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2015 Oakland Athletics salary arbitration and payroll estimate

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A lot of salary is coming off the books heading into 2015, but exactly how much Billy Beane has to work with depends on the results of salary arbitration negotiations with a lot of players, especially Jeff Samardzija and Josh Donaldson. I do some back-of-the-envelope guesses to try to get in the ballpark.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland Athletics enter this offseason sooner than they would have liked. So now the question, will 2015 be one more push for a World Series? Will it be a rebuilding year?

To even try to answer that question we have to know what resources the A's have to work with, and to know that we have to figure out what is falling off the payroll and what is left over to bring in free agents and do the wheeling-and-dealing that Billy Beane is so famous for.

Free agents

Here are the team's free agents and salaries falling off the payroll:

Player Pos 2014 salary
Adam Dunn 1B-DH $15,000,000
Jon Lester SP $13,000,000
Jim Johnson RP $10,000,000
Jason Hammel SP $6,000,000
Jed Lowrie 2B-SS $5,250,000
Luke Gregerson RP $5,065,000
Jonny Gomes OF $5,000,000
Alberto Callaspo INF $4,875,000
Hiroyuki Nakajima INF $3,125,000
Geovany Soto C $3,050,000
Brett Anderson SP $2,000,000
Daric Barton 1B $1,250,000

Contracts

Here are the guaranteed obligations of the club:

Player Pos 2015 salary
Scott Kazmir SP $13,000,000
Coco Crisp CF $11,000,000
Eric O'Flaherty RP $5,500,000
Nick Punto INF $2,750,000
Sean Doolittle RP $780,000

Pre-arbitration

Here are the pre-arbitration players on the 40-man roster. Players on the major league disabled list accrue service time, but players on optional assignment do not:

Player Pos 2015 Option Earliest Arb Earliest FA
Evan Scribner RP No 2016 2020
Bryan Anderson C No 2017 2021
Josh Lindblom SP No 2017 2020
Andy Parrino 2B-SS No 2017 2020
Stephen Vogt C-1B-OF No 2017 2020
A.J. Griffin SP Yes 2016 2019
Derek Norris C Yes 2016 2019
Drew Pomeranz SP Yes 2016 2019
Dan Otero RP Yes 2016 2020
Sonny Gray SP Yes 2017 2020
Nate Freiman 1B Yes 2017 2020
Raul Alcantara SP Yes 2018 2021
Billy Burns OF Yes 2018 2021
Arnold Leon SP Yes 2018 2021
Shane Peterson OF Yes 2018 2021
Michael Ynoa RP Yes 2018 2021

Now let's talk some arbitration estimates.

Salary Arbitration

With arbitration, one tends to see the previous year's salary as a floor for a raise. So I'm going to do some really back of the envelope estimates for arbitration and find comparable players with similar recent year bWAR. In the case of players entering arbitration for the first time, I'm looking for players that had similar career bWAR. I'll try to find good comps out of the 2014 arbitration class, and look back successive years if I can't.

For pitchers, I don't think WAR is the best way to eyeball how the arbitrators will view things the way ERA and strikeouts can be.

Jeff Samardzija

Let's look at the raises for right-handed starting pitchers entering their third arbitration year. In a lot of these cases, I have to throw out comparables because they were the part of longer-term extensions, such as for Homer Bailey or Charlie Morton.

Player ERA IP K BB 2014 raise 2013 salary 2014 salary
Max Scherzer 3.07 214.1 240 56 $8,800,000 $6,725,000 $15,525,000
Justin Masterson 3.45 193.0 195 76 $4,075,000 $5,687,500 $9,762,500
Kyle Kendrick 4.70 182.0 110 47 $3,175,000 $4,500,000 $7,675,000
Jeff Samardzija 2.99 219.2 202 43 $5,345,000

This is interesting. Jeff won't get Scherzer money for a few reasons. First, Scherzer helped pitched the Tigers to an American League pennant in 2012 and to the ALCS in 2013, while Samardzija has never pitched in the postseason. Second, Scherzer won a Cy Young. On the other hand, Samardzija did get an All-Star selection this year. I would guess a raise on the order of $5,000,000, and we'll round up to a nice even $10,000,000.

