Final Predictions for MLB Players Headed for Arbitration Hearings
In baseball terms, "file and trial" is a way of describing teams willing to go through the arbitration-hearing process with their young, ascending talents. With salary numbers exchanged, the real fun begins for the players still without a final salary for the 2014 MLB season.
As the season approaches, the following players have one more hurdle to clear before workouts, exhibition games and preparation for the 2014 season can commence: a battle for salary against their employers.
Over the years, arbitration wars have turned ugly, souring the relationship between team, agent and player.
The following stars are all on the path to arbitration hearings. When the dust settles, salary will be determined for 2014, but an uncertain future could present itself along the way.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted. All contract figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts. Arbitration numbers and projections courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors.
Justin Masterson, SP, Cleveland Indians
Player amount: $11.8 million
Team amount: $8.05 million
Midpoint: $9.925 million
After an above-average 2013 season (109 ERA+), Masterson is fighting for a salary of over $11 million before heading out into free agency next winter. According to Paul Hoynes of Northeast Ohio Media Group (via The Plain Dealer), Cleveland is working on a one-year deal with Masterson in hopes of avoiding an arbitration hearing on Feb. 20.
Due to the open lines of communication, don't expect Masterson and the team to fight each other in front of an arbitrator.
Prediction: One-year, $9.5 million deal
Homer Bailey, SP, Cincinnati Reds
Player amount: $11.6 million
Team amount: $8.7 million
Midpoint: $10.15 million
In a perfect world, Bailey and the Reds would avoid arbitration and a season-long distraction of free-agency talk with an agreement on a long-term deal. Recently, Bailey expressed that to Mark Sheldon of MLB.com.
"There is [interest], but it has to be something that works out for both ends," Bailey said. "That's kind of tough to do. You see a lot of the signings that are going on, so, of course, it's going to raise eyebrows on my behalf. Obviously, with a mid-market team, it's tougher for them, also. We're just going to have to see how everything goes."
Due to the economics of Cincinnati's payroll, don't expect Bailey to sign away his free-agent path in the form of a team-friendly extension. However, due to the mutual interest—along with the two sides avoiding a hearing last winter—Bailey should avoid a date with the arbitrator.
Prediction: One-year, $10 million deal
Craig Kimbrel, RP, Atlanta Braves
Player amount: $9 million
Team amount: $6.55 million
Midpoint: $7.775 million
When it comes to the Atlanta Braves, every dime counts. That's why they'll appear on this list for three separate players. When the dust settles at the end of February, don't be shocked if every case ends up on the desk of an arbitrator.
In Kimbrel's case, Atlanta is fighting a battle with the best closer in the sport and the outdated comparison system used in arbitration. Despite having limited value as a relief pitcher, Kimbrel can tout save numbers (139 through age 25) that place him among the best ever at his age.
It's unlikely the Braves can counter with anything that will save them the money they are hoping.
Prediction: Kimbrel wins arbitration. One-year, $9 million deal.
Matt Wieters, C, Baltimore Orioles
Player amount: $8.75 million
Team amount: $6.5 million
Midpoint: $7.625 million
The Baltimore Orioles have put their fans and the baseball media through a hectic offseason. From the Grant Balfour fallout to the trading of Jim Johnson to trade rumors around their star catcher, the Orioles have been one of the most confounding teams of the winter.
If they don't find a way to reach an agreement with Matt Wieters before an arbitration date occurs, their fans will have more reason to be upset at the state of the franchise.
When Wieters and agent Scott Boras head to the negotiating table, they should bring this column by Rich Dubroff of CSN Baltimore with them. By articulating why Wieters is the best catcher in the history of the franchise, they'll hit on enough points to win the battle with Orioles management.
Prediction: Wieters wins arbitration. One-year, $8.75 million deal.
Doug Fister, SP, Washington Nationals
Player amount: $8.5 million
Team amount: $5.75 million
Midpoint: $7.125 million
Over the next month, the Washington Nationals will arrive in Viera, Fla. with one united goal: bounce back from a disappointing 2013 en route to meaningful October baseball.
That goal, enhanced by the November acquisition of Fister from Detroit, shouldn't be impacted by a trip to see an arbitrator to settle Fister's deal. When the Nationals traded for the soon-to-be 30-year-old starter, they added a key arm to what Fister believes to be the best staff in all of baseball, per CSNWashington.com (via the Detroit Free Press).
