Week Five In The MLB: Chicago Cubs

It is now week five of the MLB season and The Chicago Cubs are still garnering serious interest across the league. In addition to their recent success, a few developments have recently come out of The North Side.

Recent Results

The Chicago Cubs still lead the overall standings at 25-8 and a .781 winning percentage. The team is still the number one team on ESPN’s weekly power rankings.

At their current pace, the Cubs can win 126 games to go 126-36. According to newsday.com, that record would beat by the next best all-time record, set by the 1906 Chicago Cubs who went 116-36, by ten games.

Despite being the best team in the game, the Chicago Cubs have shown signs of weakness recently. On March 11th, the Cubs lost a doubleheader to the San Diego Padres, a team that most of the baseball world would consider inferior to the star studded Cubs.

The Cubs lost 7-4 in the first game and 1-0 in the second game. Usually the Cubs have no problem putting up runs, but only scored five on Wednesday.

This doubleheader comes on the heels of a four game sweep of the Washington Nationals, one of the best teams in the league.  The Cubs actively avoided Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, walking him repeatedly throughout the four game series, but managed to limit his effectiveness on the bases with solid defense.

The Cubs will play division rival Pittsburg on Friday. As of May 12th, the Cubs lead the Pirates, who are second in the NL Central, by seven games, the largest gap in the MLB.

Extension for Arrieta?

The contract for Cubs ace Jake Arrieta is set to expire after next year. He will be a free agent after the 2017 season if an agreement between Arrieta and the Cubs front office is met.

Arrieta’s 1.13 ERA is the best in the league and he has entered the discussion for best pitcher in the MLB. If he does manage to become a free agent somehow, it will be difficult to replace his production.

How much it will cost to keep Arrieta at Wrigley field is unknown, but according to several sources, he is not willing to take a discount to stay with the Cubs. For reference, Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg recently received a 7-year, 175-million-dollar contract.  Arrieta believes that he is worth more than Strasburg, but how much more?

No Extension For Theo, Yet

The architect behind the Chicago Cubs ascension, Theo Epstein is in the final year his contract. Epstein would be a great pickup for any team’s front office, but he is not expected to leave Chicago anytime soon.

According to CSN Chicago, Epstein believes his contract situation is a nonissue and Patrick Mooney that the players deserve to get paid first. Epstein specifically mentioned Arrieta as someone who should be a new deal before he does.

Cross Town Classic World Series?

The Cubs have the best record in the MLB, but closely behind them is their cross town rival The White Sox. The Sox are currently sitting atop the AL Central at 23-12, the 2nd best overall record in the MLB. The Sox are somewhat of a surprise are finishing 76-86 in 2015.

Just like the Cubs, the Sox have relied on the solid top three pitchers in their rotation. Chris Sale is the team’s ace. He and Jose Quintana have and ERA under 2.00. Signed in the offseason, Mat Latos has been a solid addition to the team posting a 3.40.

While both teams are very good, it is highly improbable that both will make the World Series next fall. If they do both make it, however, it would be the first time that the two teams have played against each other in the World Series since 1906, the year the Cubs posted their 116-36 record. The Sox won the series that year.

Going Forward From Here

The Cubs have only played 32 games. They still have another 130 to go. They must keep winning consistently to have a shot at the postseason. It is far too early to guarantee anyone a playoff spot.

The Cubs biggest free agent addition, Jason Heyward, has .216 average this season. Heyward has started out slow and has done so they past few years. Each time he has been able to get out of the slump. He hasn’t needed to produce superstar numbers yet, but it probably hurt the Cubs if he did.

The Cubs don’t need improvement in any one area on the diamond. They’re the best team in baseball right now and just need to keep winning. More importantly, they need to win come October when the playoffs start.

The All-Free Agent Team

It’s now late January. We are about three weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting and 68 days from Opening Day. There are still quite a few good free agents on the market. There are so many, in fact, that you can make a roster of them and likely have a team that would contend. Just for fun, I made that roster. You are welcome.

Pitchers

Starting Rotation

1. Yovani Gallardo

Gallardo will be 30 next month and is coming off of one of the best seasons of his 9 year career. In his only year with the Texas Rangers, he went 13-11 with a 3.42 ERA in 184 innings in 2015. He might not have “ace” stuff but he will take the hill every 5th day and give you his best. He has started at least 30 games in each season since 2009. He brings experience (6 appearances in playoff games over 3 postseasons) and if you like the National League, he is not too shabby with the bat (12 career home runs, 83 hits).

