On Friday, salary arbitration figures will be exchanged between players and teams. This is basically the agent of a player formally submitting a number to the team, and the team submitting a number to the agent. In most cases, these exchanges come and go and there is a near immediate agreement. There are some cases which are much more difficult to figure out, and those are typically in cases where a player has been a phenomenal performer. With a number of the young Chicago Cubs up for arbitration, it might make for a rather uncomfortable opening to the Cubs Convention.
There are not a lot of Cubs which present an open and closed case. The Cubs have Justin Wilson, Justin Grimm, Kyle Hendricks, Tommy La Stella, Kris Bryant, and Addison Russell all eligible for arbitration. While each of the six players presents some interesting complications, but the biggest of them all is Kris Bryant.
Reading MLB Trade Rumors today, they lay out a very good representation for what Kris could be awarded. When you read the article you realize, this could become messy. Then you add Scott Boras on top of it all and it gets even more cloudy.
Right off the top, we all know Kris Bryant is in for a huge increase. He was the NL Rookie of the Year, followed it up with the NL MVP award, then (if you trust saber stats) Bryant has a statistically better season in 2017 than his MVP season. This was three consecutive seasons of improvement. Three consecutive seasons of playing like a top 10 player in the game of baseball.
Looking at this, Kris should be able to shoot for the stars with his price. But how do we get to a price?
Well, that is where comps come into play. We will first look at the other third basemen in the game, creating a profile for what he should expect. The top two that screams out is going to be Manny Machado and Nolan Arenado.
- Manny Machado ~ $5MM in 2016
- Nolan Arenado ~ $5MM in 2016
The pair seemingly set a price point. Machado had a career 17.7 WAR while Arenado came in with a 13.6 WAR. Kris, in his first three seasons, has compiled a 19.7 WAR. So he clearly outpaced the other two’s first three year runs. As Matt Swartz of MLB Trade Rumors points out, Manny’s .286/35/86 platform and a .281/68/215 career and Arenado’s .287/42/130 platform and .281/70/243 career numbers fall under that of Kris’ .295/29/73 platform and .288/94/274 career numbers. This points to these two as a floor in the Kris arbitration case.
So where’s the ceiling?
- Ryan Howard ~ $10MM in 2008
- Buster Posey ~ $8MM in 2013
- Mike Trout ~ N/A – he signed an extension before reaching arbitration
I will say this, Bryant is more valued than Howard. Ryan played first base, and while he did so at a pretty good pace early on, he is still a first baseman. Posey is going to be overvalued because he plays catcher. While it could be easy to immediately say, Bryant is more valuable than Buster is, it isn’t that clear. Then there is Mike Trout, and well, he is freaking Mike Trout. Luckily he is pulled out of the conversation as whatever his arbitration number was it would act as a hard cap ceiling for Bryant.
Now, why are these guys in the team picture for Kris Bryant comps? They are the only others that have won a Rookie of the Year award and an MVP within their first three seasons. Here is how they compare to Kris.
- Howard – 11.5 WAR .268/47/136 platform – .291/129/353 career
- Posey – 12.5 WAR .336/24/103 platform – .314/46/191 career
- Bryant – 19.7 WAR .295/29/73 platform – .288/94/274 career
This adds to the difficulty in signing Kris. He certainly is and projects better than Ryan Howard. Kris also plays a position which is valued more around baseball, and teams are more willing to spend on.
The Posey arbitration raise is more recent and poses a big hurdle for Bryant and Boras to leap over. While stats like WAR, as well as home run, favor Kris, average and the position favor Buster. I think this is a huge reason why MLB Trade Rumors lists Bryant as a potential award of $8.9MM for the 2018 season. This would be a $7.8MM increase from Kris’ current salary and a healthy bump. I would figure the Cubs will initially come in under the $8.9MM range, but will likely come up through the process.
Where will he land?
Like mentioned, the Cubs are going to come in probably at the Buster number. This is a solid number, and there is a case for why. Kris and his team will likely come in over the Howard number. Remember, just two seasons ago, Scott Boras and the Cubs broke the bank with Jake Arrieta. In that conversation, the Cubs went in with a price of $7.5MM and Arrieta came in with a figure of $13MM. They eventually settled at $10.7MM.
I fully expect Kris and Scott to submit a number in the $13MM range as well. It would break the Howard number by a lot, but there is a case for it. I also expect the Cubs to come in at about $8MM.
Swartz, who is unbelievably good at predicting arb numbers, has Bryant agreeing to a $9.5MM deal. With all things being equal, I think Bryant will end up breaking Howard’s $10MM mark.
Swartz accounts for inflation in the Posey deal, but I think the sides will account for inflation in the Howard deal as well. This, and the Cubs (without bending over backward for Boras) will take negotiations easier throughout the arbitration process with Bryant. It is no secret that they are interested in Bryce Harper, and they want to continue positive communications for when Bryant either signs an extension or agrees to a deal with the Cubs. Again, I don’t expect either side to bend over backward for a favor, but I think the long-term tactic by the Cubs here will go a long way.
Saying this, I believe Bryant will fall into the $10.5MM range. Congrats Kris Bryant, you are about to earn the biggest first-year arb deal ever.