This arbitration season made it clear once again that this truly is the Golden Age of baseball. Players and teams got together like almost never before, reaching 82 settlements in advance of arbitration salary filings and leaving only 37 players and their teams to submit arbitration numbers (by comparison, last year there were 46). Included among those are several potentially very interesting cases, including the Rangers' Josh Hamilton, who is coming off a Mickey Mantle-like MVP season, and the Blue Jays' Jose Bautista, Toronto's sudden superstar. Here's a summary of the biggest cases that remain unsettled.
Nobody wants to see this go to trial, least of all the participants. That's true even if Texas refrains from bringing up Hamilton's past, which most execs suspect they would. "Neither side should want to be in a hearing room,'' one AL executive said. "Of course, John Rocker, who is far more despicable, wound up in a hearing room.'' Even if the Rangers don't mention Hamilton's well-known drug past, there's no way they should want to bring up anything negative about a guy "who just won the MVP and is the heart and soul of the club,'' as one NL exec put it. "He's the last guy you'd want to end up in a hearing room with.'' There is scuttlebutt the Rangers might try to lock up Hamilton beyond this season, though some could see just a two-year deal to buy out his arbitration years along the lines of Matt Holliday's last deal with Colorado (he got $23 million for two years from the Rockies in January 2008). The Rangers once offered Hamilton $24 million for three years, and an NL exec said now it would have to be "Votto plus" -- meaning more than the $38 million over three years that reigning NL MVP winner Joey Votto just got from Cincinnati -- since a three-year Hamilton deal would buy out one free agent year. While the Rangers might be too discrete to bring up his drug history in a hearing room, his drug and intermittent health issues would likely be in their mind, at least, while they consider how many years to offer.
This is one of the more intriguing cases ever since he came out of nowhere to have his monster 54-home run season. As one NL exec said, "He had one outstanding year in an otherwise nondescript career.'' He's going to get quite a raise from the $2.4 million he made in 2010, but if they go to trial, it's probably a coin flip between Toronto's submission of a three-fold raise and Bautista's request of a four-fold one. In January 2008, Carlos Pena got a raise from $800,000 base salary to $6 million after a similarly surprising season. But Bautista could be in trouble if he's looking to eclipse eight figures, said one agent, "if length and consistency matter.''
Rodriguez might have been slightly underpaid last year at $5 million after losing his arbitration case, but how is he going to prove his salary should be doubled after a decidedly mediocre year in which he went 11-12 with an ERA of 3.60? While his case looks like a loser, there's always the possibility the Astros won't want to risk it and split the difference, in which case he wins big.
Win or lose, Weaver will break the record set by Freddy Garcia in 2004 of $6.875 million for a second-time eligible pitcher after a season in which he led the league in strikeouts. Weaver stepped seamlessly into the role of Angels' ace after the defection of John Lackey to the Red Sox, becoming one of the game's better pitchers and going 13-12 with a 3.01 ERA, and league-high totals for strikeouts (233) and starts (34). The Angels have struggled to get things done this winter and have had particularly rough luck dealing with agent Scott Boras (though they did reach agreement with first baseman Kendry Morales at $2.98 million after a season abbreviated by an injury Morales suffered during a home run celebration).
Guthrie, who went 11-14 with a 3.83 ERA in 32 starts last year, doesn't look like he's worth $6.5 million after Chad Billingsley ($6.25 million), John Danks ($6 million) and Matt Garza ($5.95 million) all signed for less than that. But he only has to prove he's worth more than the $5.75-million midpoint. It still looks like a difficult case, but his agency, CAA, has had as much success as anyone through the arbitration process.
This is a major difference, with Weeks looking for nearly 50 percent more than the Brewers' offered and could go either way. A settlement at about $6 million might benefit the player in this case, though. Weeks, a former No. 2 overall pick, hit .269 with 29 home runs and 83 RBIs out of the leadoff spot for Milwaukee.
With such a small gap (only around 10 percent of his submission), it's hardly worth it for either side to take this to trial. They should probably just compromise at the midpoint to avoid wasting time and effort.
Whichever way this one goes, it's a feel-good story. Dickey struggled to make ends meet into his mid-30s until the Mets gave him a chance to utilize his new knuckleball, and he proved to not only have a viable knuckler but more poise and guts than anyone would have known during a year in which he established career-best marks for wins (11), ERA (2.84), starts (26), innings pitched (174 1/3), strikeouts (104) and WHIP (1.187)
• Prince Fielder's deal for $15.5 million, a record, was praised as a good one for the player. "Very high,'' one competing exec called the number. Even so, it was nice to see the Brewers complete a wonderful winter by getting a one-year deal done fairly seamlessly with their star first baseman. In any case, no one should take this as a sign the sides will be able to do something long-term. Fielder is looking for something of at least eight years and in the $200 million range, but the Brewers have not been willing to guarantee that many years or dollars. Word is, Fielder has slimmed down a bit (he's said to be around 265 pounds now), but deciding what to do with him is a tough call for small-market team.
• Joey Votto's contract, which saved him from arbitration but didn't take away any free agent years, was an extremely good deal for agent Dan Lozano, who broke away recently from his longtime partners at Beverly Hills Sports Council and took Votto, Michael Young, Jimmy Rollins and, of course, Albert Pujols, among others. "(The Reds) didn't have to do that,'' once competing agent said. Translation: Why do that? They didn't eat up any free-agent years and don't look like they saved much money. Votto's $17 million salary for 2013 looks pretty high. "How much would they have paid him by going year to year?'' the agent wondered, rhetorically, implying it wouldn't have been much more. One plus for the team (and player) is that avoiding arbitration might be especially meaningful for a player who's had issues with depression in his past.
