An athlete is worth whatever his or her team will pay, right? That is the law of the land, so to speak. Well, what if a team's worth falls short of what an athlete's agent believes is the necessary cost? In baseball an arbitration process begins if a player and team cannot come to an agreement on a contract by a certain time.
The process works as such: You must have three full seasons of service time but less than six. After six seasons players become free agents. Until then they are under team control. The team determines their worth. Between years three through six, if a player is unhappy with the salary amount he can take the issue to an arbitration panel.
There is a slight exception to the three-year rule known as the “Super Two” exception. If a player has less than three years of service time but is in the top 22% of players with more than two years of service then he can become arbitration eligible. Players must have less than three full years under their belt before this takes effect.
The deadline to avoid arbitration is Feb. 1. As baseball's off-season rolls on and February approaches, here's a look at some of the notable names who have avoided arbitration this year and those who are still on the list.
The following salary numbers are taken from MLB Trade Rumors.
David Price, Tampa Bay Rays
- Settlement: $14MM
Price is only 28 years old and is the ace of this staff; of course you keep him around for as long as you can. Mark my words: Price will not be dealt if the Rays remain in the playoff hunt deep into the season. A one-year deal at that price is steep for a small-market team like Tampa Bay, but it's worth it to keep their ace – if only for another season.
In 147 starts over 6 seasons he's posted an ERA/ERA+ of 3.19/122 with a SO/9 of 8.1 and a BB/9 of 2.6. His SO/BB ratio was an outstanding 5.59 in 2013.
Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers
- Settlement: $15.525MM
With Doug Fister and Prince Fielder out of the picture, the door to a long-term contract extension for the 2013 AL Cy Young winner is wide open. Because of his success in 2013 Scherzer and agent Scott Boras upped his salary by $8.8MM for 2014. A raise like that is unheard of.
Scherzer is only 29 and is coming off two very productive seasons as a member of the Tigers. He has an ERA/ERA+ mark of 3.32/130 with 471 strikeouts over 402 innings of work in that span. His SO/9 has hit double digits in consecutive seasons – 11.1 in 2012 and 10.1 in 2013.
Scherzer has a big payday in his future, and we all know what Boras is capable of.
Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
- Settlement: $3.975MM
At 25 years old and still with plenty of potential, this current deal is a steal for the Nationals.
Health will always be a concern when dealing with starting pitching, but let's assume Strasburg's worst days are behind him. Over the course of 75 starts he's posted an ERA/ERA+ of 2.96/132. His SO/9 rate dipped a bit in 2013 but he still maintains a career average of 10.4. If he can remain healthy, he and Bryce Harper are the future of this franchise.
Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles
- Settlement: $10.35MM
27 years old with an average/on-base percentage of .278/.348 to go along with 86 home runs over the last two seasons – pay the man, Shirley. Are those numbers sustainable in the slightest? We'll find out soon enough. In the meantime, I'd venture to say the Orioles would be content with 40-45 home runs.
Oh, and before moving on, take a guess as to who he's represented by. Here's a hint: if you said Jay-Z instead of Scott Boras, you're wrong.
Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins
- Settlement: $6.5MM
Here's another young stud who swings a heavy bat. Stanton is just 24 years old and in his four seasons has posted a slash line of .265/.354/.535 to go along with 117 home runs.
However, he has the misfortune of being stuck with the Marlins for the time being. There appears to be very little traction with regards to a long-term extension, which in my mind only benefits Stanton. The sooner he gets out of that city, the better.
Don't be surprised if he gets traded by the deadline for a whole lot in return.
Chase Headley, San Diego Padres
- Settlement: $10.525MM
If his 2012 season is anything to go on it was imperative for the Padres to keep hold of Headley for the time being. The problem is the lack of success San Diego continues to have – no big-time player will want to stay there and be guaranteed on almost a yearly basis that their team wouldn't be competitive.
Headley took 5th in the 2012 MVP voting due in large part to a .286/.376/.498 slash line to go along with 31 home runs. He unfortunately regressed in 2013 with a line of .250/.347/.400 and only 13 home runs. He played in 20 less games as well.
San Diego will be hoping for Headley to return to form going into the 2014 regular season. If they fail to compete early on, look for Headley to be traded and another rebuild to begin.
