Hunter Pence, Buster Posey, Others Avoid Arbitration

Last Friday was the deadline for teams and players eligible for arbitration to exchange salary figures for their arbitration hearings, and as with every year, there was a flurry of signings on that date in order to avoid the hearings. The Giants had seven arb-eligible players this year: Joaquin Arias, Gregor Blanco, Santiago Casilla, Jose Mijares, Hunter Pence, Buster Posey, and Sergio Romo.

The team has, so far, come to agreements with four of them, and Sergio Romo and Joaquin Arias exchanged figures with the team. It’s worth pointing out that both Arias and Romo will almost certainly sign contracts before their hearings. The Giants almost never let arbitration cases go all the way to hearing – they’ve only gone to six hearings since the arbitration process started in the mid-’70s.

Arias did not agree to a contract with the Giants on Friday, and therefore his agent and the Giants exchanged arbitration figures. Arias filed for a contract of $1.1 million for 2013, and the Giants countered with an offer of $750,000. Should the case go all the way to the hearing (again, very unlikely), the arbiter would have to choose either one figure or the other — the arbiter cannot choose a figure in the middle. Arias brought a lot of versatility to the Giants bench last year, with a glove that rated above average at both third and short and a bat that hit lefties well, making his a useful complement to Brandon Crawford. He’ll sign for something like $900,000.

Gregor Blanco came to terms with the Giants before the two sides had to exchange figures. Blanco will make $1.35 million in 2013. I talked at good length about Blanco in my review of the outfield, so I’ll keep this short. Blanco comes into 2013 as the left-handed hitting half of a left-field platoon, along with Andres Torres. He was somewhat of a revelation in 2012, more than holding his weight with the bat while playing superb defense and stepping up after the Melky Cabrera suspension.

Santiago Casilla signed a 3-year extension with the Giants on December 18th. The contract will pay him $15 million over the three years, with his 2013 salary coming in at $4.5 million. In a vacuum, Casilla’s deal isn’t anything to get worked up about. But the fact of the matter is that the Giants will be paying a lot for their bullpen in 2013. Casilla, Lopez, and Affeldt alone will make $14.75 million combined next season, and if we add Mijares’s $1.8 million, Kontos’s $600,000, and guess that Romo will make $3.6 million, the total for the six relievers comes to $20.8 million.

That makes the bullpen the second-most expensive in the majors, behind the Phillies. Add in the fact that Brandon Lyon would cost somewhere around $5 million and it looks like the bullpen would take up close to 20% of the payroll. Anyway, my point is that my personal philosophy on how best to build a team clashes with management’s philosophy. They, quite clearly, believe in the importance of a strong bullpen, and are willing to pay for such a bullpen.

I, on the other hand, believe that because relievers pitch relatively few innings, and their performance is inherently volatile, that spending lots and lots of money on one is folly. Casilla Now, Giants management has won two World Series championships in three years, and I have several World Champion t-shirts in my closet. The fact remains, however, that it’s going to be a darn expensive bullpen in 2013.

Jose Mijares and the Giants signed a 1-year, $1.8 million contract for 2013, avoiding arbitration. Mijares pitched extremely well for the Giants after being picked up on waivers from the Royals in early August, notching a 2.55 ERA in 17.2 innings. Mijares and Javier Lopez are somewhat redundant – both are LHPs who are murder to LHBs but get knocked around by RHBs – but for $1.8 million, I can’t really complain.

Hunter Pence signed a one-year, $13.8 million contract for 2013, and Buster Posey signed a one-year, $8 million contract. When you look at it like that, it seems ridiculous. Buster Posey was the MVP of the National League for goodness sake, and Pence had an 84 wRC+ as a Giant. When taken together, these contracts are a good case study of how arbitration works in MLB. Buster Posey is arbitration eligible for the first time in his career. He made $650,000 for the 2012 season. (Ridiculous, right?)

The general rule for a player’s three arbitration years is that his salary will be 40% of what he would make on the open market his first year of arbitration, his second year of arbitration will be 60% of his open-market value, and his third year will be 80%. If you use that model, Posey would have made $20 million for 2013 if he had hit the open market. That sounds a bit low, but it’s not far off of what he would have made. For comparison, the highest salary for a first-time arbitration player in ML history is Ryan Howard, who got a $10 million contract after hitting 105 home runs between 2006 and 2007.

Meanwhile, Pence is entering his fourth year of arbitration (he was a Super Two player in 2010) and made $10.4 million last year. While he had a poor half-season with the Giants, he had a strong first half of 2012, as well as strong years in 2011 and 2010 as well. The contract he ended up signing was pretty much exactly along the lines of what should have been expected. Seems unfair, and it is, but it’s the way arbitration works.

Sergio Romo and the Giants exchanged figures on Friday after not reaching an agreement. The Giants filed at $2.675 million, and Romo countered by filing at $4.5 million. Those figures look far apart, and they are, but again, there really isn’t reason for concern. The two sides will almost certainly come to an agreement before the hearing. The midpoint of the two figures is $3.537 million, and something around $3.5-4 million sounds about right.

So that’s the arbitration round up. Everyone’s signed for next year except for Arias and Romo, and expect their cases to be settled far in advance of the arbitration hearings, as the Giants almost never let these things drag out that far.

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