Rumored destinations: Rockies, Orioles, Astros

2. Doug Fister

Fister had a rough 2015 after a 16-win 2014 season. He fought injuries all year and logged just 103 innings. Before that, he had three straight double-digit win seasons. He was supposed to be a huge part in the mega-rotation the Nationals thought they had last year. He was 5th in WHIP in 2014, finishing ahead of the likes of Madison Bumgarner and his former teammate Stephen Strasburg.

Rumored destinations: Astros, Marlins, Rockies

3. Mat Latos

Latos did not do himself any favors in 2015. With rumored locker room issues combined with an ERA near 5 with three separate teams, it’s no secret why he is still on the market in late January. There must be some team willing to take a risk when they look at his previous seasons. He had an ERA under 3.50 in every season between 2010 and 2014. He was in the Cy Young discussion in 2010 with the San Diego Padres. Some teams are scared to sign Latos but the talent is there. He may just need the right locker room. If he can stay healthy, he makes any rotation better.

Rumored destinations: Orioles and Royals

4. Cliff Lee

Lee will be 38 before this upcoming season is over. He’s had a really tough two seasons, battling through injuries and didn’t pitch at all in 2015. His last full season was 2013 when he was an All-Star for the Phillies, winning 14 games, striking out 222 batters and a 2.87 ERA. He has some left in the tank. He’s rumored to not be 100% healthy yet but there will be a team willing to risk it. He has logged 82 innings of playoff baseball and has 143 wins. Veterans are always needed on a rotation.

Rumored destinations: Yankees

5. Tim Lincecum

Lincecum won two straight Cy Youngs in 2008 and 2009. He has battled some injuries and struggles on the mound in the last few seasons. Perhaps a change of scenery would do him well. He only logged 76 innings in 2015. His WHIP was the highest of his career. He is only 31 so it’s not to say he can’t turn things around. He could start at the back of this rotation and be a solid plug-in guy for now. Before 2015, he logged  7 straight seasons of double-digit wins and he also boasts three World Series rings. Any staff could use that experience.

Rumored destinations: Padres and Marlins

Bullpen

Franklin Morales

In Morales’ only year with the Royals in 2015, he was a vital part to their World Series run. In 67 appearances, he had a 3.18 ERA. He struggled a bit in the playoffs but he has a track record as a solid late-innings guy. He is a lefty, which ups his value. He has experience in many ballparks in both leagues, having pitched 6 seasons in the NL and 4 in the AL. A team could always use a veteran lefty out of the ‘pen. Morales can be that guy.

Rumored destinations: Twins, Red Sox and Royals

Burke Badenhop, Middle Relief

Badenhop has appeared in at least 63 games in four straight seasons, including 68 last year. He posted a 3.93 ERA and finished 17 games for the Reds last season. He has pitched for 5 different teams and held an ERA under four for all but one of them. He won’t blow you away or become the next Trevor Hoffman but he is a steady hand that any shaky bullpen would love to have.

Rumored destinations: Tigers

Neal Cotts, Middle Relief

Cotts finished last season with the Twins. He had a 3.41 ERA in 68 games for the Twins and Brewers. He has pitched 141 games in the last two seasons. He is a lefty that has pitched for 10 seasons. He is a 2005 World Series champion and has pitched for both Chicago teams in the playoffs.

Rumored destinations: Twins and Cubs

Tommy Hunter, Setup Man

Hunter finished the season as apart of the Cubs after being dealt from the Orioles. He can get you a save every now and then but is mostly a 7th or 8th inning guy. He posted a 4.18 ERA in 58 total appearances in 2015 with a 4-2 record.

Rumored destinations: Mets and Orioles

Ryan Webb, Setup Man

Webb appeared in just 40 games for the Indians in 2015 but pitched well. He had a 3.20 ERA and when healthy, can be a viable setup guy for a depleted bullpen. He’s not a big strikeout guy but he will get the job done.

Rumored Destinations: Tigers and Indians

Tyler Clippard, Closer

Clippard is the only legitimate closer left on the market. He notched 19 saves last year as he bounced around from the Washington Nationals in 2014 to the Oakland A’s to start 2015 only to be dealt to the Mets at the deadline to aid their playoff run. He was an All-Star in 2014, posting a 2.18 ERA in 75 games. He had a 2.92 ERA in 2015 with both teams. He has appeared in at least 69 games in every season since 2010. For a team looking for a closer, the 30 year-old Clippard is likely the best option available.

