Not satisfied with adding Justin Masterson to the rotation yesterday, the Cardinals have added another veteran starter by acquiring John Lackey from the Red Sox. And, much like Boston’s deal to get Yoenis Cespedes from Oakland for Jon Lester, the Red Sox have prioritized the present by getting veterans Allen Craig and Joe Kelly in exchange.
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Not only has Lackey bounced back from a lost 2012 season with two consecutive solid years as a mid-rotation starter in Boston–posting a 3.55 ERA in 50 total starts since last season–he’s under contract for 2015 at the bargain price of $500,000 thanks to an odd wrinkle in his original deal with the Red Sox.
In return the Red Sox get a rotation replacement for Lackey in the 26-year-old Kelly, who has a 3.25 ERA in 38 career starts. However, his modest 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings in the National League are reason for skepticism that he’ll thrive long term, especially in the American League.
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Craig had three straight excellent seasons for the Cardinals, hitting a combined .312 with an .863 OPS in 328 games from 2011-2013, but he’s collapsed this year at age 29 with a .638 OPS and has three years and $25 million left on his contract. St. Louis has stud prospect Oscar Taveras ready to replace Craig in the outfield and in the lineup.
Boston is betting on a big bounceback from Craig and Kelly’s ability to step into Lackey’s rotation spot with similar results. St. Louis is betting on Taveras developing into a star, Lackey being better than Kelly for the next one-and-a-half seasons, and Craig staying on the decline heading into his thirties. It’s a helluva interesting deal.
There’s something interesting deep in Ken Rosenthal’s latest notes column. It’s about arbitration, with Rosenthal reporting that the players union believes that all 30 teams will take a “file-and-trial” approach to arbitration this winter.
If you’re unfamiliar with this, it breaks down thusly:
- In mid-January, teams and players who are eligible for arbitration will exchange proposed salary figures. The player says what he thinks he’s worth based on comparable players of his quality and service time and the team will propose a lower counter-figure;
- Generally, the parties then use these proposals as negotiable figures and eventually reach a compromise deal, usually near the midpoint between the two figures, avoiding arbitration;
- If a deal cannot be reached, they go to an arbitration hearing and arbitrators pick one of the numbers. They CANNOT give a compromise award. It’s either the higher player’s number or the lower team number.
In the past, a handful of teams — most typically the Blue Jays, Braves, Marlins, Rays, and White Sox — employed a “file- and-trial” approach, meaning that they treated the figure exchange date as a hard deadline after which they refused to negotiate and stood content to go to a hearing. As more teams have adopted this approach, there have been more arbitration hearings. As Rosenthal notes, last year there were more hearings than in any offseason for the past 25 years. Now, the union thinks, every team will do this. If they do, obviously, there will be even more hearings.
There is certainly an advantage to file-and-trial for a team. It makes the player and the agent work harder and earlier in order to be prepared to negotiate with the club before the file deadline. It also makes them work a lot harder to come up with a defensible filing number given that, rather than merely being an opening salvo in an extended negotiation, it’s something that they will certainly have to defend in open court. It’s also simple hardball. Teams have greater resources than the players and the agents and it’s less painful for them to pay for lawyers and hearing prep and to conduct the actual hearing. There’s risk to the team, of course — they might lose and pay more than a settlement would’ve cost — but teams are obviously concluding that the risk is worth it.
The only question I have is, if the union is right and all 30 teams will now proceed this way, how was that decided? Everyone suddenly, after several decades of arbitration, simply decided to take the same approach? Or was there, I dunno, a meeting in which the strategy was coordinated? Inquiring minds want to know!