A lot of baseball fans think that free agency is to blame for the large guaranteed salaries in the majors. And while there is no doubt a lot of truth to that, salary arbitration may be the real culprit.
During a player’s first few seasons, the team holds the cards. Most players work for a salary at or near the major league minimum. Still a nice payday (a little over $500,000 now), but nowhere near what is to come if they continue to play well.
That first year of salary arbitration is when things really start to escalate and it’s a nice uphill climb from there even before a player hits free agency.
Take Chris Davis for example. In his first year of arbitration eligibility, he went from earning $488,000 in 2012 to $3.3 million in 2013 after batting .270 with 33 homers and 85 RBIs. He then went to $10.35 million in 2014 after batting .286 with 53 homers and 138 RBIs and now is at $12 million for 2015 after batting .196 with 26 homers and 72 RBIs.
Now if he has another big year, that average annual value will take another big jump north. But it all started with the arbitration process.
In his first year eligible for arbitration, Chris Tillman went from $546,000 in 2014 to $4.315 million for this upcoming season. That is a big jump, but still a bargain by baseball standards if Tillman pitches to form.
Catcher Matt Wieters went from $500,000 to $5.5 million in his first year in 2013 to $7.7 million in 2014 and then to $8.275 million for next season.
For a minor league player, it is a big step up in every way when they make the majors. But for a big leaguer, the first time they can really start to make the big bucks is in that first season they are arbitration-eligible. As long as they continue to play well, the next few years only get better after that.
Outfield option: Could the Orioles’ pursuit of an outfielder lead them toward making a trade for an All-Star with the Colorado Rockies?
In 2014 he hit .288/.335/.440 with 27 doubles, three triples, 19 homers and 72 RBIs. He scored 82 runs and stole 28 bases. That was a real solid season and at 28, he is coming into his prime years, coming into an age where Buck Showalter believes some players truly begin to find themselves, realizing their potential.
But now the downside: Blackmon’s 2014 numbers were clearly and heavily a result of batting at Coors Field. He hit .331 with a .915 OPS at home and hit just .241 with a .617 OPS on the road. His road OPS was lower then David Lough (.694) and Ryan Flaherty (.644) produced over all of last season.
Blackmon looks like an All-Star at home and a backup on the road on the stat sheet. But he does have four years of team control remaining and can’t be a free agent until after the 2018 season, so he has that going for him.
But acquiring a player that has such massive home/road splits would be a gamble, especially if you part with a starting pitcher to get him.