Why doesn’t anyone go year to year anymore?

23 Comments

Baseball owners got a good thing going on.

Sporting a pretty impeccable record after three seasons, Clayton Kershaw was eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter. Coming off a season that saw him take the NL Cy Young Award and the pitcher’s triple crown, he had a chance to set a new salary record for pitchers with his service time.

And yet he passed. Kershaw agreed to a two-year, $19 million contract on Tuesday. He didn’t even insist on receiving as much as Tim Lincecum got from the Giants two years ago. As a super-two player, Lincecum received $23 million for two years from the Giants after 2009.

I get why Kershaw would want to play it safe and take the payday. That first $20 million certainly sets one up for life in a way a $6.5 million salary for 2012 (that’s what the Dodgers offered him in arbitration) wouldn’t have.

Still, young players are giving up too much earnings potential in multiyear deals lately. And that everyone is doing it makes arbitration that much more of a risk for each new class of players.

That’s because arbitration is all about comparables. The players and teams both look at players with similiar performance and service time in judging their requests and offers. It’s weighed heavily in the event that the case eventually goes before an arbitrator.

But these days so many of the comparables are already locked up to long-term deals paying them less than what they could be earning. Who does Kershaw compare to? Cole Hamels? As part of a three-year deal, he made $4.35 million in what would have been his first year of arbitration. Jon Lester? $3.75 million in the second year of a five-year deal. Lincecum is the closest match. He made $8 million as a super-two player and $13 million with three-plus years of service time last year. 

Kershaw asked for $10 million in arbitration this winter, a price that seemed pretty reasonable given his performance. But rather than hold out for it, he’ll get a $500,000 signing bonus, $7.5 million this year and $11 million next year.

And so the cycle will continue. That so few of the game’s great young players have been willing to test arbitration holds down the salaries of the group as a whole. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for baseball. In fact, it’s probably a good thing; where would the Rays be right now if they had to pay Evan Longoria, James Shields and Ben Zobrist arbitration salaries? Still, I’d rather see the Kershaws of the game claim a bigger piece of the pie.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

Getty Images
2 Comments

Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.