The filing deadline is quickly approaching for salary arbitration cases in Major League Baseball. In light of Stephen Strasburg's recent deal to avoid the process with Washington, here is a look at the big names who are bound by arbitration but have yet to agree to terms with their clubs. Normally, the arbitration-eligible players tend to be guys early in their careers who haven't yet performed well enough to entice their teams into locking them up with deals that cover these seasons (and usually a year or two of free agency). This offseason, though, features plenty of big-name arbitration cases, led by star pitchers Clayton Kershaw, David Price and Max Scherzer.
Price and Scherzer each project to earn over $13 million per MLB Trade Rumors arbitration projection tool. The key difference between the two, aside from which year each won the AL Cy Young (2012 and 2013, respectively) is that Price would be earning that salary with a one fewer year of service time than Scherzer (four and five years, respectively), though Scherzer's projected salary ($13.6 million) does edge that of Price ($13.1 million). Kershaw though, blows both of them away with a projected salary of $18.25 million in his final year of arbitration. The 2013 NL Cy Young winner just completed a two year, $19 million contract that covered his first two years of arbitration eligibility.
While these may seem like large figures, they're still depressed rates given the market value of starting pitchers of this caliber. With Zack Greinke setting the rate at $24.5 million per year for an ace-level starting pitcher, it would be fair to expect each of these three to top that rate on the open market. Since they're still only allowed to negotiate with their current teams, though, and are bound to a process that values things which are out of their control (such as wins), they can rarely come close to their market values.
Even so, these salaries weigh heavily on teams, even those with big payrolls. They're what spurred both Detroit and Tampa Bay to look into trades for their star pitchers, even if none have come to fruition just yet. Kershaw's salary hasn't caused the Dodgers to look into trading him, but they have had negotiations toward a long-term pact and avoiding the arbitration process would certainly be a perk if a deal is struck.
The arbitration process can be quite lucrative for players who are able to stay healthy and accrue the old-fashioned counting stats (wins, strikeouts and saves for pitchers; runs, RBI, home runs and average for hitters). That's one reason that a player like Atlanta's Freddie Freeman is projected to earn more than teammate Jason Heyward, who is a superior defender at a more difficult position, even though Freeman has only accrued three years of service time to Heyward's four. That isn't to say Freeman hasn't been more valuable, but an extra year into the process generally yields a bigger reward; therefore, it is notable that Freeman could well get more than his teammate.
Freeman and Heyward (projected at $4.9 and $4.5 million, respectively) may seem like bargains at those prices, and they are. However, young, cost-controlled players are a small-market team's lifeblood, and those salaries add up rather quickly. Atlanta also has Chris Johnson, Mike Minor, Kris Medlen and Craig Kimbrel up for arbitration, so it's easy to see how abritration-eligible players can expand a team's payroll rather quickly. While you might falter at the suggestion that the Braves are a small-market team, Grant Brisbee recently discussed how they very much have to operate like one, at least until their next television deal.
The names discussed above represent a mere fraction of the players who are going through this process. Here are some other guys who will be worth keeping an eye on:
Doug Fister - Washington Nationals
Chase Headley - San Diego Padres
Austin Jackson - Detroit Tigers
Jordan Zimmermann - Washington Nationals
The date for teams and players to file for arbitration is Tuesday, Jan. 14 and the date to exchange salaries is set for Friday, Jan. 17.