Rumored destinations: Yankees

Starting Lineup

1. Dexter Fowler, CF

Fowler has gotten better and better in recent years. He has played at least 100 games every season of his career, which started in 2008. You can pencil him in for at least 7 triples, 15 home runs and right around 20 stolen bases. He is an excellent defender patrolling center field. He would serve as a good leadoff hitter, as that it what he has done for most of his 8-year career. He hasn’t had an on-base  percentage lower than .346 since his rookie year. He is also coming off of a career high in home runs with 17.

Rumored destinations: White Sox and Angels

2. Howie Kendrick, 2B

Fighting through injury last season for the Dodgers, Kendrick put together a good season at age 31. He hit .295 with 22 doubles and 9 home runs in 117 games. He is just a year removed from his best season in 2014, when he had a career high 181 hits. He gets the job done with the glove and will be a veteran presence towards the top of the order. Good hitting second baseman are always needed.

Rumored destinations: Diamondbacks

3. Justin Morneau, 1B

Morneau had a tough 2015 with injuries ending it early. He did finish with a .310 average in 49 games. Going back to his 2014 season, he led the league with a .319 clip and added 17 home runs and 82 RBI. The 2006 AL MVP has played 13 seasons in the bigs and has 241 career home runs. Granted, one could say he has had good numbers because he plays at Coors Field but that has been disproved before. He was a great hitter in Minnesota too. At age 34, he still has got some pop in that bat.

Rumored destinations: Rockies and Rays

4. Marlon Byrd, LF

Byrd might be 38 years old, but that hasn’t stopped him from totaling 48 home runs in the last two seasons. He finished 2015 with the Giants and combined with his numbers with the Reds, he hit .247 with 23 home runs and a .743 OPS. The guy can still slug it and could definitely be put in the cleanup spot. He was an All-Star in 2010 and hasn’t slowed down much since. In fact, his four career 20+ home run seasons have all come after the age of 30.

Rumored destinations: Rays

5. David Freese, 3B

Freese is mostly known for his clutch 2011 postseason for the Cardinals when he was NLCS and World Series MVP. Since then, he has quietly been a consistent presence at the hot corner. He hit 14 home runs last year while hitting a vanilla .257. However, he also racked up 27 doubles and had a .743 OPS. He still can provide a steady bat. He won’t blow you away with numbers but he will be there if you need him.

Rumored destinations: Pirates and Red Sox

6. Ian Desmond, SS

Desmond has been a constant in the rumors flying around many teams seeking a shortstop. And for good reason. Over the past four seasons, he has been one of the best offensive shortstops in the game. He has hit at least 19 home runs every season since 2012, when he was an All-Star. His numbers dipped a bit after a dreadful first half to 2015. He has hit 88 home runs in the last four seasons and is young enough to still be in his peak. He also has only missed 18 games in the last three seasons.

Rumored destinations: Rays and White Sox

7. Alex Rios, RF

Rios’ power has declined significantly in the past two seasons. In his last 236 games, he has hit 8 home runs. He can still hit, however, posting a .280 average in 2014 and .255 last season. He is likely a bottom of the order hitter now in his mid-30’s with no power. Now a World Series champion, there will be a clubhouse that will seek his experience in the outfield.

Rumored destination: Royals

8. Pedro Alvarez, DH

Alvarez is nothing short of a liability at first base, with 23 errors last season. That being said, his bat is worth putting in the lineup. He smacked 27 home runs last season and is just two seasons removed from a 36 home run, 100 RBI campaign in 2013. His average is usually below .250 but that power threat is tantalizing. As a full time DH, he could do some serious damage.

Rumored destinations: Brewers and Rays

Catcher: none

Bench

Austin Jackson, OF

Jackson started the year as the centerfielder for the Seattle Mariners. He was then dealt to the Cubs to aid their playoff run. He played 136 games, hitting 9 home runs, stealing 17 bases and hitting .267. He’s a guy with plus defenses and speed that can get hot with the bat. He also will stay pretty healthy, as he has played at least 129 games in every season since he came to the league in 2010.

