Ranking the Best, Worst Pre-Arbitration Deals in Recent MLB History
With negotiations between agents, All-Star players and MLB teams, the best and worse pre-arbitration deals occur during the offseason.
Curious as to what exactly arbitration is?
In a January 2004 article by Jack McDowell of Yahoo! Sports he simplified the meaning, "Arbitration establishes a system in which salaries from top to bottom are reviewed and adjusted to mirror those of equal players."
In other words, players that sign smaller contracts and become stars get a chance to have a contract reflect what they are worth. With the case of many young, top prospects, MLB teams have a security blanket in terms of a smaller contract. But, if a player does succeed their worth then many teams do renegotiate a contract before that player enters that arbitration period.
AP sports writer Ronald Blum highlights that "Arbitration-eligible baseball players get average 119 percent Raise" in a February 2013 article on Komo News.
Players like Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum gained hefty raises before having to enter the arbitration period. And in the case of Kershaw, who was eligible for arbitration in 2014, is expected to sign a contract extension worth $215 million, via Ramona Shelburne of ESPN on Twitter. Kershaw won't have to deal with arbitration coming up.
In comparison to both sides of Kershaw's deal strictly looking at MLB All-Stars, we'll rank the best and worst deals in recent MLB history.
Honorable Mention: David Price
Not ready to be apart of the ranking is David Price and his one-year contract worth $14 million. Both parties avoided arbitration when he signed this deal, per Aaron Gleeman of NBC Sports in a January article.
Price's future is still uncertain as Gleeman notes that the pitcher is a subject of trade talk. However, Price is guaranteed to make $14 million. That's a sweet victory for the southpaw wherever he ends up at.
Price just gets an honorable mention because his story is yet to truly get played out. Did it make it harder for the Rays to trade Price? Maybe the Rays will be the beneficiary of a Price trade thanks to the contract extension.
Clayton Kershaw's extension comes in as the best pre-arbitration deal before even having to step on the mound for the 2014 season. The Los Angeles Dodgers had no problem giving a ridiculous contract to him per B/R's Tim Daniels in his January article.
Kershaw has developed into one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball, and the Dodgers didn't want to run even the slightest risk of losing him. Since the team had no problem throwing money around to build the roster, paying one of its own was probably a simple choice.
While years from now this deal could backfire and even turn into the worst deal in MLB history if Kershaw doesn't perform, the amount of money he got truly does reflect a multiple Cy Young winner.
Getting roughly $30.7 million a year is the best pre-arbitration deal for any starting pitcher. Per Jay Jaffe of SI.com in his January article, Kershaw is the game's best and now the richest pitcher. As the Dodgers aren't afraid to spend and Kershaw already proving he's elite, this pre-arbitration deal is the best.
In February of 2010, Justin Verlander signed a five-year contract worth $80 million. He skipped the two arbitration years and got paid. At the time, Verlander was coming off a season in which he was the American League Strikeout Champion.
In 2011, Verlander won the AL MVP and the AL Pitching Triple Crown. When comparing Verlander's deal, after he pitched, to Kershaw's recent deal, the Tigers really got their ace for cheap. While Verlander did eventually get another contract extension making him the highest paid pitcher at the time in 2013, per Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus, the right-handed pitcher proved he was worth more than his pre-arbitration deal.
So all together, the pre-arbitration deal makes it one of the best for a team that needed to gain trust and lock up an elite ace.
Stats and numbers don't lie. And in the end, it worked out for both parties. Although a World Series ring should have been awarded to Verlander just for his incredible 2011 season.
Evan Longoria's contract is truly a medium in pre-arbitration deals. In 2008 when Longoria was a promising rookie, the Rays locked him up for a six-year, $17.5 million contract. At the time, the Tampa Bay Rays really got a steal.
Here's what Jaffe of SI.com had to say about the deal in a November 2012 article.
Just a week into his major league career in 2008, the Rays’ third baseman — who had come into the year ranked as the number two prospect according to Baseball America — inked a six-year, $17.5 million deal. Not only has that turned out to be an incredible bargain for Tampa Bay, but even with an escalator clause and three club options tacked on for 2014-2016, the nine-year package still cost an extremely reasonable $45 million, making it the most team-friendly contract in the game.
While Longoria went on to several All-Star games and won a couple of Gold Gloves after the pre-arbitration steal, the third baseman ended up with a couple extra years added on, as noted above. At the end of the day, Longoria had to prove what he was worth by establishing himself as a top third baseman in the MLB. He did.
His current contract, signed through 2023, is an ideal contract for a valuable third baseman.
The Pittsburgh Pirates knew they had a star on their hands when Andrew McCutchen first arrived in the MLB (they also knew ahead of time when the selected him 11th overall in the 2005 MLB draft). In 2011 he was named to his first All-Star game, two years after making his MLB debut in 2009.
In 2012, he was eligible for arbitration and the Pirates acted beforehand. McCutchen signed a six-year, $51.5 million contract per Tom Singer of MLB.com. McCutchen went on to win the Silver Slugger Award in consecutive years and the 2013 NL MVP.
What a steal for the pirates.
The top outfielder in baseball gets roughly $8 million per year. That's the best move for the Pirates when you compare it to what the Dodgers did with the league's top pitcher. Looking back at it, McCutchen got shafted.
Before fleeing Alrington for Hollywood, Josh Hamilton's pre-arbitration deal of 2 years, $24 million did not quite work out for the Texas Rangers.
Hamilton came off a season in which he won the 2010 American League MVP. In 2011, he really flaked and suffered a couple of injuries, including a non-displaced fracture of humerus his right shoulder, per Jon Morosi of Fox Sports.
While the Rangers eventually got the key home run out of him in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series to go ahead late in the game, video embedded above, the former MVP didn't deliver in Game 1.
Ultimately the Rangers would have won it all in five games with an MVP performance out of Hamilton in the postseason. Yes, the bullpen could have shut it down in Game 6 after his heroic home run, but it was Hamilton's first home run of the 2011 MLB Playoffs. Again, Hamilton was suffering through a sports hernia which required surgery upon season's end.
While it's extremely critical of Hamilton because he did actually put the Rangers in position to win it all, his total performance in 2011 and 2012, with the injuries, was not worth the extra money. Even though the Rangers didn't truly need to spend money elsewhere, Hamilton never lived up to the contract or the amazing 2010 season.