Image Credit: Tim Souers
Yesterday the names of the players who have filed for salary arbitration were released and three from the Cubs made the list. Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, and James Russell all filed to have their cases heard before the start of the season. If you’re unfamiliar with how the concept works, here is the quick and dirty version. When a player is called up the the Majors, he begins to accrue days of service with 172 days being considered one full year. For the first three years, a player can only receive the league minimum salary unless his team works out a contract for higher than that. It is auto-renewed each year. After three years of service, a player is then eligible for salary arbitration for years four, five and six. If a team is interested in retaining that player’s services for another year, they have a couple options.
1. They can work out a one year deal for an agreed contract amount with the player
2. They can work out a multi-year deal
3. They can choose to go to arbitration
The goal for most teams is to take care of the issue with option 1 or 2 to prevent hard feelings that go along with the process, but there are times when players do end up going all the way to the table before an arbiter. In those cases, both the player (really his agent) and the team submit a number for a one year salary based on what they feel the player is worth. When their case is heard, they present their reasoning and evidence and the case is given a verdict either in favor of the player or in favor of the team. There is no middle ground. This prevents a team from submitting a lowball offer and a player from submitting an A-Rod offer. You have to be able to defend your case. At any time before the hearing, clubs may work out a deal with the player to avoid going to the table. That’s where we stand now with our three, so let’s look at them.
Matt Garza – This is the final year of arbitration eligibility for Garza, which makes him a free agent at the end of the season if no multi-year deal is reached. He’s coming off an injury, so that is a case against a hefty raise for him. Given that the case would be heard before spring training, he won’t have a chance to prove his health before then. There is no question that he has value on the trade market if he’s healthy. Because we don’t know if that’s the case, I would rule out option # 2 for him. My prediction would be that the Cubs and Garza come to terms on a one year deal with a modest raise from the $9.5 million he made last year and then look at their options toward the end of spring, if he’s healthy and their is trade interest, or closer to the July deadline. I don’t see him being a part of the long term plan of this team.
Jeff Samardzija – This is the first year of eligibility for Samardzija and he peaked at just the right time. He made $2.64 million last season and should be in line for a nice raise should he go to arbitration, but I see the plan for him being a long term deal. He was mentioned by Theo recently as being a building block looking toward the future. At times, a deal for a starter can be as tricky as a bet on march madness games, but I can see a four year deal that would buy out the last two years of arbitration and first year of free agency at a price around $10 million per year.
James Russell - This is also the first year of eligibility for Russell and how he’s viewed has a lot to do with the role you see for him with this team. As a lefty specialist out of the pen, he has no multi-year value if you’re a smart GM. A smart GM doesn’t give long term deals on relievers. Two years max is what I’d give. For Russell, I see a series of one year deals each arbitration time, but never a time when we go to the table. He made $512,500 last year. A raise to around $750 – $800k is fair and what I expect to happen.