Rumored destinations: Cubs and Rangers

Will Venable, OF

Venable was traded from the Padres to the Rangers after the deadline. He’s a plus fielder that gives you the occasional pop (22 home runs in 2013). However, he’s only hit 14 dingers in the two seasons since then. He’s been a consistent .245 to .260 hitter most of his career. If you are looking for a cheap good fielder who is competent with the stick, Venable is the guy.

Rumored destinations: Orioles and Padres

Jimmy Rollins, SS

There is some doubt as to whether the 37 year-old Rollins can still play a good shortstop. His defensive numbers have actually been pretty steady in his mid 30’s. There will be a team that will take a chance on Rollins. He has 2,422 career hits along with 229 home runs. He won the 2007 MVP. Last year he struggled a bit with the bat, hitting just .224 with 13 home runs. He did score 71 runs (he is 4th on the active runs scored list). Teams will value his playoff experience (.673 OPS in 50 games).

Rumored destination: Angels

Ryan Raburn, DH, OF

Raburn has not played a full season since 2011. However, he did hit .301 in 82 games in 2015. He has a bit of pop (16 home runs in 2013, 82 in his career). He usually puts the ball in play (.936 OPS with just 44 strikeouts in 2015). He is a nice bat to have come off the bench and maybe fill in a spot every so often in the outfield.

Rumored destinations: Tigers and Indians

 

Juan Uribe, INF

Uribe is getting up there in age (will be 37 during Spring Training), but he still hit 14 home runs and helped the Mets reach the World Series after he was dealt from the Dodgers to the Braves and then to the Mets. He still scares pitchers enough to make a difference in a lineup.

Rumored destinations: Dodgers and Indians

Clint Barmes: SS, 2B

Barmes is getting up there in age but he still can serve as a veteran presence that can play everyday in a pinch. He hit just .232 for the Padres last year but had his highest slugging percentage (.353) since 2011. He’s a clubhouse guy and any young team would do well to have Barmes on the roster.

 

So there it is. The all-free agent team. It maybe could contend, depending on the division its in. There are plenty of good arms available and a few good bats. Expect signings to flurry in before Spring Training hits later next month.

 

 

 

 

Predicting The 2015 World Series

Prior to playing the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday, July 29, the Toronto Blue Jays had a mediocre record of 50-51. People questioned whether Toronto would go for it this season, or try and build their farm system up for the next few seasons.

Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos rolled the dice and traded for Troy Tulowitzki and David Price and the gamble paid off immediately. On July 29 Troy Tulowitzki played his first game for the Blue Jays and hit a home run. Since then Toronto has not looked back and the club is a ridiculous 23-5 with Tulo on the team.

In 27 games with Toronto, Tulo has hit an underwhelming .227 with four home runs and 11 RBIs, but having the shortstop at the top of the lineup to go along with his solid defense has sparked the Blue Jays. The Canadian ball club now has Tulowitzki leading off followed by AL MVP Candidate Josh Donaldson batting second, Jose Bautista batting third and Edwin Encarnacion batting fourth.

That is an insane combination of hitters that can kill you in almost any way and Encarnacion has been red hot for the Blue Jays of late. Yesterday Encarnacion hit three home runs and knocked in 9 runs and now has 29 home runs on the season to go along with 90 runs batted in.

The Blue Jays have no doubt the best offense in baseball and with their starting pitching heating up, led by staff ace David Price, this team is primed for a postseason run. In five starts with Toronto David Price is 4-0 with a 1.98 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 36.1 innings pitched.

The ball club has gotten decent starting pitching as of late and with their incredible offense, that could be all the team needs. The Blue Jays are 3-1 against the Kansas City Royals in the second half and are now a game and a half up on the division in the AL East.

Toronto will enter the playoffs having won over 90 games and will dispatch of the Houston Astros in four games in the ALDS. The Blue Jays will then play the Royals in the ALCS and though it will be a great series, Toronto will win in six games thanks to their great offense and their pitching led by David Price.

The X-factor for the Blue Jays in the playoffs will be Marcus Stroman, who will likely come out of the bullpen for the Jays and will catalyze the pitching staff.

On the National League side the World Series favorite is the St. Louis Cardinals, but once October comes around they will not be the team in the World Series. The National League will be represented by the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have arguably the two best pitchers in baseball with Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke.

Greinke leads the league in ERA on the season at 1.61 and Clayton Kershaw has been lights out in the second half. In 8 starts since the all-star break Kershaw is 5-0 with a 1.o2 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 62 innings pitched. To go along with the two aces are Brett Anderson, who has a 3.36 ERA on the year, Mat Latos and Alex Wood.