Jim Johnson, Oakland Athletics
- Settlement: $10MM
A 30-year old closer who's registered 101 saves over the last two seasons? Yes sir, I'll have what Oakland is having. We know the Athletics' budget is tight but after trading Jemile Weeks for a stud like Johnson, you have to show him the money to keep him around.
Whether or not they'll work a reasonable extension out down the road remains to be seen, but what Johnson brings to the table in the 9th inning is no mystery. The Athletics were already contenders entering the 2014 season – despite letting Grant Balfour test the free agent market, they improved in the closer department.
Up in the air
Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
- Player offer: $9MM
- Team offer:$6.55MM
Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
- Player offer: $5.75MM
- Team offer: $4.5MM
Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves
- Player offer: $5.5MM
- Team offer: $5.2MM
My oh my, do the Braves need these three men back or what? While they were able to avoid arbitration with Kris Medlen, deals with Kimbrel, Freeman and Heyward have yet to be reached. They are all 24 years old and each of them bring something different to the table. With the departure of Brian McCann early on in the off-season the Braves need a few productive faces to stick around.
Kimbrel has an ERA/ERA+ of 1.39/282 with 139 saves over the course of his brief 4-year career while Freeman's slash line of .285/.358/.466 to go along with three consecutive 20-home run seasons is nothing to scoff at. Then there's Heyward – his power bat and arm strength have been displayed countless times. He just needs to stay healthy.
If the price is right then we're looking directly at the future of the Atlanta Braves for years to come. My prediction: they get two of the three long-term. One needs to be Kimbrel.
Aroldis Chapman, Cinncinatti Reds
- Player offer: $5.4MM
- Team offer: $4.6MMH
Homer Bailey, Cinncinatti Reds
- Player offer: $11.6MM
- Team offer: $8.7MM
Chapman is a 25-year old left-handed closer who can throw the ball 100 MPH+ with ease. To go along with an ERA/ERA+ of 2.40/167, he's recorded 76 saves between 2012-2013. Left-handed shutdown pitchers are a rarity today. I believe it will be a long time until we see a closer with Chapman's ability and potential again.
On the other hand, at 27 years old Homer Bailey is coming off two very solid seasons.
- 2012: 33 starts, 208 innings, 3.68 ERA, 112 ERA+
- 2013: 32 starts, 209 innings, 3.49 ERA, 110 ERA+
Yet with Bailey you need to be able to look at his past. He was an underwhelming player until two seasons ago and it's difficult to say whether or not his production will hold up. Does that mean he'll make at least $10MM this season? Oh, absolutely.
Doug Fister, Washing Nationals
- Player offer: $8.5MM
- Team offer: $5.75MM
Justin Masterson, Cleveland Indians
- Player offer: $11.8MM
- Team offer: $8.05MM
There is quite the discrepancy in numbers between these two teams and their players.
The Nationals just acquired Fister over winter and it would make little sense for them at this point to nickel and dime him all the way to the bank. Then again, imagine paying your 3rd-4th starter $10MM-$11MM per year. That's where it gets dicey.
Over the course of 5 seasons Fister has a very respectable ERA/ERA+ of 3.53/116. He's struck out a moderate amount of players in that time (571) and appears to walk very few (165). While Fister may not get as much as he is seeking, the Nationals won't fail to pay a man who they just made a major move for.
The Masterson case is even more interesting. Since it's likely that Ubaldo Jimenez won't be back in an Indians uniform in 2014, Masterson will resume his duties as the ace of the staff.
He'll be 29 in March, but 2013 may have been the beginning of a very promising stretch for Masterson. He posted an ERA/ERA+ of 3.45/109 while striking out 196 batters and nearing the 200-inning mark (193). One issue to work on will be the number of walks he surrenders (76 in 2013, 88 in 2012). On paper and in reality, however, Masterson is the best Cleveland has. It's time for them to show he's worth the commitment.
This isn't a video game where one can just run countless simulations and build the perfect team. If it were, anyone could do it. Trust me, I have to face that cold realization day after day.
A few days remain until the Feb. 1 deadline. In a battle of frugality versus greed, will your team bend in order to keep its core intact?