At $5.75 million, Fister would be a steal. At $8.5 million, he would still be a bargain.
Prediction: One-year, $7.5 million deal
Jeff Samardzija, SP, Chicago Cubs
Player amount: $6.2 million
Team amount: $4.4 million
Midpoint: $5.3 million
Despite profiling as the top pitcher on a weak staff in Chicago, the Cubs aren't going out of their way to cave to Samardzija's contract demands. According to ESPN Chicago, talks aren't progressing well for a one-year deal to avoid arbitration or a long-term contract to buy out future free-agent seasons.
In that piece, Jesse Rogers had this to say about the impending arbitration case between team and player: "It won’t be a shock if Samardzija becomes the first Cubs player to actually go to an arbitration hearing since Theo Epstein took over as the team president in 2011."
When that date arrives, the Cubs could be in good position to win. Despite surpassing the 200-inning plateau in 2013, Chicago's 29-year-old righty had an ERA increase (3.81 to 4.34) and only won nine games in 33 starts. Although wins are a ridiculous metric, they matter in comparing arbitration cases of old.
Prediction: Cubs win arbitration. One-year, $4.4 million deal.
Mark Trumbo, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
Player amount: $5.85 million
Team amount: $3.4 million
Midpoint: $4.625 million
After slugging 95 home runs from 2011-2013, Mark Trumbo deserves a significant raise during his first tryst with the arbitration process. Win or lose, he'll make more than the $540,000 he earned with the Los Angeles Angels last season.
Before the exchanging of salary figures, Matt Swartz of MLB Trade Rumors predicted a $4.7 million salary for Trumbo in 2014. That number is nearly identical to the midpoint between the figures that Arizona and Trumbo submitted.
Due to the slugger's fresh start in Arizona, it would be wise for the team to avoid an awkward beginning to the relationship by heading to the arbitration table.
Prediction: One-year, $4.7 million
Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves
Player amount: $5.75 million
Team amount: $4.5 million
Midpoint: $5.125 million
For most teams in baseball, bickering over $1.25 million with a cornerstone player would be a waste of time, but for the Braves—due to lingering financial issues and a slew of arbitration-eligible players—it's just business.
When speaking to MLB.com's Mark Bowman, Freeman seemed to acknowledge that fact.
"When [the hearing] happens, it happens," Freeman said. "That's stuff for my agents. I'll let them deal with it. I just have to get ready for the season. If I have to go down there whenever my hearing is, I'll go down there. Whatever happens, happens."
In this case, an arbitration hearing is bound to happen. When it does, Freeman's .897 OPS+ in 2013 should stand out. Furthermore, over the last 20 years (1994-2013), here is the complete list of first basemen to own more than 60 career home runs through their age-23 season: Prince Fielder and Freddie Freeman.
That's it, folks.
Prediction: Freeman wins arbitration. One-year, $5.75 million deal.
Jason Heyward, OF, Atlanta Braves
Player amount: $5.5 million
Team amount: $5.2 million
Midpoint: $5.35 million
An argument can be made that Jason Heyward should be offered a long-term contract extension to stay with Atlanta through his prime. Instead, the Braves are headed to an arbitration hearing with their star outfielder over $300,000.
When they arrive, cases will be presented for both sides, but it's hard to picture a scenario in which the 24-year-old outfielder doesn't win this case.
Since arriving to the big leagues in 2010, only two outfielders—Mike Trout and Austin Jackson—have posted higher bWAR marks among players in their first four seasons. In other words, among his young peers, Heyward is one of the top three young outfielders in the sport.
At $5.5 million, it's a no-brainer for the arbitrator.
Prediction: Heyward wins arbitration. One-year, $5.5 million deal.
Brandon Belt, 1B, San Francisco Giants
Player amount: $3.6 million
Team amount: $2.05 million
Midpoint: $2.825 million
Belt, after an outstanding 2013 (142 OPS+), is deserving of a raise. In fact, the Giants would be wise to offer him a long-term extension now, before the year-to-year arbitration process becomes a tiring exercise for both team and player.
Assuming we don't hear any major news out of San Francisco, smaller news should suffice in the form of an agreement to avoid a hearing. As Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News explained, the Giants have traditionally avoided hearings.
With Belt, it would be wise to follow past strategy and enter 2014 with a clean slate between team and player.
Prediction: One-year, $2.7 million deal.
Agree? Disagree? How will arbitration cases play out?