The Dodgers have also gotten help from their closer Kenley Jansen, who has been great this year posting 27 saves in 29 opportunities to go along with a 2.39 ERA on the season. The Dodger lineup, led by Adrian Gonzalez who has 24 home runs and 75 RBIs, is full of veterans that have played in the spotlight before.

Gonzalez is joined by Howie Kendrick, who is hitting .296 on the season, along with Andre Ethier and ultra utility man Justin Turner who has been phenomenal this year. Turner on the season is hitting .295 with 15 home runs and 51 RBIs and has been a big part of the team’s success.

To go along with those players the Dodgers have all-star catcher Yasmani Grandal, and veteran leaders Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley who have played many big games in their careers. The time is now for the Los Angeles Dodgers and with a 72-56 record on the year they will likely end up playing the New York Mets in what will be a great NLDS matchup.

The Mets young pitching will give the Dodgers hitters fits, but with Kershaw and Greinke leading the way the Dodgers will dispose of the New York ball club in five games. In the NLCS the Dodgers will have to find a way to get past the St. Louis Cardinals.

This series will be tough for the Dodgers, but Kershaw will come in fired up as he has struggled against the Cardinals in the past. Kershaw will lead the Dodgers to a NLCS victory in six games and the Dodgers will meet the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2015 World Series.

The X-factor in the playoffs for the Dodgers will be Yasiel Puig. The young player is immensely talented, but has not had a very good year for the Los Angeles ball club. Puig is going to figure it out down the stretch and in October will help carry the team to the World Series.

In one of the best World Series match ups in years Clayton Kershaw will face David Price in game one of the World Series. Kershaw will dominate the Blue Jays free swingers and will win game one for the Dodgers. The Blue Jays will make it a good series, but ultimately the Dodgers will win the World Series in seven games with Clayton Kershaw winning the World Series MVP.

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Marlins’ Process Changing As Core Grows

(Via Grantland)

Build through the farm system and develop young talent. Have all of your top prospects emerge on to the major league roster in a small time frame. Continue to build the major league roster until the team is a playoff contender. Win the wildcard and don’t lose a playoff series on the way to a World Series title. Dump all of the team’s now “prime-aged” talent who are asking for far too much money to keep all of them around. Fall back to the cellar for a few years. Repeat this process.

What team in their right mind would allow their fans to suffer through five to 10 years of pure mediocrity just to sit through one to two years of success? How can you be content with a World Series title once per decade mirrored with years of struggles with minimal hopes of getting better any time soon?

Well, in fact, this has been the thought process of the Miami Marlins since the team’s inception in 1993, and it has guided them to two World Series rings in just over 20 years. The Marlins’ divisional rival, the Philadelphia Phillies, have the same amount of titles in just over 130 years.

With this being said, the process is, in fact, worth the years of struggles, and the Marlins are now on the upswing, and headed towards that playoff push once again. The young core is coming into its own, and the playoffs are a very real possibility this upcoming season, especially with how down the rest of (with the exception of the Washington Nationals, of course) the NL East is. The only difference is this time, the core has come to the forefront and they’re are here to stay.

First, let’s take a look at the offense, led by, of course quite possibly the most powerful man with a bat in his hand in America, Giancarlo Stanton. After receiving his mega-deal late in 2014, Stanton will, presumably, be a Marlin for life, signing a 13-year, $325 million deal. The 25-year-old, despite coming off an injury, is coming into the prime of his baseball career already hitting 154 homeruns, as he led the league in homeruns last season with 37.

The offensive production won’t end with the bat of Stanton this season, however, as the rest of the offense is poised to see a major jump in production this season. Roaming the outfield alongside Stanton are Christian Yelich, the 23-year-old who got a multi-year deal of his own this offseason, signing with the Fish for seven years and $49 million, and Marcell Ozuna, whose emergence last season was a blessing for the Marlins’ offense that struggled to find consistency. The three combined for nearly 70 homeruns in 2014, and will see a bigger jump in production this season if they all stay healthy.

Moving to the infield, with the addition of former Dodger Dee Gordon, along with the continued emergence of Donovan Solano and Adeiny Hechavarria, the Marlins’ offense will be jam-packed with talent, speed and defensive prowess.

