AL Central

Arbitration Settlements: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

In the desolate, barren wasteland of the baseball off-season, each morsel of news is precious nourishment. These bleak oases are all we have to sustain us through hibernation. This year, the oases are rarer than ever. When we happen upon one, we must not waste it.

This past Friday was a small oasis: the arbitration filing deadline. Every arbitration eligible player placed a dollar figure on their own value, and their teams did the same. Most players reached agreements with their employers in advance of the deadline, avoiding the unpleasantness of arbitration.

MLB Trade Rumors, a must-bookmark site for all baseball fans, has developed a model for accurately projecting arbitration salaries. Now that 163 arbitration-eligible players have signed a contract, we can compare their projected salaries with their actual contracts. You can view the entire comparison spreadsheet, but here are the general trends describing how well the players negotiated. (Spoiler: not very well!)

The Good

There were four players who negotiated salaries more than $1 million greater than their projections (all amounts are $ million):

Player Team Service Time (Years) Settled Amt. Projection Difference Settled $ Percentage of Projection

Josh Donaldson Blue Jays 5.158 23.00 20.7 2.30 111.11%
Kris Bryant Cubs 2.171 ⇑ 10.85 8.9 1.95 121.91%
Martin Maldonado Angels 5.156 3.90 2.8 1.10 139.29%
Noah Syndergaard Mets 2.149 ⇑ 2.98 1.9 1.08 156.58%

Donaldson is the big winner in several ways. In addition to signing an arbitration record $23 million contract, he is also the only player to beat his projection by more than $2 million. Bryant’s $10.85 million is also a record for a first-time eligible player. Both of these players have an MVP award in their trophy case, and are part of baseball’s current third base renaissance, and Syndergaard is a star in his own right, so it’s not a surprise that these players are well compensated. Maldonado appears to be a misfit on this list, but his 2017 Gold Glove surely gave him quite a bit of leverage.

From a percentage standpoint, these eight players outnegotiated their projections the most:

Player Team Service Time (Years) Settled Amt. Projection Difference Settled $ Percentage of Projection

Noah Syndergaard Mets 2.149 ⇑ 2.98 1.9 1.08 156.58%
Aaron Sanchez Blue Jays 3.069 2.70 1.9 0.80 142.11%
Martin Maldonado Angels 5.156 3.90 2.8 1.10 139.29%
Addison Russell Cubs 2.167 ⇑ 3.20 2.3 0.90 139.13%
Chad Bettis Rockies 3.096 2.00 1.5 0.50 133.33%
Joc Pederson Dodgers 3.028 2.60 2 0.60 130.00%
Enrique Hernandez Dodgers 3.054 1.60 1.3 0.30 123.08%
Kris Bryant Cubs 2.171 ⇑ 10.85 8.9 1.95 121.91%

Syndergaard and Sanchez were both aces in 2016 and injured in 2017. This was the first trip through arbitration for both of them. Because arbitration salaries compound each year, their injuries cost them millions of dollars now and in the future. That being the case, it’s heartening that these two players outdid their projections by the highest percentages in all of baseball.

The Bad

Seven players lost more than $1 million off their projected salaries:

Player Team Service Time (Years) Settled Amt. Projection Difference Settled $ Percentage of Projection

 

Jose Abreu White Sox 4 13.00 17.9 -4.90 72.63%
Marcell Ozuna Cardinals 4.124 9.00 10.9 -1.90 82.57%
Jacob deGrom Mets 3.139 7.40 9.2 -1.80 80.43%
Nicholas Castellanos Tigers 4.029 6.05 7.6 -1.55 79.61%
Manny Machado Orioles 5.056 16.00 17.3 -1.30 92.49%
Tanner Roark Nationals 4.055 6.48 7.5 -1.03 86.33%
Jimmy Nelson Brewers 3.107 3.70 4.7 -1.00 78.72%

Ozuna lost nearly $2 million. That’s very bad. Abreu settled for nearly $5 million less than his projection! That’s indescribably pathetic. Jerry Reinsdorf, the owner of theWhite Sox can buy a small fleet of yachts with the savings from this pre-arbitration contract alone. Abreu’s agent should be fired immediately. Last year, his arbitration salary was $11 million. In what universe is a .304/.354/.552 slash line worth only a $2 million dollar raise?!?

A staggering 14 players settled for at least 20% less than their projected value:

Player Team Service Time (Years) Settled Amt. Projection Difference Settled $ Percentage of Projection

Andrew Romine Mariners 5.049 1.05 1.9 -0.85 55.26%
Blake Wood Angels 5.131 1.45 2.2 -0.75 65.91%
Danny Farquhar White Sox 3.135 1.05 1.5 -0.45 70.00%
Jesus Sucre Rays 3.137 0.93 1.3 -0.38 71.15%
Jose Abreu White Sox 4 13.00 17.9 -4.90 72.63%
J.C. Ramirez Angels 2.139 ⇑ 1.90 2.6 -0.70 73.08%
Abraham Almonte Indians 3.052 0.83 1.1 -0.28 75.00%
Daniel Winkler Braves 3 0.61 0.8 -0.19 76.25%
Carson Smith Red Sox 3.028 0.85 1.1 -0.25 77.27%
Anthony DeSclafani Reds 3.062 0.86 1.1 -0.24 78.18%
Stephen Vogt Brewers 4.084 3.07 3.9 -0.84 78.59%
Jimmy Nelson Brewers 3.107 3.70 4.7 -1.00 78.72%
Nicholas Castellanos Tigers 4.029 6.05 7.6 -1.55 79.61%
Chase Whitley Braves 3.099 0.80 1 -0.20 80.00%

There are a few notable players in this group, such as Nelson, Castellanos, and the aforementioned Abreu, but most of them live on the outskirts of their rosters. Romine is at the top of the list (or is it the bottom?), and he was claimed off waivers from Detroit following the season. It’s likely that many of these players accepted lesser salaries to avoid being waived.

The Ugly

163 players signed for a combined $24.395 million dollars under projections. That’s an average of $150,000 in lost wages per player. MLBTR’s projection model accounts for expected inflation, so there’s no reasonable excuse for such low salaries. Frankly, this is disturbing enough that it warrants investigation. As it happens, I am a labor association president in my day job. If my members consistently accepted salaries this far below their value, there would literally be a riot. The MLBPA needs to get off the sidelines and investigate what the hell happened.

Unsurprisingly, the biggest scrooge was the White Sox, shafting their players out of $4.93 million, though nearly all of that is due to Abreu. The Diamondbacks followed with $3.53 million under projections, though that’s spread over a league high 13 arbitration settlements. St. Louis, Milwaukee, Seattle, Boston, Detroit, and Baltimore all settled for at least $1.4 million in savings off their players projections.

The most generous franchise was the Cubs. They gave their players $2.03 million more than projections, though the only two players to outearn their projections were Kris Bryant and Addison Russell. The Blue Jays were right behind them, topping projections by an even $2 million thanks to Josh Donaldson and Aaron Sanchez.

All told, 24 teams settled with players for less than their combined projected amounts. Five teams gave players more than projected, and one team hit their projections right on the nose (Washington Nationals).

27 players from 18 organizations did not reach an agreement and are scheduled for an arbitration hearing. Many of them will still settle before the hearing date. No matter what happens, the overall poor negotiating has set a low bar for future arbitration agreements. This will irreparably harm arbitration eligible players in subsequent seasons.

-Daniel R. Epstein

Copyright © 2017 | Off The Bench Baseball

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