Outcome Odds for Each Top MLB Player Filing for Salary Arbitration

Joe Giglio@@JoeGiglioSportsContributor IJanuary 14, 2014

Outcome Odds for Each Top MLB Player Filing for Salary Arbitration

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    Every Major League Baseball team strives to avoid the free-agent market by cultivating and developing cheap, homegrown prospects into contributing players. Yet, when those players advance through their first few years in the show, salary arbitration becomes a story.

    This year, 151 players, per USA Today, are eligible for salary arbitration. The criteria for becoming eligible for salary arbitration is defined here, via Fangraphs. With the date for filing arriving today, let the games begin.

    For the agents, players and teams involved, three separate and distinct possibilities will arise over the next few weeks: One-year agreement, long-term extension or an arbitration hearing to choose the salary submission for one side.

    Last year, for the first time since the right to arbitration arose in 1974, no player took a case to a hearing, per Forbes.

    This winter, many stars are on the docket, increasing the likelihood that hearings will occur. Yet, teams have become adverse to arguing over a few hundred thousand dollars with players they hope to eventually bring back on long-term deals.

    The following is an estimate of the outcome odds for each of the top players filing for salary arbitration in 2014.

    *All projected arbitration salaries for 2014 are via MLB Trade Rumors. Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs, unless otherwise noted. 


David Price, SP, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    One-year deal: 70 percent
    Hearing: 30 percent
    Extension: 0 percent

    This case is accompanied by an asterisk due to Price's presence on the trade block. The odds set are for a potential salary showdown with the Tampa Bay Rays. If the star left-handed pitcher is traded over the next month, the chances for an extension will rise considerably. 

    Last year, on the path to a one-year deal in excess of $10 million, Price and the Rays avoided a hearing, per ESPN.

    Now, with the 28-year-old two years away from a major payday in free agency, he's projected to earn over $13 million in arbitration. That number is a bargain for any team, including the small-market Rays.

    In 2013, Price was worth $21.8 million, according to Fangraphs.

Max Scherzer, SP, Detroit Tigers

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    One-year deal: 60 percent
    Hearing: 20 percent 
    Extension: 20 percent

    Scherzer, with one year remaining before hitting the free-agent market, is poised to strike it rich before the regular season begins. After a dominant 2013 (2.90 ERA, 10.1 K/9), the 29-year-old right-hander is worth much more than the $6.725 million he generated through an arbitration settlement last winter.

    According to Josh Slagter of MLive.com, Philadelphia's Cole Hamels could serve as an example for a settlement between Scherzer and the Tigers. Prior to the 2012 season, Hamels and the Phillies agreed to a one-year, $15 million deal to avoid a hearing. Much like Scherzer, Hamels was a year away from free agency and months removed from a big year (2.79 ERA, 6.6 WAR). 

    After moving on from Prince Fielder's massive contract, it's possible the Tigers could allocate resources to a Scherzer extension, but the most likely scenario involves a lucrative one-year deal before Scherzer markets himself to the rest of baseball next winter.

Chris Davis, 1B, Baltimore Orioles

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    One-year deal: 65 percent
    Hearing: 30 percent
    Extension: 5 percent

    In 2013, Chris Davis emerged as the best power hitter in the sport. On the path to greatness, Davis refined his swing, harnessed natural power and smashed 53 home runs to keep Baltimore's offense near the top of the league.

    As a second-year arbitration-eligible player, Davis is poised to break records, per Matt Swartz of MLB Trade Rumors. 

    Aesthetically, Ryan Howard is a solid comparison to Davis because of their position (first base), power (50+ home run hitters) and age during their ascension through the sport (mid-to-late 20s).

    Yet, as Swartz articulates, Davis could be aiming for a record raise in the history of second-year arbitration-eligible players, surpassing Jacoby Ellsbury's mark of a $5.65 million bump.

    While the Orioles would love to re-sign the dynamic power threat to a long-term deal, it's hard to imagine Scott Boras engaging the team in legitimate talks with two full years before Davis' free agency. 

Clayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    One-year deal: 50 percent
    Hearing: 30 percent
    Extension: 20 percent

    This is the big one, folks.

    Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball, on the path to the biggest contract ever awarded to a pitcher in history and poised to finally make the Dodgers pay him a fair wage.

    Two years ago, with three full seasons left before the now impending free agency, Kershaw and Los Angeles avoided arbitration by agreeing to a two-year, $19 million contract, per Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times

    That salary, combined with Kershaw's near-minimum cost during his first three years of MLB time, launched his career earnings to a whopping $19,844,000 through the 2013 season, per Baseball-Reference. According to Fangraphs, Kershaw has been worth $128.7 million since debuting during the 2009 season.

    Regardless of how Kershaw's arbitration plight plays out, the Dodgers owe the 25-year-old lefty a large sum of money. 

Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Miami Marlins

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    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    One-year deal: 60 percent
    Hearing: 40 percent
    Extension: 0 percent

    It's about that time, Marlins fans.

    For the first time in his career, slugger Giancarlo Stanton is eligible for arbitration. As he heads through the process for the first time in Miami, his days as a member of the Marlins are numbered.