A team can have a tremendous offense, but will only be carried as far as its pitching takes it. In steps a groups of young guns and a veteran looking for some redemption. Last season, the Marlins would have been hooked missing young ace Jose Fernandez for an extensive period of time. This season, despite not expecting the righty back until June or July, according to CBSSports the Marlins staff will stay above water.

In what shapes out to be the biggest offseason acquisition for the Marlins this season, pitcher Mat Latos will anchor the staff for the first few months until Fernandez returns. Latos was 19-12 in the last two season with the Reds, despite missing significant time last season due to injury.

Behind Latos sit a group of young pitchers chomping at the bits to prove their worth in the big leagues, including Henderson Alvarez, Tom Koehler and Jarred Cosart. These three guys could be significant factors for the team this upcoming season.

Finally, we get to the “old man” of the staff: Dan Haren. Haren, a former perennial All-Star whose bounced around the league the last few season. Haren is looking for one more shot at redemption with this Marlins team that looks to compete this season.

Even though 2003 and Josh Beckett seem like an eternity ago, don’t be surprised to see a major jump forward for the Fish in 2015, as the team looks to remain undefeated in playoffs series in franchise history. The plan, however, will be different, as this team seems different, with the young core ready to play in South Beach for the long haul.

 

 

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The One About Arbitration – Pay Raises For All

Trumbombs Set To Return In 2015

(Photo Courtesy: rantsports.com)

Arbitration hearings were scarce the last couple years. The owners prevailed in 2 of 3 cases in 2014 after no hearings were held in 2013. It was a bit different this February. 14 of the 175 arbitration eligible players reached a hearing. It was the most cases since 2001. During a salary arbitration case a three-person panel considers the filing amounts by both the player and the team. Evidence is presented by both sides and the end game is a decision on what salary the player will make for the upcoming season. Occasionally somebody’s feelings can get hurt. Teams went 8-6 vs the players in 2015. Here’s the breakdown expressed in millions.

2015Arbitration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s hard to feel bad for Mat Latos ($7.25 million in 2014). He was very effective last season, but only made 16 starts. He lost his case, but will still receive a $2.15 million raise as he moves from the Reds to the Marlins. The Pirates’ Neil Walker ($5.75 million in 2014) lost his case, but gets a $2.25 million bump in 2015. So is it that really losing? Mark Trumbo ($4.8 million in 2014) only hit 14 HRs in 88 games last season due to injury, but receives a $2.1 million raise this season. The chart also shows that Pedro Alvarez and Mike Minor won their cases despite subpar seasons.

Teams now have a 301-221 record vs the players since arbitration began in 1974. Hearings are not the only way to play the game. Players and teams exchange dollar amounts in January and this process can often lead to 1-year deals that hover around the mid-point. A compromise of sorts. Sometimes longer deals will be stuck to secure financial gains and to avoid the risk and hassle of arbitration hearings.

Reds’ catcher Devin Mesoraco ($525,000 in 2014) pounded the baseball over walls in 2014 and wanted $3.5 million this season as opposed to the Reds’ offer of $2.45 million. Both sides came to terms on a 4-year, $28 million dollar contract that locks up Mesoraco until he can become a free agent after the 2018 season. He’ll earn approximately $2.5, $5.0, $7.3, and $13.1 million each year over the life of the deal. A potential win-win for both sides as the Reds buy out the remainder of Meso’s arbitration years while he in turn gets financial piece of mind following his all star season of 25 HRs.

On the pitching side of arbitration eligibles, 3-year deals were crafted for both the Cardinals’ Lance Lynn (3-year, $22 million) and Red Sox Wade Miley (3-years, $19.25 million), who was traded from the Diamondbacks to the Red Sox last December. Lynn and the Cardinals never got to the point of exchanging figures as they got an extension ironed out before number swapping began. Miley was seeking $4.3 million compared to the Red Sox offer of $3.4 million. Both pitchers were making chump change in the $530,000 range during their third season and will be free agents at the conclusion of the current deals which buy out the remainder of their arbitration eligible seasons.

Fun for the player, but wait, there’s more. Let’s add in some additional definition to the word arbitration. You can see it can be a moderate get rich quick scheme prior to robbing the bank in free agency after season six. Even when a player loses his case, he wins a little, because it’s still a raise. Players are first eligible for arbitration after 3 to 5 years of Major League service. Players with less than 3 years of service can also get in on the action if they rank in the top 17 percent in their total service time category (Super Two) .  The service time percentage can be a moving target that generally falls between 2 years, 128 days and 2 years, 140 days of service. One year of service time is defined as 172 days. You can accrue service time for each day you are on the 25-man roster,  the 15-day or 60-day DL. It’s fantastic work if you can get it.

