As we look ahead to the 2017 roster construction and payroll, it’s important to note that the Chicago Cubs have four arbitration eligible players:
- Justin Grimm, RP
- Hector Rondon, RP
- Pedro Strop, RP
- Jake Arrieta, SP
Both Grimm and Rondon are heading into their second year of eligibility, while Strop and Arrieta are entering their final.
What this means is that the 2017 salary of those four players above has yet to be determined. Later this week, unless an earlier deal is reached, each of the players will propose a salary for 2017, and the Cubs will also propose a salary for each player.
And if the sides cannot come to an agreement after the submission of those figures (they almost always do), an arbitrator will decide their final salary figure for the 2017 season, based on their proposals, stats, and league norms. The arbitrator picks the player’s number or the team’s number at that point. There is no compromise.
For the most part, however, relievers (especially non-closers) don’t command too much in salary – indeed, MLB Trade Rumors projects $13 million total for Grimm, Rondon, and Strop – but starting pitchers do (especially ones who have recently won a Cy Young award).
Last season, for example, Arrieta avoided arbitration with the Cubs by agreeing to a contract worth $10.7 million (he requested $13M, the Cubs countered with $7.5M, and they met somewhat in the middle before an arbitration hearing was necessary). This season, MLB Trade Rumors is projecting a healthy $6.1 million raise ($16.8M total) for the 2015 Cy Young, and Game 6 of the World Series winner.
Obviously, Chicago will be thrilled to have Arrieta back on the team in 2017 – after all, he had another solid year in 2016 and figures to be a healthy, productive, and crucial piece to another playoff-hopeful Cubs team – but is that salary fair for both sides? Arbitration salaries are, by the design, not the same as “free agent market prices.”
Well at MLB Trade Rumors, Matt Swartz took a deeper dive into this particularly interesting arbitration case to try to find an answer.
As we mentioned, Arrieta is heading into his third and final year of arbitration this winter, after earning a very healthy $10.7 million in 2017. And although he didn’t quite repeat his historically good 2015 season last year, he still finished with a 3.10 ERA (13th best in baseball), 18 wins (7th best in baseball), and 190 strikeouts (15th best in baseball). Although advanced statistics are increasingly becoming part of the arbitration process, you’ll note that arbitrators do still tend to consider with some weight traditional statistics like wins, ERA, and strikeouts.
And as it turns out, that probably helps Arrieta earn quite a bit more in 2017 than he may have otherwise. Although he may have had a down season overall (at least, relative to 2015), Arrieta still managed to do quite well by traditional standards. And, when compared to past pitchers with similar statistics, that means he might do fairly well in arbitration this time around.
So which pitchers can we use as a baseline for comparison, and how much did they earn? Swartz has your answer here.
Arrieta’s projected $6.1 million raise in arbitration would represent the second-highest bump for a third-year eligible starting pitcher – Max Scherzer’s $8.8 million raise after his Cy Young season three years ago being biggest (under those circumstances). According to Swartz, then, Scherzer’s raise represents the absolute ceiling on extra-earning potential via arbitration this year, given how much better his platform season was than Arrieta’s 2016.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the salary increases of recent third-year arbitration eligible starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija, Doug Fister, Alfredo Simon, and Justin Masterson come in as floors. Those salary increases range from $4-4.5 million.
So, with a floor of $4 million and a ceiling of $8.8 million, Arrieta’s projected $6.1 million raise sounds about right; however, don’t expect him to just split the difference. Unlike the projection model concludes, Swartz is anticipating something closer to a $5-5.5 million raise, making Arrieta’s final salary closer to $16 million than $17 million when all is said and done. You can check out Swartz’s full article at MLB Trade Rumors for the reasons for the slightly lower figure, and for much more on the process of determining arbitration salaries.
Whatever his salary ends up being in 2017, Arrieta figures to be well worth it – of course, there’s always a chance he can get extended, but that’s a whole other can of worms.