Josh Donaldson

Our third baseman is about to get paid. Oh boy is he going to get paid. Searching for comps, I have to look at the historic payouts. Most teams these days take their star players and buyout their arbitration years. Mike Trout, Buster Posey, and Joey Votto all got big deals that buy out their arbitration years. It seems there has never been a player of Josh Donaldson's caliber to have actually been signed to just a one-year deal.

The WAR and games played figures are career statistics entering arbitration.

Player bWAR G Post-Arb Est/Act. Year
Josh Donaldson 16.6 405
Miguel Cabrera 15.0 563 $7,400,000 Actual 2007
Buster Posey 12.5 308 $5,900,000 Estimated 2013
Ryan Howard 11.5 410 $10,000,000 Actual 2008
Justin Morneau 6.2 412 $4,500,000 Actual 2007

The estimated figure for Buster Posey is from MLB Trade Rumors 2013 Arbitration predictions. He actually earned $8,000,000 that year as the first year of a longer term deal.

How Ryan Howard got paid $10,000,000 is interesting. From an ESPN analysis by Jayson Stark at the time ("Arbitration payout puts Howard in uncharted salary territory"), it was thought that the Phillies, under Ruben Amaro Jr. for the first time, badly unestimated the desire of the arbitrators to make sure Howard could say he received the biggest first-year arbitration award ever. By offering just $7,000,000, Howard could not pass Miguel Cabrera's $7,400,000. Coming off an MVP year and Rookie of the Year before that, and hitting 58 home runs, the arbitrators must have found no reason not to award the record sum.

The arbitrators don't really look at WAR, and I only use it here as a shorthand single number for our back of the envelope purposes, as opposed to the more traditional numbers that the non-baseball arbitrators from the American Arbitration Association will look at. They'll see Donaldson has never hit 100 RBI or 30 home runs in a season. They'll see a drop off in his batting average from his MVP candidate season. They'll see a lone All-Star start, not the MVP and Rookie of the Year Awards that Howard received. They'll see eight strikeouts in the 2013 ALDS.

Donaldson looks a lot more like a Justin Morneau who can play a very good third base. Justin Morneau entered his arbitration with a mere 79 home runs and 283 RBI under his belt as opposed to JD's 63 home runs and 228 RBI.

Ironically, traditional statistics will destroy Donaldson at third. His career fielding percentage of .954 will not play favorably against the league average of .956 while we all know that many other fielders do not even get to the balls he gets to. The concepts of range and defensive runs saved and zone rating are simply too complex subjects to convey in a two hour hearing to non-baseball people. "23 errors in 2014? Average fielder at best."

I think he gets $8,000,000. There is too much anecdotal evidence that describes how well Josh Donaldson plays third base that it will overcome any bias the fielding percentage statistic creates, plus there is a great deal of salary inflation since 2007.

Brandon Moss

There were surprisingly few outfielders that also played first base and entered their second arbitration years (not including Super Two arbitration). I've resorted to declaring Brandon Moss to be an outfielder, because that's where a majority of his innings are played on defense.

Player bWAR G 2014 raise 2013 salary 2014 salary
Gerardo Parra 5.5 156 $2,500,000 $2,350,000 $4,850,000
Drew Stubbs 0.3 146 $1,275,000 $2,825,000 $4,100,000
Matt Joyce 1.0 140 $1,250,000 $2,450,000 $3,700,000
Jason Heyward 3.4 104 $850,000 $3,650,000 $4,500,000
Sean Rodriguez 0.6 96 $475,000 $1,000,000 $1,475,000
Kyle Blanks 0.4 88 $383,000 $605,000 $988,000
Steve Pearce 0.5 44 $150,000 $700,000 $850,000
Brandon Moss 2.6 147 $4,100,000

I don't know, I'll split the difference between Drew Stubbs and Gerardo Parra and give him a $2,000,000 raise, to $6,100,000.

Josh Reddick

For this, let's look at the raises for right fielders in their second arbitration year last year compared to bWAR.