Sometimes teams will appear to an outsider as manipulating when they call up a player for the first time so that his service time clock won’t tick at a rate that allows the player to become Super Two eligible. Achieving that status allows a player to head to the arbitration table a year early which will cost team’s money. Every year there will be hot prospects where the fans, media and maybe the team behind closed doors will debate whether it makes financial sense to wait until maybe June to call up a “future star”. Kris Bryant of the Cubs will be a primary example for 2015. If he can help the Cubs contend now, then why wait to call him up just to save some money in a few years? MLB teams don’t use our wallets to pay players, well that’s not totally true, but they may have to consider these financial ramifications as they are trying to run a profitable business.

Here’s how the process can work on a grander scale when player success comes early. In 2010, the Giants’ Tim Lincecum was considered Super Two so he was eligible for salary arbitration just like his 3 to 5-year counterparts. He had made his debut on May 6th, 2007 and logged 24 starts that season before winning the NL Cy Young Award in 2008 and 2009. Those two Cy Young winning seasons were produced on a salary of $405,00 and  $650,000 respectively. Tim thought it would be a good idea to ask for a raise in 2010 that would pay him $13 million. The Giants said, “how about $8 million instead?”  The two sides avoided an arbitration hearing by agreeing to a 2-year, $23 million dollar contract for 2010-2011. The contract was a little over the mid-point ($10.5 million) with the Giants comprising more than Lincecum.

Following 2011, Lincecum, not yet a free agent, was arbitration eligible again. He requested $21.5 million while the Giants offered $17 million. They once again avoided a hearing and settled on a 2-year, $40.5 million contract for 2012-2013.

Lincecum regressed from his 2.74 ERA in 2011 to 5.18 and 4.37 marks the following two seasons, but when he finally became a free agent after the 2013 season he re-signed with the Giants for 2-years at $35 million for 2014-2015. Lincecum has contributed to 3 World Championships and no-hit the Padres in each of the last two seasons, but the 30-year old was last seen in the Giants’ bullpen dating back to last August 2014. Plans are for him to return to the rotation in 2015.

Meanwhile the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw was making $500,00 in 2011 (his 3rd season) when he won his 1st NL Cy Young Award with a 21-5, 2.28 ERA. In 2012, he avoided letting an arbitrator decide his financial faith by agreeing to a 2-year deal for $18.5 million. He then finished 2nd and 1st in that Cy Young thing. The Dodgers decided it might be best to keep Kershaw from reaching free agency after the 2014 season. They took care of his final arbitration year and the next six seasons by awarding him a 7-year, $215 million deal last January. He returned the favor by winning the National League Cy Young and MVP award in 2014.

Wondering about Mike Trout? He won’t get any arbitration years. His contract was initially purchased by the Angels on 7/8/11. Trout made around $500,000 in each of his first two full seasons (2012-2o13) when he finished 2nd in the AL MVP race. Not yet eligible for arbitration, he was paid $1 million in 2014 which doesn’t seem like a lot for what he had accomplished, but it was a record one-year salary for a pre-arbitration player. The Angels were working on a long-term deal at the time so by late March of 2014 Trout signed a 6-year, $144.5 million extension, won the AL MVP, and got the Angels back to the postseason for the first time since 2009.

The arbitration years are the bridge between dirt cheap (pre-arb seasons) and solid gold (free agency). Teams try to make the most of the financial control they can have over a player for six seasons, but do have the obligation to start paying up after season three. Stars who produce early on in their careers will command high salaries during the arbitration seasons, unless they can strike an even more lucrative long term deal, see Trout . The arbitration riches are still less than eventual free agency dollars unless a player significantly backslides during this time period, see Lincecum . Eventually teams may need to make a big money decision on a franchise player before the final arbitration season begins, see Clayton Kershaw . Unless it’s an international signing, see Jose Abreu , almost all players performing tremendous feats during their first three seasons do so for close to the league minimum and then the big paydays begin when a player, team, and a three-person panel analyze the body of work.

Cot’s Baseball Contracts is alway a valuable resource when money is involved.

Eric Stephen’s arbitration scoreboard on SB Nation  was a guide.

Information was also obtained from MLB Trade Rumors .

Baseball-Reference.com is always on speed dial.

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