• Jacoby Ellsbury got a five-fold raise from the Red Sox to $2.4 million despite having a year wrecked by injury in 2010. Interesting note on his behalf: While he had basically no third year, playing just 18 games, his first two seasons were almost identical statistically to those of Carl Crawford, who signed for $142 million with Boston as a free-agent this offseason.
• Jonathan Papelbon got a big deal, $12 million in arbitration from the Red Sox, despite an off year that included a jump in his ERA from 1.85 in 2009 to 3.90 in 2010. That shows that the team conceded that bulk numbers probably would have won the day. The Red Sox were unable to trade Papelbon because teams saw a high number like this on the horizon.
• Armando Galarraga received the disappointment of being designated for assignment by the Tigers one day after settling for $2.3 million, which was an odd combination of events, to say the least. Detroit is looking for a trade for Galarraga, but he could conceivably clear waivers, simply come off the roster and remain with the organization for now.
• Matt Capps got a big $7.15 million from the Twins only one year after being non-tendered. He did a great job in two locales -- Washington and Minnesota -- and fit nicely into the Twins' clubhouse. He is a key this year with the Twins having seen Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain and Jon Rauch leave via free agency.
• Joba Chamberlain's $1.4 million settlement with the Yankees shows how far he's fallen. It looks from this number he is treated as almost a strict reliever who got no credit for his starts. The Yankees say Chamberlain will remain a reliever (though he's a candidate to be traded as part of a package for a proven starter).
• The Rays are still looking for offense and are close to finalizing a deal with Johnny Damon, an Orlando resident who wanted to sign with either them, the Yankees or Red Sox from the start of the winter. It's a move that makes sense for Tampa Bay, which is expected to begin the year with top prospect Desmond Jennings in the minors. The Rays have also looked at Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, Russell Branyan and Nick Johnson. The Rangers have been trying for Ramirez, as well.
• The Red Sox seriously considered trading Papelbon, perhaps to the A's or White Sox, but Oakland wound up signing Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour to bolster its bullpen in what turned out to be a solid winter for the A's despite their failure to land third baseman Adrian Beltre. The White Sox signed Crain but will likely try Matt Thornton as their closer, with 2010 draft phenom Chris Sale also a possibility. Sale might also start the year as the fifth starter and stay in the rotation until Jake Peavy returns. The team sees Peavy's likely return date as sometime around June.
• Carl Pavano made the right call to return to the Twins for $16.5 million over two years. The Pirates made a two-year offer and might have gone higher on money had Pavano gotten serious with them. Pavano was said to be very impressed by Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. But Pavano loves Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, as well, and he's turned around his reputation in Minnesota. The Twins also offered a deal for slightly more money (believed to be $17 million) that included a team option for a third year.
• Yankees GM Brian Cashman threw out a $7 million suggestion for Pavano in surprise talks with the pitcher who was a complete bust in his first go-round in New York. However, talks didn't go very far as the Yankees didn't want to risk a multiyear deal for market value, despite their desperation for starting pitching.
• The Yankees are still hoping to hear from Andy Pettitte fairly soon. One person familiar with Pettitte's situation said the delay has nothing to do with any trepidation over former workout partner Roger Clemens' trial, which is now scheduled to begin in July. Cashman told him he hoped Pettitte wouldn't pull a "Favre'' on them, injecting some levity into the long wait.
• Cashman's candor over his recommendation not to pay closer money to Rafael Soriano was one of the most interesting sidelights of the week. It was funny to see that owner Hal Steinbrenner wanted to spend his money but Cashman wanted to save it. But while Cashman was overruled, he still has the full support of Steinbrenner and club president Randy Levine and retains normal GM powers. He is right that it is a GM's duty to recommend but that ultimately the owner has the final call, which is the way it is with every team.
• The Red Sox showed interest in Soriano, and appeared willing to do a one-year deal for him to be their closer. Had that happened, Boston would have found a new home for Papelbon, probably Oakland or the White Sox.
• The Giants look like they're about to come to an settlement with outfielder Andres Torres after compromising with reliever Javier Lopez at $2.375 million, which would be a nice way for the World Series champions to top off their winter after their surprise title.
• The Orioles are still looking for a starting pitcher. The Yankees appear to be waiting to see what happens with Pettitte, but a run at Kevin Millwood or Freddy Garcia can't be ruled out even if Pettitte returns.
• Garcia's nickname is "Big Game Freddy,'' and as a pitcher who's lived up to his moniker, he'd surely prefer to sign with the Yankees or some other potential contender. While he's gotten up for big games, he has not pitched well in lesser games. The Orioles have considered him and others, and while they've made improvements, the Yankees would work probably better for Garcia.
• The Royals saved $12 million with Gil Meche's surprise decision to retire with a year to go on his $55 million, five-year contract. The team had been looking at Meche as a potential reliever, so it might look to use the money on bullpen help. Chad Durbin and Joe Beimel are among the better relievers left.
• The Mets did well to sign Chris Young for $1.1 million guaranteed (with incentives that can take him to $4.5 million).
• Two of baseball's smartest players, Craig Breslow and Ross Ohlendorf, of Yale and Princeton, respectively, filed for arbitration. Breslow is at $1.55 million compared to the team's submission of $1.15 million while Ohlendorf is at $2.02 million compared to the team's $1.4 million. Quipped one agent, "Maybe they have mathematical formulas and know better.''