Beginning Wednesday, eligible players may file for arbitration. Over the next 10 days, there are two Phillies who will do just that -- Ben Francisco and Kyle Kendrick. Each side exchanges salary figures on Jan. 18.
A quick primer on the process: Filing for arbitration, of course, does not guarantee a hearing will take place. In fact, the Phillies have had just eight arbitration hearings since the process began in 1974. (And the only one they've lost was Ryan Howard in 2008.)
Even before figures are exchanged, the two sides can negotiate up until a scheduled hearing, which occurs sometime after Feb. 1. Again, it's highly unlikely either case this off-season reaches that point.
Both Francisco and Kendrick are first-time eligibles for arbitration. So how is a salary decided upon? Obviously, a player's stats are key. But so is service time, and most importantly, what precedents have been set by comparable players.
Which player means the most to his team?
Francisco ended 2010 with 3.049 years of service time. (It's written in years.days.) He made $470,000 in 2010. Remember, as recently as 2009, he was an everyday player with Cleveland. In 2011, he will almost surely see more than the 179 at-bats he had in 2010.
Thus, it's safe to say Francisco will probably at least double his salary from 2009. The expectation here is he will earn something close to $1 million or slightly above. No hand-wringing there -- a fair raise for a player who could be important in 2011.
Kendrick's case is a little more intriguing. (Warning: We are about to geek out here.)
He, like Cole Hamels was, is a Super Two. (If you want an explanation of the convoluted Super Two status, we'll direct you here.) But it took Kendrick a year longer than it should have to achieve at least two years of service time. Why? Well, he only appeared in nine games during the 2009 season.
Coming into 2010, Kendrick's service time was at 1.159. A full year of service time in Major League Baseball constitutes as 172 days. The cutoff for Super Two status in 2010 was 2.139. So had Kendrick spent 152 more days on the active roster prior to the end of the 2009 season, he would have been eligible for arbitration last off-season. This is important to remember.
So, now, here is Kendrick, finally eligible -- but still ahead of where he'd be had he not qualified for Super Two status. Kendrick made $480,000 in 2010 and will receive a substantial raise in 2011.
Here is where it becomes complicated (at least on the Phillies' side). Right now, Kendrick is not in the rotation. Granted, he could be come spring training. But Joe Blanton is still on this team. Yes, they are actively shopping Blanton, who will make $8.5 million this year and next, in a trade. But as Ruben Amaro Jr. has reminded us before, trades can be complicated.
So the Phillies are negotiating a large salary raise for a player who could be the fifth starter, but also a player who could be the long reliever or even a starter at triple A. (Kendrick does have an option remaining, so it's not out of the realm of possibility.)
Now, remember, arbitration hearings will typically reward counting numbers (e.g. wins, games started, innings pitched, strikeouts). Advanced metrics haven't really crossed this threshold yet.
Kendrick ended 2010 with 2.159 years of service time. For reference, here are Kendrick's other basic, relevant numbers:
CAREER: 35-24, 4.69 ERA, 93 G, 83 GS, 483 2/3 IP, 140 BB, 216 K, 1.425 WHIP
2010: 11-10, 4.73 ERA, 33 G, 31 GS, 180 2/3 IP, 49 BB, 84 K, 1.373 WHIP
We've mined arbitration cases looking for some precedent to Kendrick's case and came up with four comps. All four pitchers were Super Twos in their first year of arbitration. They are presented in no particular order.
1. Jason Hammel (2010) -- He made $396,000 in 2009 and finished the season with 2.153 years of service time. He settled with Colorado to avoid arbitration with a salary of $1.9 million.
CAREER: 17-23, 5.18 ERA, 107 G, 58 GS, 384 IP, 138 BB, 273 K, 1.523 WHIP
2009: 10-8, 4.33 ERA, 34 G, 30 GS, 176 2/3 IP, 42 BB, 133 K, 1.387 WHIP
Hammel's career numbers come nowhere near Kendrick's, but that's mostly because he wasn't a full-time starter for his first few seasons. In 2009, he was, and put up fairly similar numbers to Kendrick.
But take note of the career numbers. Not even close to matching Kendrick's. And Hammel still nearly made $2 million.
2. Ricky Nolasco (2009) -- He made $390,000 in 2008 and finished the season with 2.142 years of service time. He settled with Florida to avoid arbitration with a salary of $2.4 million.
CAREER: 27-21, 4.12 ERA, 74 G, 58 GS, 373 2/3 IP, 92 BB, 296 K, 1.250 WHIP
2008: 15-8, 3.52 ERA, 34 G, 32 GS, 212 1/3 IP, 42 BB, 186 K, 1.102 WHIP
Am I saying Kyle Kendrick is as good a pitcher as Ricky Nolasco was after the 2008 season? No, not at all. But again, remember how the arbitration process works. Especially for first-timers, it rewards not only the most recent season but also the body of work. Kendrick may have the same service time as Nolasco, but he's also pitched in 100 innings more with eight more wins.
Nolasco needed three seasons to earn his pay day. Kendrick, because of his broken service time in 2009, needed four. The way the baseball salary structure works, years and service time are both important. The more you have, generally, the more you are paid. Players are paid for past performance.
Is it right to reward that? Probably not. But in the eyes of the baseball arbitration process, one could make the argument that Kendrick deserves a salary at what Nolasco received in 2009.
3. Brian Bannister (2009) -- He made $421,000 in 2008 and finished the season with 2.158 years of service time. Kansas City and he exchanged figures with both sides settling at the midpoint of $1.737 million to avoid arbitration.
CAREER: 23-26, 4.81 ERA, 67 G, 65 GS, 385 2/3 IP, 124 BB, 209 K, 1.372 WHIP
2008: 9-16, 5.76 ERA, 32 G, 32 GS, 182 2/3 IP, 58 BB, 113 K, 1.495 WHIP
From a pure pitching sense, if we were to pick a comp for Kendrick, Bannister might be the closest. Low strikeout rate. High hits per nine innings rate. Very similar walks-to-strikeouts ratio. Almost exact home runs per nine innings rate.
Bannister requested $2.025 million when exchanging figures. Had he been coming off a better season than the one he had in 2008, he would have likely earned that salary. The Royals requested $1.45 million. The two sides settled in the middle.
Once again, Bannister does not have the career numbers Kendrick does (12 fewer wins, over 100 fewer innings). And a request of more than $2 million was not totally irrational for Bannister. And this was two off-seasons ago.
4. Daniel Cabrera (2007) -- He made $385,000 in 2006. He settled with Baltimore on a $1.825 million salary to avoid arbitration.
CAREER: 31-31, 4.75 ERA, 83 G, 82 GS, 457 IP, 280 BB, 390 K, 1.53 WHIP
2006: 9-10, 4.74 ERA, 26 G, 26 GS, 148 IP, 104 BB, 157 K
Cabrera's control issues are well-documented. In fact, he didn't pitch in the majors at all in 2010. He led the American League in walks during the 2006 season and still made almost $2 million the next season.
In 2007, Cabrera led the majors with 18 losses and 108 walks. But he also led the American League in games started (34). So he earned a $1 million raise for the 2008 season. And this was several years ago.
Cabrera's career numbers going into his first year of arbitration most closely match Kendrick's. And Kendrick isn't coming off a season in which led the league in walks.
So what are trying to say? Well, Kyle Kendrick and the Phillies will almost certainly settle on a salary more than $2 million in 2011. Of all the aforementioned comps, Kendrick has more career wins, games started and innings pitched than those pitchers did upon reaching arbitration eligibility.
If we had to guess, based on precedent, service time and stats, Kendrick will make closer to $3 million than $2 million in 2011.