    First, let's rule out the possibility of an extension. The idea of this franchise handing out a lucrative, long-term contract to a player like Stanton feels impossible. The cost—possibly in excess of $100 million—is far too prohibitive for a franchise attempting to rebuild again. Furthermore, Stanton is unlikely to feel comfortable committing to a team without a sound future.

    Unfortunately for a player of this ilk, talent and tools aren't the driving forces behind salary arbitration figures. Ironically, the Marlins will enter the negotiating table, if it gets there, with the upper hand due to Stanton's injury issues over the last two seasons. As Matt Swartz of MLB Trade Rumors articulates, Stanton has only played in 123 and 116 games the last two years.

    If Miami wants to fight over a few million, this case will land in the hands of an arbitrator. If Stanton chooses to settle, he'll attempt to come back to the table next winter, possibly in line for a big pay raise after a healthy and highly-productive 2014.

Homer Bailey, SP, Cincinnati Reds

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    One-year deal: 65 percent
    Hearing: 25 percent
    Extension: 10 percent

    The mid-market Reds stand a slim chance to re-sign the underrated Homer Bailey to a long-term extension this offseason. As suggested last week, the team should make every effort possible to squeeze the 27-year-old righty into their budget for 2014 and beyond.

    According to MLB.com's Mark Sheldon, general manager Walt Jocketty is hoping to do just that. Yet, while the notion is commendable, allocating resources will likely be too difficult for the Reds to make an extension a reality this winter.

    As Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors suggested, a five-year, $85 million deal could be the starting point for a contract extension for Bailey.

    When Bailey's arbitration fate is decided, a one-year deal in the range of $10 million is a fair outcome for both team and player. Cincinnati needs Bailey to help lead their rotation in 2014, and Bailey needs one more big season in order to command $100 million on the open market next winter. 

Chase Headley, 3B, San Diego Padres

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    Denis Poroy/Getty Images

    One-year deal: 75 percent
    Hearing: 15 percent
    Extension: 10 percent

    Two years ago (31 HR, 145 OPS+), Chase Headley put up numbers that were poised to price him out of San Diego's budget. Now, as the 2014 season rapidly approaches, the two sides are at an impasse over an uncertain future.

    After a down 2013 (13 HR, 116 OPS+), the Padres third baseman won't break the bank in arbitration this winter. According to Matt Swartz of MLB Trade Rumors, $10 million is a reasonable price for a settlement for both team and player.

    Of course, a long-term extension could be worked out if Headley negotiated after a down year. With leverage, the Padres could bank on a bounce-back season and long-term security for their best player. 

    Unless news of an extension brews soon, it's likely that Headley will take a settlement, attempt to have one more big season in San Diego and enter the open market looking to strike it rich next winter.  

Matt Wieters, C, Baltimore Orioles

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    One-year deal: 70 percent 
    Hearing: 25 percent
    Extension: 5 percent 

    Wieters, despite a .288 on-base percentage and below-average OPS+ (88) in 2013, is on the path to a big contract when he hits free agency in two years. Due to a combination of defense, switch-hitting ability, power and the representation of Scott Boras, the 27-year-old catcher will garner a lucrative, long-term deal when the time is right.

    That time isn't now. Due to budget concerns and a strange dalliance with Grant Balfour in free agency, the Orioles haven't been eager to spend money this winter. Despite having a nucleus built to win now—including Wieters and fellow arbitration-eligible candidate Chris Davis—the Orioles have been frugal with their cash outlay.

    Last year, Wieters was amicable to a one-year settlement, via Eduardo A. Encina of The Baltimore Sun.

    With an agent that prefers to make money through free agency and a franchise seemingly unwilling to commit major dollars to win a championship, a one-year deal is likely once again.

Jordan Zimmermann, SP, Washington Nationals

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    Jeff Curry/Getty Images

    One-year deal: 45 percent 
    Hearing: 35 percent 
    Extension: 20 percent 

    Few teams in baseball boast the kind of talent that the Washington Nationals will take to spring training this February. While Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth headline the star power in Washington, starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann is poised to place his name among them soon.

    After a breakout 2013 (19-9, 3.25 ERA), don't expect Zimmermann's impending arbitration case or long-term extension talks to be easy for the Nationals.

    As noted earlier, not one player made it to an arbitration hearing last winter. Yet, Zimmermann was the closest to actually taking on his team, per James Wagner of The Washington Post. The two sides agreed to a one-year, $5.35 million deal, but not until less than a week before the hearing.

    “We’re ready to go [to the hearing] and if we needed to go we’ll go,” Zimmermann said. “But we’ll just see what happens."

    Expect nothing less this winter.

    While the Nationals would love to re-sign Zimmermann to a long-term deal and avoid this yearly tussle, the franchise is contemplating which young players to set aside lucrative offers for in the near future, per Pete Kerzel of MASNSports.com.

Justin Masterson, SP, Cleveland Indians

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    One-year deal: 40 percent
    Hearing: 5 percent 
    Extension: 55 percent

    After losing Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez to free agency, the Cleveland Indians need stability in their rotation. In 2013, Justin Masterson became a rock at the top of Terry Francona's rotation, throwing at least six innings in 26 of 29 starts.

