GUEST COMMENTARY WRITTEN BY: Adam Rygg
As reported by Adam McCalvy, the Brewers exchanged salary arbitration figures with all of the arbitration-eligible players that haven’t signed a contract to avoid the arbitration process (i.e. Kevin Mench and his $3.4 million, one-year contract).
That means that the Brewers and five players will possibly have arbitration hearings with 2006 Brewers Chris Capuano, Bill Hall and Tony Graffanino, along with new acquirees Johnny Estrada and Claudio Vargas.
Chris Capuano—>Submitted salary by player = $3.7 million—>Offered by Brewers = $2.8 million—>2006 Salary: $450,000
Bill Hall—>Player = $4.125 million—>Club = $3 million—>2006: $418,000
Tony Graffanino—>$3.7 millon—>$2.8 million—>$2.5 million
Johnny Estrada—>$3.9 million—>$3 million—>$2 million
Claudio Vargas—>$2.85 million—>$2.15 million—>$1.275 million
For what it’s worth…Doug Davis (now of the Arizona Diamondbacks and the key piece of the 6 player deal that got the Brewers Estrada and Vargas) is also arbitration eligible. He filed for $7.5 million while the D’Backs offered $5.25 million.
For those of you who might not fully understand the arbitration process, allow me to help simplify it.
First, all that has happened so far is that the two sides of each individual "case" have submitted figures to the other side. This not only lets both sides know what the other is thinking, but also provides a jumping off point for further negotiations.
Just because both sides have filed does NOT necessarily mean that there will be a hearing on any case. The club and the player have until the scheduled hearing time (in February) to continue to negotiate a contract. Most of these tend to be one-year deals so that the player can then file for arbitration again the next offseason should the team and and the player not agree to an extension at some point prior to that.
So, should the two sides come to an agreement, then that’s the contract the player plays under and the salary that he earns for that year.
On the other hand, should the case need to go before an arbitration committee, both sides are given a chance to present their case before said committee. The committee consists of three people. Those three individuals reach a consensus on which salary figure to choose for the player’s contract and their decision is binding. They must choose either the player’s filed amount or the club’s filed amount. There will be no middle ground nor compromise from an arbitration hearing. Middle ground and compromise are what the time between now and the hearing is for.
Let’s have a bit of fun for this next segment. Let’s pretend that I’m the arbitrator panel. Yup…all three people = just me.
Personally, here is how I would rule based on the information that I know of all the players. (Again, this assumes that all above cases reach a hearing instead of the team and player reaching a compromise in advance).
Chris Capuano: I would award him the $3.7 he filed for. Cappy has been a solid member of the pitching rotation for multiple years and seems completely healed from his Tommy John surgery. He doesn’t seem to be a repeat-injury risk at all. Also, he won 18 games last year and might have done the same this year with a bit more run support.
Bill Hall: I would take the team’s offer of $3 million. If Hall had submitted a number more around $3.5 million (or if he had made over $2 million in 2006), I’d probably have taken Hall’s offer. Billy had a GREAT season (aside from the strikeouts) and definitely deserves a sizeable raise. However, he not only has only had production like this for one season, but he is also most likely going to be switching positions from the infield to the outfield. He could become a liability defensively in center field which could lead to more playing with a slot for him or, if it got really distracting, a benching. The team shouldn’t be committed to pay what truly is still an experiment so much of an increase over the prior season’s salary.
Tony Graffanino: I would accept the team’s figure of $2.8 million. Graffer had a stellar half-season with the Brewers filling in admirably for Rickie Weeks at second base. However, Graffanino is returning to the team in a role that will primarily be as a backup. The only way he would see significant enough playing time to warrant such an increase in salary is if somebody gets injured again. You can’t play "what-ifs" with health, in my opinion, and have to rule as though everybody on the roster will be available to earn their salary, not just collect it.
Johnny Estrada: This is easily the toughest call for me. Estrada’s offensive numbers last year were very solid, especially out of a position that isn’t usually counted on for much with the bat at all (if not viewed as a liability like Chad Moeller was in 2006), catcher. Estrada hit .302 with 11 HRs and 71 RBI in just 115 games. What’s more, in 414 AB, he only struck out 40 times (about 10% compared to, for example, Bill Hall: 537 AB, 162 K for just over 30%). Yes, he only took 13 walks, but he puts the ball in play more often than not. He also just turned 30 and hasn’t been over-worked in his career. All that being said, he is a catcher and will truly only play about two-thirds or so of the games. Last season he started 70%, but Milwaukee also has a very capable backup in Damian Miller. Ultimately, though, I think the fact that he was the key cog in Milwaukee’s trade with Arizona lends itself to how valuable he is to the club. I’d probably end up going with Estrada’s figure, the $3.9 million.
Claudio Vargas: Here is where I can save the team some money back, not that that would have any bearing at all in how I would rule. Vargas is asking for $2.85, but I would accept the ballclub’s $2.15 figure instead. Vargas is a notoriously up and down pitcher, and being that he is the 5th starter in a rotation and there is a legitimate chance that he could end up not even making the rotation depending on how Spring Training goes with other invitees…all that adds up to a decision that $2.15 is sufficient. Yes, he had his best season, statistically, in his career, but a bit more consistency would provide for more of a chance at getting the $2.85. He has shown that more starts equated to better numbers, but in 30 starts in 2006 he only threw 167.2 IP. That’s an average of not even 6 IP / Start. That’s a number that needs to improve before I would rule for more than doubling his previous salary.
So…what’s it all mean? Well, just consider this. Say all of our cases settle for the mid-points of the difference between submitted figures. That would be a total of: $16,012,500 in increase salary. Now, think about the arbitration eligible player we traded away getting his figure awarded to him of $7.5 million. The difference there? $8,512,500. Eight and one-half million bucks for a major upgrade (offensively at least) at catcher, a good 5th starter, and maintaing the contracts of two of the brightest youngsters in baseball in Cappy and Billy…..
Look, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.
Doug Melvin knows what he’s doing.
Anybody else want to play fantasy arbitrator? Let me know which figures you’d pick. If you want to spend the time writing, I’d love to hear why as well……especially if we disagree. 🙂
Until next time, this is the Big Rygg saying "Go Brewers!"
Oh…that and P&C in just 32 days! (Yes, this is being posted on 1/17, but I haven’t gone to bed yet so it still counts at 1/16 to me. Plus, nearly the entirety of 1/17 has yet to come.)