In one week, arbitration-eligible players may file for arbitration, and, within three days thereafter, they and the teams for which they play will exchange proposed salaries for the 2016 season. If you are unfamiliar with the arbitration process and eligibility details, you can learn more in this piece at FanGraphs.
In a broad stroke, a player’s salary for the first three years of their MLB career is decided solely by the team for which they play. After three full years* of MLB service time (172 days constitutes a “year”) a player is eligible to take their salary demands to an arbitrator who can decide on the player’s salary for the upcoming season: either the salary proposed by the player, or the salary proposed by the team. Because the arbitrator is allowed only to select one of the proposed salaries, you’ll find compromises and deals are struck more often than not. Indeed, if memory serves, a Theo Epstein-led front office has never gone to arbitration with a player, and has instead always settled before it came to that.
For the 2016 season, the Chicago Cubs have a healthy number of players eligible for salary arbitration (7), so consider this your quick-reference sheet for each individual case and what to expect. Down below, I’ve listed each player, a brief spot on their performance and salary in 2015, how much service time they’ve accrued and, of course, their projected salary in 2016 – thanks to MLB Trade Rumors Projected Arbitration Salaries for 2016. Here we go.
Jake Arrieta was as good as it gets in 2015. Literally. He won the NL Cy Young Award and had an historically good second half of the season. Although he’s been with the Cubs for a little over two years, Arrieta has accrued a total of 4 years and 145 days of MLB service time overall. What that means is, absent an extension, he will be eligible for arbitration both this and next year, before reaching free agency in 2018.
Coghlan’s 2015 season was not unlike his 2014 season, and you might think that may bode well for him in arbitration, but that might not be the case. Unfortunately, the overall improvement in his game came from areas that may be more easily overlooked by an arbitrator (WAR, defense, walk rate – more peripheral/advanced statistics). Though, to be fair, he did hit more home runs and stole more bases. The former NL Rookie of the Year (2009) is entering his final year of arbitration, given that he has 5 years and 148 days of MLB service time.
In 2015, Coghlan avoided arbitration with the Cubs by signing a one-year deal worth $2.505 million. While we should certainly expect a raise (there is almost always a raise), I doubt it will be too dramatic. Coghlan was good in 2015 – he accrued nearly 1 more WAR than he did in 2014 – and showed that he is a bit more consistent; however, like we said, the improvements did not manifest themselves in traditionally obvious ways. MLBTR projects a raise to $3.9 million for 2016.
Not unlike Coghlan, Grimm had another good showing in 2015, reaffirming what we saw the year prior. He wasn’t able to match his inning total in 2014 (69.0 IP), though, coming up roughly 20 innings shy in 2015 (49.2 IP). However, even in less time, he matched his WAR total and looked pretty great doing it. His sparkling 1.99 ERA and 12.14 K/9 should look plenty good to an arbitrator. As a Super Two Player* (see asterisk below), Grimm has to date acquired 2 years and 170 days of arbitration.
In 2015, Grimm was not eligible for arbitration and made $0.5315 million. Although he will see a raise in 2016, this is just Grimm’s first time through arbitration and, thus, the raise is not likely to be too significant. MLBTR is projecting a jump to $1.0M for 2016, which would be fairly typical for a Super Two reliever.
Rondon is a good bet to see a significant raise in 2016 because of his performance in 2015. More specifically, because the type of performance in 2015. As I’m sure you understand by now, Rondon was not only good by the advanced metrics in 2015, but he has all of the best traditional stats for a reliever, as well. It is tough to argue with 30 saves, 70 IP, 1.93 BB/9, and a 1.67 ERA. With exactly 3 years of service time under his belt, this will be Rondon’s first trip through arbitration, should it get there.
In 2015, Rondon made $0.544 million. In 2016, MLBTR believes that figure might jump all the way up to $3.6 million. That is a huge raise, but, whether it was because of traditional stats or advanced ones, Rondon has earned it.
Pedro Strop, like Grimm and Rondon before him, was mostly fantastic out of the bullpen in 2015. Finishing with a 2.91 ERA and 81 strike outs in 68 innings, Strop also completed 28 holds and 3 saves. Holds work a lot like saves do for closers and will likely strengthen Strop’s case in arbitration. Strop has acquired 4 years and 156 days of service. He will be eligible for arbitration for the third time in his career before being eligible again next year (he was a Super Two).
Warren is a fairly interesting case to follow, because he has started in the past, but is most likely going to be a reliever (or swing man or super utility pitcher) in 2016. In 2015, he started 17 games (131.1 IP), but he threw just 77.0 and 78.2 innings in the two years prior (only 3 starts combined). Last year, his ERA (3.29) was plenty good, as well, and, to be honest, every time I look into his statistics I get more excited about his potential for the years to come. As of now, he has acquired 3 years and 36 days of MLB service time, and is eligible for arbitration for the first time.
In 2015, Warren made $0.5726 million. MLBTR figures a healthy first-time arbitration salary jump all the way up to $1.5 million, though it seems a bit harder to project what he’ll get, given the varied background.
Travis Wood will also be a tough case to call from afar, given how split his season was last year. If you recall, he started the year in the rotation, struggled, moved to the bullpen, and found a great deal of success there. The tricky part is that he will likely want to start again and would certainly point to his history of starting in an arbitration case. Wood finished 2015 with a 3.84 ERA and 10.55 K/9 over 100.2 innings. Wood has acquired 5 years and 4 days of MLB service time. This will be his third and final trip through arbitration, before becoming a free agent after the 2016 season.
In 2015, Travis Wood signed a contract worth $5.685 million, avoiding arbitration. Whether he relieves or starts in 2016, he will see a raise over that price this year. MLBTR believes that raise will be relatively moderate, though, bumping up to $6.4 million in 2016. This feels like an appropriate arbitration year three salary given what he’s made in the past and what he is likely to contribute in the future. Depending on the understanding between the front office and Wood’s side (re: starter vs. reliever), arbitration isn’t out of the question. Though, again, it basically never happens with this front office, so I wouldn’t bet on it.
Rex Brothers was eligible for arbitration, but has already settled for $1.42 million. Clayton Richard was eligible for arbitration, but has already settled for $2 million. If you notice Ryan Cook on the Cubs projected arbitration page, recall that Cook was non-tendered on December 2, after those projections were posted, and is no longer a consideration here.
*(There is one common exception to how many years of arbitration eligibility a player has and that comes via Super Two Eligibility. Super Two players include the top 22 percent of each season’s class of players (by service time) with between two and three years of service time, and at least 86 days on a 25-man roster or on the Major League DL. Super Two eligibility doesn’t change the years of control, but rather the amount of arbitration eligible years – the player gets four turns through arbitration instead of three.)