Predicting Final 2014 Salaries for Top 10 Arbitration-Eligible MLB Players

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistJanuary 17, 2014

Predicting Final 2014 Salaries for Top 10 Arbitration-Eligible MLB Players

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Today is the day that players love and teams dread. It's the deadline for arbitration-eligible players to officially exchange proposed salaries for the 2014 season with their clubs. 

    Players, traditionally, will make a high offer, while teams, unsurprisingly, counter with a lower number. If the cases go to arbitration, which will take place from February 1-21, a judge will decide which side is right. 

    The important thing to remember when cases go to arbitration is that there is no middle ground for the judge to decide on; either the team or player will win. 

    In some cases, these players won't even make it to arbitration. Just because the two sides have sent out numbers, they are allowed to negotiate and can agree to a contract at any point. Often you will see the two sides work together and meet in the middle on a deal. 

    Some teams, like the Braves, employ a "file and trial" stance. That means, more often than not, when players file for arbitration, the team will take it to court. It's not a surprise in the case of Atlanta, which is owned by a corporation that sets strict limits on the payroll with no wiggle room.

    Keep in mind that even though I, like many of you, follow new-age stats (WAR, FIP, etc.), arbitration is still an old-school process that relies heavily on traditional counting stats (RBI, Wins, etc.) to determine value. That's the measure we have to follow, too. 

    Here are our official salary predictions for the top 10 remaining arbitration-eligible stars who have yet to sign a contract for the 2014 season. 

    Note: All stats and salaries courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted. 

Notable Deals Already Signed

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    David Klutho/Associated Press

    As the process has moved on, a number of the top arbitration-eligible players have agreed to deals. Some signed one-year contracts, others two- or three-years to wipe out the remaining arbitration years, and in a few cases, long-term deals have been struck. 

    Here are the most notable deals for arbitration-eligible players that have already been agreed to. 


    Player                                Team                       Terms                                                  Source                          

    Clayton Kershaw        Dodgers          7 yrs, $215 mil.     Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Los Angeles

    Max Scherzer             Tigers            1 yr, $15.25 mil     Jon Heyman, CBS Sports

    Giancarlo Stanton      Marlins             1 yr, $6.5 mil       Juan Rodriguez, Miami Sun Sentinel

    Chris Davis               Orioles           1 yr, $10.35 mil     Jon Heyman, CBS Sports

    David Price                 Rays               1 yr, $14 mil       Marc Topkin, Tampa Bay Times

    Ian Desmond           Nationals         2 yrs, $17.5 mil     Bill Ladson,

    Jordan Zimmermann Nationals         2 yrs, $24 mil        Bill Ladson,

    Brett Gardner            Yankees           1 yr, $5.6 mil       Joel Sherman, New York Post

    David Robertson       Yankees         1 yr, $5.215 mil      Joel Sherman, New York Post

    Chase Headley          Padres          1 yr, $10.525 mil     Joel Sherman, New York Post

    Eric Hosmer               Royals            1 yr, $3.6 mil        Joel Sherman, New York Post

    Austin Jackson           Tigers             1 yr, $6 mil          Joel Sherman, New York Post

    Jed Lowrie                Athletics           1 yr, $5.25 mil      Joel Sherman, New York Post

    Colby Rasmus          Blue Jays          1 yr, $7 mil          Joel Sherman, New York Post

    Pedro Alvarez            Pirates            1 yr, $4.25 mil      Joel Sherman, New York Post

No. 10 Brandon Belt, 1B, San Francisco Giants

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    Denis Poroy/Getty Images

    Age: 25

    2013 Salary: $531,500

    Notable 2013 Stats: .289/.360/.481, 39 2B, 17 HR, 76 R


    The Case

    Brandon Belt qualifies for arbitration under the Super-Two designation. He picked a great time too, coming off a terrific season that saw the young first baseman set career highs in average, slugging percentage, doubles, home runs and RBIs. 

    Belt strikes me as a case very similar to Kansas City first baseman Eric Hosmer, who battled issues offensively himself before a breakout 2013 season. Hosmer settled with the Royals on Friday for $3.6 million. 

    If Belt's case gets to court, I would imagine he will end up getting a deal at or near that amount. It may be a little lower, just because Hosmer's rookie season in 2011 was so strong. 


