Odds of Each Top Arbitration-Eligible MLB Star Receiving Lucrative Extension
While salary arbitration has been a part of Major League Baseball since 1974, it's a path down which few players ever fully travel. According to MLB.com, approximately 90 percent of the players who file for arbitration reach a new agreement with their team before a hearing takes place.
To put that in perspective, consider this: 175 players filed for salary arbitration on Tuesday, per The Associated Press (via USA Today). If that 90 percent figure is accurate, fewer than 20 of those players will actually go through the arbitration process.
While the vast majority of players come to a new agreement with their current club, lucrative, long-term pacts like the record-setting 13-year, $325 million extension that Giancarlo Stanton signed with the Miami Marlins back in November are the exception, not the norm.
Yet there's a handful of top stars included in that group of 175 players, each one worthy of a long-term commitment from his current club. We aren't talking about players who look the part but haven't had sustained success, like Baltimore's Chris Davis or Los Angeles' Garrett Richards.
We're talking about guys who talk the talk and walk the walk, unquestioned studs that, were they free agents this winter, would have changed the baseball landscape—and likely altered the moves that many teams ultimately made.
Players like Washington's Stephen Strasburg.
What are the odds that Strasburg and the rest of the arbitration-eligible elite wind up signing new, long-term deals with their teams, either before Opening Day or as the 2015 regular season plays out?
To figure that out, we'll take into account what we know about the player and/or their agent, their projected salaries were they to go through the arbitration process, provided courtesy of the team over at MLB Trade Rumors, and what the open market might look like when they're set to become free agents.
Let's get to it.
LHP Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
2014 Salary: $5 million
2015 Projected Arb. Salary: $8.3 million
Cincinnati is a team in flux, one that could return to the land of contenders just as easily as it slips into the realm of irrelevance. That's what happens when you're relying on a core group of players that wasn't able to stay healthy in 2014—and isn't getting any younger.
General manager Walt Jocketty confirmed to MLB.com's Mark Sheldon earlier this winter that there's a "magic number" when it comes to the team's payroll that he cannot exceed, which was part of the reason that the club traded away starters Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon for cheaper talent.
But the team's core is getting significantly more expensive with each passing year. Signing staff ace Johnny Cueto to a long-term extension before he hits the open market next winter is a priority, and younger pieces, such as Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco, will all need new deals in the next few years to keep them in Cincinnati for the long term.
Accomplishing those things isn't going to be easy—or cheap.
While having a shutdown closer like Aroldis Chapman in the ninth inning is a wonderful thing to have, it's also an expensive luxury, one that the club simply may not be able to afford over the long haul.
Under team control through 2016, the Reds don't have to make a decision on Chapman just yet. Allowing things to play out in 2015 and then re-evaluating the roster after the season seems the most likely approach that Jocketty and the Reds will take.
If the team is able to rebound and delivers a strong showing in the postseason, trying to work out an extension with Chapman becomes an easy decision.
Should the team's downward spiral continues, however, Chapman immediately becomes a valuable trade chip for Jocketty to play, one that would be attractive to a wide range of teams, as there'd be no long-term commitment required on their part.
Extension Odds: 100-to-1
3B Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays
2014 Salary: $500,000
2015 Projected Arb. Salary: $4.5 million
Arbitration-eligible for the first time in his career, Josh Donaldson is going to see a significant jump in salary from the $500,000 that he earned with Oakland in 2014. If projections are close to accurate, that increase will still find Donaldson sitting as one of the biggest bargains in baseball.
Toronto certainly has the finances to offer Donaldson, a perennial MVP candidate and arguably the best third baseman in the game, the kind of a long-term deal that he deserves. Fox Sports' CJ Nitkowski made a strong case as to why the Blue Jays should extend Donaldson shortly after he was traded from Oakland to Toronto, offering up some numbers for consideration:
You can conservatively assume Donaldson could net $30 million-$35 million in four arbitration years and as a 32-year-old free agent an average annual value of $22 million-$25 million.
Six years at $65 million-$70 million with a seventh-year option/buyout would be a fair deal for Donaldson and a smart move for the Blue Jays.
Locking Donaldson up through his age-34 season, which is what Nitkowski's proposed six-year deal would do, makes sense from a Blue Jays perspective. And it makes sense for Donaldson, but not at the numbers that Nitkowski suggests, regardless of how fair they may be.
Donaldson is sure to be looking at Pablo Sandoval's five-year, $100 million deal with Boston and the seven-year, $100 million extension that Kyle Seager signed with Seattle as a starting point for a new deal.
Toronto, which has limited payroll flexibility remaining this winter (roughly $9 million, according to Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star), isn't going to eat all of that up by extending Donaldson right now.
