We are just a few days away from January 19th. Why is this date significant? It is the day that arbitration numbers are exchanged. It also marks the end of negotiations between the Rays and any remaining arbitration eligible players. The deadline for a deal by the 19this self-imposed, and one which doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon. If you remember our interview with Dan Feinstein, he had this to say about the policy "We believe that our policy gives us the best chance to avoid a hearing and arrive at a number that's acceptable to both sides." The Rays, however, will negotiate a deal past the deadline if it is long-term. In the DRB interview, Feinstein said the team remained "hopeful" of avoiding hearings.
The Rays started the offseason with 10 arbitration eligible players, but added an 11th to the list with the Kelly Shoppach trade. Since then, five players (Shoppach, Grant Balfour, Lance Cormier, Randy Choate and Dioner Navarro) have come to terms on a deal. Gabe Gross was non-tendered and Jeff Bennett was designated for assignment. Bennett has since returned to the team on a minor league deal. This leaves, arguably, the four most important players of the 11 unsigned. Jason Bartlettis the only remaining player who is in his second year of eligibility while Matt Garza, J.P. Howell and B.J. Upton are facing arbitration for the first time.
All four players are due to receive substantial raises. Bartlett, who made nearly two million dollars in 2009, is coming off of a career season and is likely to double his 2009 salary and more. For the three first timers, the days of making near league minimum are over. Each player will receive a seven-figure number regardless of a hearing. I'm not going to speculate on the figure I think these players will make, however, I do want to see what their estimated value for arbitration looks like.
Like any estimation exercise, we are not dealing with absolute truths here. With that in mind, take what you will from these figures. Using fangraphs WAR dollars, I used the 40/60/80 scale to get quick estimates. For those unfamiliar with the scale, we assume that a player arbitration eligible for the first time "should" get somewhere in the neighborhood of 40% of his WAR value from the previous season. They should get nearly 60% in year two and 80% in year three based on previous performances. That said, here are the expected values of the remaining four players for:
Jason Barlett--2009 WAR Value $21.7--Estimated 2010 Arb. Value $13.02--Remember, I said these are estimated values not predictions. Bartlett made ~$2 million dollars in 2009 and responded with his best season in the big leagues by far. As an arb-2 player, Bartlett's value falls in the 60% bracket. While a raise over six times his 2009 salary would be nice for him, Jason Bartlett will not make close to $13 million dollars in 2010 despite the value of his efforts this past season.
Matt Garza--2009 WAR Value $15.4--Estimated 2010 Arb. Value $6.016--Surpassing the 200 innings mark for the first time in his career, Garza will be the beneficiary of nice sized raise in 2009. After making just $433K for his 3.4 WAR season, Garza will be rewarded for those efforts, however, not quite $6 million dollars. Nonetheless, his raise for the 2010 season could make him the highest paid starter in the Rays rotation. If a long-term deal isn't reached sometime soon with Garza, I would expect trade whispers to begin as early as next off-season.
J.P. Howell--2009 WAR Value $5.0--Estimated 2010 Arb. Value $2 million--Of the final four players, Howell seems to be the most likely for a deal longer than one year. As a non-closing relief pitcher, his value will be diminished by the arbitration process. Things like blown saves will work against him in a hearing despite the fact that the statistic is flawed. I think if Howell actually went to a hearing he would receive less than $2 million thanks to those eight blown saves and a sub 70% save percentage. A deal buying out a year or two of free agency doesn't seem far-fetched.
B.J. Upton--2009 WAR Value $11.4--Estimated 2010 Arb. Value $4.56 million--No matter what the estimated arbitration figure for Upton is, it will start a debate. Regardless of what Upton actually makes in 2010 someone will be upset. We already explored what a potential extension might look like, but we've yet to hear anything other than Upton's willingness to go on a year-to-year basis. The anti-B.J. crowd will not like this, but if by a miracle he came close to the $4.5 estimate, he would still be underpaid.