The season isn’t yet over with 28 games remaining, but the Royals are going to face some decisions regarding arbitration eligible players during the 2012/2013 off-season. These decisions could have an impact on a pretty crowded 40 man roster that Clint wrote about here. You hear all the time about general managers of small market teams like the Royals talk about zero to three players. What that means is players who are within their first three years in the big leagues. The reason that’s important is because in those first three years, the player is generally cost controlled meaning the team can determine their salary without any negotiation at all.
Even the greatest superstars in the game spent at least a season or two making near the league minimum. So it stands to reason that if a player is pretty average but is making the league minimum, he’s probably a pretty good value. Of course, if he continues to be just average but gets into arbitration and is making more than whatever number you deem as the baseline, then he’s just not worth it. Super two plays a role here, but that’s not what we’re talking about, so we’ll save that for another day. According to Cot’s Contracts, the Royals have six players currently on the 40 man roster eligible for arbitration this winter. They all have their question marks, which makes decisions that much more difficult. There isn’t a slam dunk great player in the mix that you’d just assume the Royals will tender a contract to.
Let’s break them down one-by-one:
Luke made a touch over $3.5 million in 2012 and has been below average yet again. The weird thing about arbitration is that the average person would look at Hochevar’s season and realize he needs a cut in pay. The arbitration process doesn’t see it like that. First of all, a player can’t make less than 80% of his previous season’s salary. Second of all, if Hochevar and the Royals actually go to a hearing, numbers like his strikeouts per walk rate and how he’ll have 180 innings for each of the last two seasons. Hochevar will probably ask for something in the neighborhood of $5 million. I imagine the Royals will counter with around $4 million. Hochevar isn’t worth either of those numbers. Rumors swirled at the trade deadline that Hochevar was offered up as part of a deal, and that would be my preference, but if he isn’t traded, he needs to be non-tendered. My guess is the Royals actually keep him if they don’t trade him.
Here’s the first complicated case of all the arbitration eligible guys (but not the last). Paulino was obviously outstanding in his healthy games with the Royals this season. He made seven starts, though he was hurt in the first inning of his seventh and had a 1.67 ERA with a great strikeout rate and a good enough walk rate considering the strikeouts. This is coming off a Â year when he had a 4.11 ERA as a great mid-season addition to the rotation in 2011. Paulino made $1.9 million in 2012, and was on his way to asking for $5 million before the injury. My guess is he asks for around $3 million and the Royals counter with $2.5 million. The exchanging of numbers should be a formality, though, because Paulino won’t be back until July at the earliest next season, so the Royals should go after a two year deal with Paulino or at the least a one year deal with an option. My guess is we see something for about $2 million base for Paulino next year with maybe $1.5 million in incentives and the second year (probably an option) at about $4.5 million with $2-3 million in incentives.
Getz had his best big league season in 2012 before it was cut short with his third DL stint of the season. It should be noted that his best season included a line of .275/.312/.360. For all the talk in spring of his new pop, he still was basically a singles hitter. The approach took away some of his patience and saw a decrease in walk rate. At under $1 million, Chris Getz is a guy who you can store on the roster, but if he gets much higher than that, he becomes a waste of a roster spot and payroll space. Getz can only play second, and he is very competent there, but not good enough to make up for his bat. He does run well and efficiently, so he has that going for him. I think Getz’s camp could ask for his salary to be doubled and might be able to win a case, but my guess is the Royals keep him around and settle on about a $1.6 million salary next season. That’s on the border of too expensive for what he brings to the table, but I think the Royals bring him back. I’d personally non-tender him because I think better valuable is available than him.
This is actually going to be a harder decision than it seems like it should be on the surface. Pena is a guy who has made his reputation on his bat, but he really hasn’t been especially good the last three seasons. Add in that he’s not very good defensively and it is sort of a no-brainer. But the Royals love having catching depth (as they should), and keeping Pena around allows them to keep their depth with Manuel Pina in the minor leagues. I’m not sure I agree, though, that Pena is even worth keeping because of his own offense and lack of defensive skill. He only made $875,000 in 2012 and would probably only see a raise to about $1.1 million, so the money wouldn’t be a big deal. I just don’t think Pena is especially good anymore and backup catchers are available on the cheap. Or for a legitimate prospect if you’re Dayton Moore. Sorry, I couldn’t resist
Wood is in the same position as Paulino in that he is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. The difference is that Wood may be back and ready to pitch by Opening Day 2013, so his salary would actually pay for him to play at least most of the season. The issue s that Wood wasn’t great before he got hurt, though he was a worthwhile piece in a bullpen. He posted a 3.75 ERA in 2010, struck out a good amount of batters and limited hits. His issue was walks. They weren’t astronomically high, but you’d like to see the numbers decrease a little bit from where they were. One of the issues is that command is one of the last things to return from TJ surgery, so I’d be careful with Wood. He’s basing his arbitration case from a $502,000 salary in 2012, so he won’t get too much higher. My guess is he ends up at about $750,000 in 2012 and is absolutely worth keeping around for that price as bullpen depth in the system. I’d like to see him back on a minor league deal, but kept in the system to make room in the off-season on the 40 man roster.
Edit: As pointed out by Michael Engel, Wood was sidelined in spring training, but didn’t have his surgery until around the same time Danny Duffy did. That pushes his return back a bit. As a reliever, he may not need quite as long as a starter, but I still wouldn’t expect him before mid-May at the earliest. That pushes me even stronger into the non-tender and then sign to a minor league deal camp.
Bourgeois, like Wood, is arbitration eligible for the first time in his career. Because of this, he’s coming off his team controlled contract of $488,000. I don’t think Bourgeois is especially good, and I definitely think the Royals gave up too much to get him, but I can’t imagine him commanding very much in salary in 2012. Due to the roster crunch coming, I’d probably non-tender him and try to get him back on a minor league deal, but if they can’t, they can’t. Fast outfielders who can’t really hit especially well are readily available, so losing him isn’t the end of the world. So here’s an example of a guy who won’t be expensive, but isn’t worth the use of a 40 man roster spot.
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