Player bWAR G 2014 raise 2013 salary 2014 salary
Gerardo Parra 5.5 156 $2,500,000 $2,350,000 $4,850,000
Drew Stubbs 0.3 146 $1,275,000 $2,825,000 $4,100,000
Matt Joyce 1.0 140 $1,250,000 $2,450,000 $3,700,000
Jason Heyward 3.4 104 $850,000 $3,650,000 $4,500,000
Kyle Blanks 0.4 88 $383,000 $605,000 $988,000
Josh Reddick 3.5 109 $2,700,000

Reddick's 3.5 bWAR over 109 games compares rather neatly with Jason Heyward, doesn't it? And the old school peripherals that an arbitration panel will look at are similar. Both are past Gold Glove winners, both dealt with injuries in the year entering arbitration and previous injuries.

I would guess a raise on the order of $1,000,000, to $3,700,000.

John Jaso

There was just one catcher eligible for third-year arbitration in 2014. Fortunately, that catcher was Ryan Hanigan, who missed some time in 2013 dealing with injury and spelling Devin Mesoraco in Cincinnati. It's of course not a perfect comparison as Hanigan bats right-handed.

Player bWAR G 2014 raise 2013 salary 2014 salary
Ryan Hanigan 1.3 75 $700,000 $2,050,000 $2,750,000
John Jaso 1.6 99 $2,300,000

There are significant doubts about John Jaso ever playing catcher again, however. To be safe, I'll give him a $1,000,000 raise to $3,300,000.

Jesse Chavez

There were a lot of second-year arbitration-eligible right-handed starting pitchers last year, the trouble is that Jesse Chavez is on a bit of an unusual career path. He's finally starting after a career as a journeyman long reliever, but his shift to the bullpen in the second half makes comparisons difficult.

Player ERA IP K BB 2014 raise 2013 salary 2014 salary
David Price 3.33 186.2 151 27 $3,887,500 $10,112,500 $14,000,000
Rick Porcello 4.32 177.0 142 42 $3,400,000 $5,100,000 $8,500,000
Doug Fister 3.67 208.2 159 44 $3,200,000 $4,000,000 $7,200,000
Kris Medlen 3.11 197.0 157 47 $3,200,000 $2,600,000 $5,800,000
Mike Leake 3.37 192.1 122 48 $2,865,000 $3,060,000 $5,925,000
Jeff Samardzija 4.34 213.2 214 78 $2,705,000 $2,640,000 $5,345,000
Bud Norris 4.18 176.2 147 67 $2,300,000 $3,000,000 $5,300,000
Ian Kennedy 4.91 181.1 163 73 $1,835,000 $4,265,000 $6,100,000
Marco Estrada 3.87 128.0 118 29 $1,370,000 $1,955,000 $3,325,000
Jesse Chavez 3.45 146.0 136 49 $775,000

At least we have a general sense for what is sensible. A pitcher that struggles with injuries like Marco Estrada did leading up to his 2014 arbitration will be on the lower end of things. Now, Jesse Chavez was not injured, per se, but his shift to the bullpen could be argued to be fatigue based on not having thrown that many innings in the major leagues before. He was clearly not as sharp in his last few starts than at the beginning. I'm going to guess a $1.6 million raise, rounded to about $2,400,000.

Craig Gentry

Our list of outfielders entering 2nd year arbitration now includes Don Kelly.

Player bWAR G 2014 raise 2013 salary 2014 salary
Gerardo Parra 5.5 156 $2,500,000 $2,350,000 $4,850,000
Drew Stubbs 0.3 146 $1,275,000 $2,825,000 $4,100,000
Matt Joyce 1.0 140 $1,250,000 $2,450,000 $3,700,000
Jason Heyward 3.4 104 $850,000 $3,650,000 $4,500,000
Sean Rodriguez 0.6 96 $475,000 $1,000,000 $1,475,000
Kyle Blanks 0.4 88 $383,000 $605,000 $988,000
Steve Pearce 0.5 44 $150,000 $700,000 $850,000
Don Kelly -0.7 112 $100,000 $900,000 $1,000,000
Craig Gentry 2.0 94 $1,145,000

Let's return to Jason Heyward as the comp for the oft-injured outfielder. Gentry should add on something around $600,000, so we'll round up to $1,800,000.

