years of age, Posey has a full career ahead of him and Giants fans would love to ensure that career is in San Francisco.
In 2012, Baltimore Orioles closer Jim Johnson definitely put up numbers deserving of a big payday, but his postseason performance could make that a hard sell.
Despite two saves in Games 2 and 4 of the ALDS, Johnson also took the loss in Game 1 and a blown save in Game 3. These shortcomings proved to be the difference in the series, as New York advanced in five games.
However, in the regular season, Johnson posted a 2.49 ERA with a league-leading 51 saves. Johnson’s regular season dominance made his postseason stumbles that much more frustrating, but if it means a return to the postseason in 2013, I’m sure Orioles fans would like to see Johnson in the ninth inning next season.