Next winter, however, could be a different story, as the Blue Jays will have more than $30 million coming off the books with the expiring contracts of Mark Buehrle, Dioner Navarro and Ricky Romero.
Extension Odds: 100-to-1
LHP David Price, Detroit Tigers
2014 Salary: $14 million
2015 Projected Arb. Salary: $18.9 million
It seems like the more Detroit claims to be happy with its starting rotation, the more speculation there is about David Price's future with the Tigers.
Detroit hasn't engaged Price, a free agent after the upcoming season, about an extension, according to Fox Sports' Jon Morosi and Ken Rosenthal, who believe that may indicate that the club isn't convinced that the southpaw is a long-term solution for the club.
Part of that, for sure, is due to the fact that Max Scherzer, the team's former ace, remains an unsigned free agent. More than a few people, including this writer, think that Scherzer will ultimately find his way back to the Motor City this winter.
Tigers owner Mike Ilitch has never shied away from spending money to ensure his team has a chance to win it all, but tying up more than $100 million of the team's payroll in four players (Price, Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera) may not be something that Ilitch is willing to do.
We don't really know where Price's head is at when it comes to staying in Detroit past this upcoming season. While the Tigers figure to remain contenders for the foreseeable future, Price could be looking at a massive payday as a free agent next winter.
While we can't put it past the Tigers to make Price an offer that he can't say no to (especially if a Scherzer reunion doesn't come to fruition), odds are that he's going to test the free-agent waters after the season for the first time in his career and see just how much the rest of baseball believes he's worth.
Extension Odds: 50-to-1
RHP Jeff Samardzija, Chicago White Sox
2014 Salary: $5.345 million
2015 Projected Arb. Salary: $9.5 million
Last April, Chicago Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija told CSN Chicago's Patrick Mooney about his responsibility to keep market prices high as a free agent, not only for the next generation of players but for those who paved the way for him to receive such a hefty paycheck.
Six months and two teams later, Samardzija didn't sound nearly as hellbent on testing the free-agent waters during a conversation with Collen Kane of the Chicago Tribune upon being traded to the team he cheered for growing up, the Chicago White Sox:
When the situation is right, it’s right, and when the numbers are right, they’re right. You want the right deal. You want the situation to be right. Right now that’s a conversation for my agent and other people to have in the future.
I've said before, even with going into free agency, they would be on my list because of my love for the organization and that longtime love for them. When it comes down to it, I’m going to do the right situation for myself. But this is a great step one to be a part of this and get to know each other.
White Sox GM Rick Hahn knows there are no guarantees and that trading away a package of talent to acquire Samardzija—potentially for only one year—is risky. But as he told Kane, it's a risk he was comfortable taking:
“This was the guy we wanted. This was the guy who fit for us...It might be a little bit of a gamble, but we’re optimistic we (will be) able to extend his stay as well.”
He might avoid an arbitration hearing, but Samardzija isn't going to agree to stay in Chicago before he has a chance to see how the team, which looks good on paper, fares during the regular season.
If things are going well and Chicago makes a reasonable extension offer, it wouldn't be surprising to see him accept a new deal before he hits the open market, especially when you consider that he'd likely be a "second-tier" guy, not on the same level as the likes of David Price and Jordan Zimmermann.
But he's sure to be torn between the love he has for the organization and the responsibility he feels as a union member, things that were imprinted upon him at a young age. It's impossible to know which emotion ultimately wins that battle at this early stage.
Extension Odds: 25-to-1
RHP Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
2014 Salary: $3.975 million
2015 Projected Arb. Salary: $8.1 million
Scott Boras has built a reputation of passing on extension offers and guiding his clients to free agency. According to an extension tracker developed by the folks over at MLBTR, only 10 players represented by Boras have signed a contract extension since 2008—and only two of those players were pitchers.
Despite the strong relationship that the Lerner family, which owns the Washington Nationals, has with the super-agent—something B/R's Scott Miller noted recently—it's hard to envision a scenario where Stephen Strasburg agrees to a contract extension before getting a chance to test the open market in two years.
A quick look at the free-agent market for starters after the 2016 season shows that Strasburg would be the only front-of-the-rotation arm available, with the likes of Scott Feldman, Dillon Gee, Jeremy Hellickson, Ivan Nova and Jake Peavy among the most notable starters to join him on the open market.
If you were Boras or Strasburg, you wouldn't sign a contract extension with the Nationals either, not when you could potentially have every big-market team in the game engaging in a fierce bidding war for your services.
Extension Odds: 500-to-1
Unless otherwise linked/noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs. All contract information courtesy of Cot's Contracts. All arbitration projections courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors.
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