    With free agency looming for the 28-year-old, Cleveland is interested in staying away from arbitration with Masterson. According to Paul Hoynes of Northeast Ohio Media Group, the Indians and Masterson will talk about a multi-year deal before exchanging arbitration numbers.

    If the two sides are anywhere close to each other, expect at least a one-year deal to get done. As Hoynes notes later in the piece, Cleveland hasn't gone to arbitration with a player since 1991.

    Barring something unforeseen, Masterson will be atop the Indians rotation for the 2014 season. Don't be surprised if he's there in 2015 and beyond.

Craig Kimbrel, RP, Atlanta Braves

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    One-year deal: 70 percent
    Hearing: 25 percent
    Extension: 5 percent

    Craig Kimbrel is poised to make history. This time, he'll be doing it off the field.

    As the 25-year-old closer enters the arbitration process for the first time, he profiles, at this stage of his career, as the most accomplished relief pitcher in baseball history. 

    The career numbers (1.39 ERA, 227.1 IP, 15.1 K/9, 282 ERA+) are unprecedented. With Mariano Rivera officially retired, the moniker of "greatest closer in baseball" officially belongs to Kimbrel. In reality, based on production, it's rightfully belonged to him for years.

    Now, as Matt Swartz opines on for MLB Trade Rumors, Kimbrel is poised to break the arbitration model this winter.

    Using other recently heralded young closers (Jonathan Papelbon, Brian Wilson, John Axford) is futile because Kimbrel's numbers are superior across the board.

    When numbers are exchanged, the Braves, with just over $55 million committed to guaranteed contracts for 2014, per Cot's Baseball Contracts, should be wise enough to offer Kimbrel enough money to avoid a hearing that they'll likely lose. 

    While an extension, buying out the potential of more arbitration recording-breaking figures in years to come is logical, the attrition rate for hard-throwing relievers makes a long-term deal too risky for Atlanta's business model.

Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    One-year deal: 60 percent 
    Hearing: 10 percent
    Extension: 30 percent

    Get used to seeing the Atlanta Braves nucleus on this list. With the largest arbitration-eligible group of players in baseball at the beginning of the offseason, per ESPN (subscription required), the Atlanta front office has many decisions to make this winter.

    Of course, keeping Freddie Freeman happy and on the path to consistent stardom should be atop any list of priorities for Braves general manager Frank Wren.

    With a projected salary of $4.9 million, the Braves and Freeman shouldn't have trouble finding a middle ground and reaching an agreement.

    However, if the Braves want to avoid a very expensive yearly process with their star first baseman, a contract extension would be wise. At the age of 24, Freeman is getting better by the year and will only become more expensive. 

Jason Heyward, OF, Atlanta Braves

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    One-year deal: 80 percent
    Hearing: 15 percent 
    Extension: 5 percent

    Realistically, Jason Heyward is the least likely of Atlanta's arbitration-eligible candidates to garner a contract extension this winter. He's the closest to free agency, the best best to earn over $100 million on the open market and the best all-around player.

    Of course, it doesn't mean the team shouldn't try to engage their right fielder in a conversation for a long-term deal.

    If, or when, that fails, expect Heyward to continue his rise up the ranks of young, ascending outfielders by accepting one-year deals for the next two seasons. Then, if health and production follow suit, he'll hit the open market in 2016 and sign with the highest bidder.

Jeff Samardzija, SP, Chicago Cubs

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    One-year deal: 60 percent
    Hearing: 20 percent
    Extension: 20 percent 

    In Jeff Samardzija, the Chicago Cubs have a pitcher with massive potential. However, at some point, he could be worth more to them in a trade than he will be as a long-term building block.

    Over the last two years, Samardzija is fourth in K/9 (9.13) among starting pitchers with at least 350 innings pitched. The only starters ahead of him on that list: Max Scherzer, Yu Darvish and Chris Sale. 

    Clearly, there's value in having a 28-year-old pitcher that misses bats that frequently. 

    As his arbitration process plays out, the Cubs will likely bring him back on a one-year deal, leaving their options open for an extension or trade down the line.

    If they are blown away with an offer from a team in need of pitching, a winter trade is still possible. In that case, an extension becomes much more likely to occur.

Doug Fister, SP, Washington Nationals

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    One-year deal: 85 percent
    Hearing: 5 percent
    Extension: 10 percent

    Fister's $6.9 million arbitration projection will make the 29-year-old right-handed starter one of the best bargains in the sport. According to Fangraphs' value projections, Fister has been worth an average of $20.7 million per year over the last three seasons. 

    For his new team, the Washington Nationals, Fister isn't just a good pitcher on an affordable deal, he's leverage for long-term negotiations with fellow arbitration-eligible players, per MLB Trade Rumors.

    If Fister's agent was willing to buyout the next two seasons at a very low price, the Nationals would clearly entertain the idea of a long-term deal. Until that becomes the case, the team will be very content offering their newest pitcher a pair of very fair one-year pacts to avoid a hearing.


    Your turn to play GM: How would you handle the top arbitration-eligible players this winter?

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