    Projected 2014 Salary: $3.5



No. 9 Jeff Samardzija, RHP, Chicago Cubs

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    Joe Sargent/Getty Images

    Age: 28

    2013 Salary: $2.64 million

    Notable 2013 Stats: 33 GS, 213.2 IP, 4.34 ERA, 214 K, 78 BB, 


    The Case

    There are certain boxes that a player has to check off in arbitration. All of them are counting stats, which is why Jeff Samardzija doesn't figure to make as much money as you might think. 

    First, while it's not his fault for playing on bad teams, Samardzija has never won more than nine games in a season. That shouldn't count against him, but teams know they can use that kind of thing against a player. 

    Then there is the question of Samardzija's ERA climbing from 3.81 in 2012 to 4.34 in 2013. Combine that with a higher walk rate in 2013, and suddenly the Cubs could come out of this feeling good. 

    Samardzija does have the benefit of starting 33 games and pitching 213.2 innings last season, which could get him a couple extra dollars. 


    Projected 2014 Salary: $4.75 million

No. 8 Mike Minor, LHP, Atlanta Braves

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Age: 26

    2013 Salary: $505,000

    Notable 2013 Stats: 13-9, 3.21 ERA, 204.2 IP, 181 K, 1.090 WHIP


    The Case

    Mike Minor's breakout season couldn't have come at a better time. The young left-hander is heading into arbitration for the first time in his career, after setting career highs in innings pitched, ERA, wins, strikeouts, WHIP and strikeout-to-walk ratio.

    As a first-time arbitration-eligible player with just one great year under his belt, Minor doesn't have as much leverage as he needs to break the bank. He's still going to get a substantial raise, though I would expect his salary to come in close to what his Atlanta teammate Jason Heyward got in his first year of arbitration last year. 

    Heyward had one great year, one solid year and one injury-plagued year under his belt, which got him a raise from $565,000 in 2012 to $3.65 million last year. Look for Minor to follow a similar pattern this year. 


    Projected 2014 Salary: $3.5 million

No. 7 Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Age: 24

    2013 Salary: $560,000

    Notable 2013 Stats: .319/.396/.501, 27 2B, 23 HR, 109 RBI, 89 R, Finished fifth in NL MVP voting


    The Case

    The goal for every young baseball player is to keep getting better from year to year before eventually hitting your peak at age 26-27. 

    Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman has been on the upswing in each of the last two years. He had a very good rookie season in 2010, hitting .282/.346/.448 with 21 homers and 76 RBI. He's followed that up with seasons of .259/.340/.456 and .319/.396/.501. 

    Combine that 2013 slash line with a career-high 23 homers, 109 RBI and 276 total bases, the Braves are going to give their young first baseman a nice raise for 2014. 


    Projected 2014 Salary: $5 million

No. 6 Justin Masterson, RHP, Cleveland Indians

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Age: 28

    2013 Salary: $5.688 million

    Notable 2013 Stats: 14-10, 193.0 IP, 3.45 ERA, 156 H, 195 K, 1.202 WHIP


    The Case

    Consistency from season to season has never been Justin Masteron's best asset, but that doesn't mean he won't be in for a nice pay day for his final round of arbitration. It's probably also one reason the Indians have been willing to take offers for their best pitcher. 

    However, Masterson certainly appears to be hitting his peak at the right time. He's always been durable, making at least 29 starts covering at least 180 innings every season since 2010. That's a huge feather in his arbitration cap. 

    Another factor that puts Masterson in line for a substantial raise this offseason is his strikeout totals. He went from averaging just under seven strikeouts per nine innings to 9.1 in 2013. His 3.45 ERA was better than fellow arbitration-eligible pitchers Homer Bailey and Doug Fister. 

    The Indians are going to have to pony up a lot of dough for Masterson in 2014, which will probably be his last season in Cleveland. 


    Projected 2014 Salary: $10 million

No. 5 Jason Heyward, OF, Atlanta Braves

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    Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

    Age: 24

    2013 Salary: $3.65 million

    Notable 2013 Stats: .254/.329/.427, 22 2B, 14 HR, 67 R


    The Case

    Injuries have virtually ruined all of Jason Heyward's negotiating leverage during this round of arbitration. It's unfortunate that the 24-year-old has had problems staying healthy in his career, but age and time are still on his side. 