Sam Fuld

Now we look at the outfielders who ended 2013 with between four and five years of service time, who would be entering arbitration for a second time or a third time, if, like Sam Fuld, they had been Super Two eligible players previously:

Player bWAR G 2014 raise 2013 salary 2014 salary
Gerardo Parra 5.5 156 $2,500,000 $2,350,000 $4,850,000
Austin Jackson 3.3 129 $2,500,000 $3,500,000 $6,000,000
Alejandro De Aza -0.3 153 $2,175,000 $2,075,000 $4,250,000
Drew Stubbs 0.3 146 $1,275,000 $2,825,000 $4,100,000
Matt Joyce 1.0 140 $1,250,000 $2,450,000 $3,700,000
Jason Heyward 3.4 104 $850,000 $3,650,000 $4,500,000
Sean Rodriguez 0.6 96 $475,000 $1,000,000 $1,475,000
Kyle Blanks 0.4 88 $383,000 $605,000 $988,000
Steve Pearce 0.5 44 $150,000 $700,000 $850,000
Don Kelly -0.7 112 $100,000 $900,000 $1,000,000
Sam Fuld 1.8 113 $800,000

I keep getting drawn to Jason Heyward and his part-time performance and then I look at Sean Rodriguez. A midpoint between those two raises would be around $700,000, for a cool $1,500,000 for Sam Fuld.

Eric Sogard

Sogard is a first-year arbitration-eligible second baseman. Since Darwin Barney is the only one close to meet that criteria last year, I'll include shortstops and utility infielders. These are career figures:

Player bWAR G 2014 raise 2013 salary 2014 salary
Darwin Barney 6.2 470 $1,738,000 $562,000 $2,300,000
Daniel Descalso 1.0 425 $779,000 $511,000 $1,290,000
Justin Turner 0.6 318 $495,453 $504,547 $1,000,000
Ramiro Pena 0.0 230 $150,000 $550,000 $700,000
Eric Sogard 3.0 315 $510,000

Sogard rates above Descalso but below Barney. Call it a cool $1,000,000 raise to $1.5 million next year.

Jarrod Parker

As far as Wendy Thurm of FanGraphs can determine, no pitcher undergoing Tommy John Surgery has missed the entire season preceding their first arbitration year ("Financial Cost of Tommy John Surgery to Young Pitchers"). All have either been pre-arb (like A.J. Griffin) or signed to longer-term deals (like Stephen Strasburg). I'll be generous and assume a $1,000,000 raise for Parker, but it could be lower given the uncertainties of returning from a second surgery as well his unavailability for much of the year.

Fernando Abad

For first year arbitration players, I will use career statistics. Let's look at left-handed relievers entering their first arbitration.

Player ERA IP K BB 2014 raise 2013 salary 2014 salary
Mike Dunn 3.41 197.2 219 110 $907,500 $492,500 $1,400,000
Tim Collins 3.51 190.0 205 110 $828,000 $534,500 $1,362,500
Brett Cecil 4.56 511.2 394 180 $790,000 $510,000 $1,300,000
Cesar Ramos 4.01 164.0 132 65 $248,700 $501,300 $750,000
Fernando Abad 3.35 179.2 148 58 $525,900

Abad's ERA compares favorably with Mike Dunn and Tim Collins. Brett Cecil started his career as a starter before moving to the bullpen, so it's tough to draw any comparisons there. Abad has fewer strikeouts, but definitely fewer walks, and would be sure to highlight how few inherited runners he has allowed in 2014. I'm going to award Abad $1,400,000.

Ryan Cook

Plenty of right-handed pitchers that reached arbitration, though few that were relief pitchers throughout their time at the Major League level, like Ryan Cook.

