Wednesday, December 24, 2008

2009 Payroll: Arbitration edition

In an attempt to figure out what the 2009 Brewers payroll will be, one needs to determine how much arbitration eligible players will be making. This is no small feat given that Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart, Dave Bush, Seth McClung and Rickie Weeks are all eligible. That's three all-stars and the winningest Brewers pitcher over the last three years (not to mention the only pitcher to notch a victory in the playoffs). Let's start with the easy ones: Rickie and Seth. Rickie made just over $1M last year and I don't expect him to get much more given his performance, but you never know with arbitration, so we'll worst-case it at $2M. Seth McClung had a base salary of $750,000 in 2008 and figures to get a modest pay raise after a productive season. Seth was able to step up into the rotation after injuries and then graciously went back to the bullpen and pitched some key innings for the Brewers down the stretch. I anticipate him avoiding arbitration and signing for $1.5M for next year. Now comes the tricky part...

Dave Bush is 33-31 over the last three years. That's more wins than Ben Sheets (31), Suppan (22) and Capuano (16) over the same period of time. Bush is a solid guy to round out your rotation with in the 4th or 5th spot. He eats innings, strikes out a ton of batters compared to walks, and with the exception of 2007, has one of the best WHIPs in all of baseball. Bush made $2.55M last year and it's going to jump going into next year. I believe Bush wants to pitch here and will be generous in negotiating with Doug and Gord as long as they offer him what he is valued. I anticipate an agreement on a $5M salary.

Corey Hart made the 2008 NL all-star team, was one of the Brewers more reliable bats (when you exclude September and October) and is emerging as an elite defender in right field. That being said, he also has quite a few things working against him. First, it's his first year of arbitration eligibility and not too many players break the bank their first year of arby. Second, Corey massively faded down the stretch. On many occasions leaving the Brewers hanging in critical situations (swinging at a 3-0 pitch in the playoffs ring a bell?) And finally, he strikes out way too much and rarely walks. I love an aggressive batter as much as the next guy, but there's a difference between aggressive and stupid. All that said, I believe Corey is going to be an all-star caliber outfielder for years to come and I'd love to see the Brewers lock him up long-term but I can't bank on that so I figure he comes out of arby with a $3.5M salary.

When the offseason began and J.J. Hardy trade rumors were swirling, my initial reaction was, "who cares? We've got Escobar in the minors and Hardy's not that good". But then I thought about it for a while. How many teams have a shortstop that can play Gold Glove-caliber defense and hit .270 with 25+HR. The Brewers have a rare and valuable commodity on their hands. I now view Hardy as immovable as Braun and Gallardo. Hardy has explicitly stated that he wants to remain a Brewer and I believe he's going to be asking for about $6M for next year and the Brewers will be (initially) offering $4M. This is Hardy's second year of arby and after a year in which he made $2.65M I see him settling into a similar deal to Bush's $5M deal, avoiding arbitration.

Now the big fish, Prince Fielder. There has been talk of Prince Fielder getting a Ryan Howard-like raise in his first year of arbitration. Let me tell you why that's not going to happen. Prince has never won RoY, Howard has. Prince has never won a league MVP, Howard has. No player has more HR that Howard in the NL over the past three years, putting Prince squarely on the tier below Ryan Howard's level. Not to mention the decline in home run power we saw last year and his absolute disappearance in the playoffs. And there's also the weight issue. When Prince donned the #42 jersey on Jackie Robinson day, I thought the Brewers signed the Goodyear blimp to a 2-year deal... Prince (Boras) will be asking for $10M, the Brewers will offer a very fair $7M salary because Prince is/will be an elite player. This will go to a hearing and with the facts listed above, I believe the Brewers will come out on top. $7M salary for the Prince going in to next year.

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