    The good news for Heyward, if you follow his career pattern, is 2014 will be very productive. He had an .849 OPS as a rookie in 2010, battled injuries in 2011, then bounced back with an .814 OPS and a career-high 27 homers in 2012. 

    That doesn't do much to help Heyward argue his case against an arbitrator right now, but it does provide hope for the future. 


    Projected 2014 Salary: $4.75 million

No. 4 Homer Bailey, RHP, Cincinnati Reds

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    David Maxwell/Getty Images

    Age: 27

    2013 Salary: $5.35 million

    Notable 2013 Stats: 3.49 ERA, 209.0 IP, 199 K, 1.124 WHIP


    The Case

    With the exception of Max Scherzer, who has one of the best arbitration cases of any pitcher in recent memory, no starter is going to walk away with more money than Cincinnati Reds right-hander Homer Bailey. 

    Even though I think there are better arbitration-eligible starters, like Doug Fister, this year, Bailey is entering his final year of arbitration while Fister has two more years. 

    Bailey has also turned into one of the most consistent innings eaters in the National League. He's started 65 games covering 417 innings since the start of 2012. He's also turned into a much better pitcher, lowering his ERA from 4.43 in 2011 to 3.68 in 2012 to 3.49 in 2013. 

    His strikeout totals have also spiked, going from 106 in 2011 to 168 in 2012 to 199 last year. Those numbers add up to a hefty pay raise for Bailey, who will probably price himself out of Cincinnati with another strong season in 2014. 


    Projected 2014 Salary: $9.75 million

No. 3 Doug Fister, RHP, Washington Nationals

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    2013 Salary: $4 million

    Notable 2013 Stats: 14-9, 3.67 ERA, 208.2 IP, 159 K


    The Case

    I am fascinated to see how Doug Fister's arbitration case, assuming it gets that far, plays out. Advanced stats love the tall right-hander. He ranked 12th in Fangraphs' Wins Above Replacement last season.

    Unfortunately, arbitration is still a very old-school process. That means Fister's 3.67 ERA and 14 wins are the two big factors that will determine his salary. 

    He's been one of the better pitchers in baseball since the Tigers acquired him in 2011, but he has only broken the 200-inning and 30-start barriers twice. That's going to limit his upside for an arbitrator, making Fister a bargain for the Nationals. 


    Projected 2014 Salary: $7.5 million

No. 2 Aroldis Chapman, LHP, Cincinnati Reds

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Age: 25

    2013 Salary: $2 million

    Notable 2013 Stats: 38 saves, 2.54 ERA, 112-29 K-BB, 63.2 IP


    The Case

    Despite signing a six-year, $30.25 million contract with Cincinnati before the 2010 season, Aroldis Chapman is eligible for arbitration. That's good news for the hard-throwing left-hander, who stands to get a sizable raise from the $3 million he was going to make in 2014. 

    Oh, by the way, Chapman will still get that $3 million as a bonus. He's going to make out like a bandit this season. 

    Chapman isn't going to get Craig Kimbrel money through this process, simply because the numbers arbitrators look at—savesdon't stack up as well for Chapman. He does fare better when it comes to strikeout rate (15.8/9 IP in 2013, compared to 13.2 for Kimbrel). 

    Considering Chapman's 2013 salary was $2 million and his ERA "spiked" to 2.54 after being 1.51 in 2012, look for him to settle in the $4.5-5 million range. 


    Projected 2014 Salary: $5 million

No. 1 Craig Kimbrel, RHP, Atlanta Braves

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    Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

    Age: 25

    2013 Salary: $655,000

    Notable 2013 Stats: 50 saves, Finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting, 1.21 ERA, 98 K, 67.0 IP


    The Case

    The one group of players who benefits most from the old-school thinking that runs the arbitration system are closers. Arbitrators love counting stats, which includes saves. Who's been better at racking up saves since 2011 than Craig Kimbrel?

    Well, considering the flame-throwing right-hander has led the league in that category for three straight seasons, the answer is easy. 

    Kimbrel also checks all the other boxes that arbitrators love. He's never had an ERA higher than 2.10, including back-to-back seasons hovering in the 1.00-1.20 range. His innings have held steady in the 65-70 range, while the strikeouts continue to pile up in droves. 

    This is Kimbrel's first year of arbitration, which would normally be a reason to stay conservative, but he's got all the leverage in the world.


    Projected 2014 Salary: $7.5 million


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