Player ERA IP K BB 2014 raise 2013 salary 2014 salary
Jordan Walden 3.17 161.2 192 65 $948,500 $541,500 $1,490,000
Sam LeCure 3.47 244.0 237 93 $690,000 $510,000 $1,200,000
Vin Mazzaro 4.73 359.2 220 144 $450,000 $500,000 $950,000
Anthony Swarzak 4.45 353.2 220 99 $432,500 $502,500 $935,000
Josh Collmenter 3.40 336.2 265 83 $421,000 $504,000 $925,000
Fernando Salas 3.42 192.1 186 69 $358,000 $512,000 $870,000
Ryan Cook 2.77 198.1 204 82 $505,000

Jordan Walden got a salary bump for the 32 saves he attained in his 2011 campaign with the Los Angeles Angels. Ryan Cook has a better ERA than most, but only 17 career saves. I'm thinking something in the $1.3 million range, or an $800,000 raise.

Kyle Blanks

There were four third-year arbitration-eligible outfielders and no first baseman for 2014:

Player bWAR G 2014 raise 2013 salary 2014 salary
Colby Rasmus 4.6 118 $2,325,000 $4,675,000 $7,000,000
Brett Gardner 4.0 145 $2,750,000 $2,850,000 $5,600,000
Nate Schierholtz 1.3 137 $2,750,000 $2,250,000 $5,000,000
Seth Smith 0.6 117 $825,000 $3,675,000 $4,500,000
Kyle Blanks 0.5 21 $988,000

It's a bit of a lost year for Kyle. He's out of options, and he might be non-tendered in favor of Nate Freiman as the right-handed batting first baseman. For now I'll assume no raise, $1,000,000 for him.

Fernando Rodriguez

Rodriguez was barely up here, but he earned enough service time to click over three years, making the previous Super Two player arbitration-eligible once again.

Player ERA IP K BB 2014 raise 2013 salary 2014 salary
Fernando Rodriguez 1.00 9.0 4 2 $600,000
Fernando Salas 4.50 28.0 22 6 $358,000 $512,000 $870,000

I think a $100,000 raise is more than fair. $700,000 total.

Adding it all up

So you have my arbitration estimates which, again, are totally back of the envelope. I think I'm being overly liberal in my awards, so it will likely be less than the $44.2 million I'm projecting:

Player Pos Arb Year 2014 Salary 2015 Estimate
Jeff Samardzija SP 3rd $5,345,000 $10,000,000
Josh Donaldson 3B Super 2 $500,000 $8,000,000
Brandon Moss 1B-OF 2nd* $4,100,000 $6,100,000
Josh Reddick RF 2nd $2,700,000 $3,700,000
John Jaso C-DH 3rd $2,300,000 $3,300,000
Jesse Chavez SP-RP 2nd $775,000 $2,400,000
Craig Gentry OF 2nd $1,145,000 $1,800,000
Sam Fuld OF 2nd* $800,000 $1,500,000
Eric Sogard 2B 1st $510,000 $1,500,000
Jarrod Parker SP 1st $500,000 $1,500,000
Fernando Abad RP 1st $525,900 $1,400,000
Ryan Cook RP 1st $505,000 $1,300,000
Kyle Blanks 1B-OF 3rd $987,500 $1,000,000
Fernando Rodriguez RP 1st* $600,000 $700,000
TOTAL: $21,293,400 $44,200,000

An asterisk ("*") represents players that first reached arbitration as Super Two players. "1st" is shorthand that a player has between three and four years of service time entering arbitration, even if that player previously went through Super Two arbitration.

Add the $33,000,000 in guaranteed obligations plus ten or so players making the Major League minimum of a little over $500,000.

Contracts $33,030,000
Arbitration $44,200,000
Pre-Arb $5,100,000
Est. 2015 PAYROLL $82,330,000

Of course this assumes Billy Beane does not make any moves like trade away his stars or something, or elects to non-tender some players. Mike Petrellio of Fangraphs ballparks the arbitration awards to be a bit lower at around $35-40 million ("What's Next for the Athletics?") on the assumption the A's retain most of the arbitration-eligible players.

Just one last thing, another $10,500,000 of Yoenis Cespedes salary sure would take away any flexibility the A's might have had anyway. Opening Day payroll for 2014 was $82,320,900.

This should be an interesting offseason. We'll have plenty more on it over the coming months.

Salary and contract information from Cot's Baseball Contracts.