Midnight Monday marks another mile marker in baseball's offseason, one that is much too long. Teams must tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players by the end of the day. The actual arbitration process, which rarely happens, comes in January. This is the first step.
The Phillies have five such cases, and if we are to believe Ruben Amaro Jr., the decision to offer all five contracts is easy. The Phillies have yet to confirm Amaro's statements that he would bring back all of them.
There are simple ones, like lefthander Cole Hamels and outfielder Hunter Pence. Both are due significant raises through the process.
There are arguments for each of the other three — Kyle Kendrick, Ben Francisco and Wilson Valdez — and Amaro has made them this winter.
Kendrick made $2.45 million in 2011 and relished the title of Best Swing Man in Baseball. OK, not really. Kendrick wants to start and he made that abundantly clear at multiple times during the season. There is certainly value in what Kendrick does. The question, of course, is how much value?
Charlie Manuel recently went out of his way to praise Kendrick, often the whipping boy among fans (and his joking teammates).
"You can bring Kendrick up all you want, too," Manuel said with a smirk. "I've got kind of warm on Kendrick because he shows me that he'll go out there and he'll pitch and he can take you in the point of the game where he can win. He's got a lot of moxie, and he's got a lot of determination."
Backhanded or not, it was a compliment and probably a just one. Kendrick bounced between the rotation and bullpen with ease. His 3.22 ERA was the lowest of his career, as was his 4.55 FIP. He made 15 starts, his strikeout numbers increased, and his stuff was better.
The justification for tendering Kendrick is probably more about what's behind him than anything else. Even with Four Aces, the Phillies used seven starting pitchers — tied for the team's fewest (also in 2008) in the modern era. (Remember 1996? The Phillies used 15 starters that season, including such luminaries as Rich Hunter, Bobby Munoz, Glenn Dishman and Rafael Quirico.)
The point is, it's hard to expect that again. Even with an ounce of doubt about Joe Blanton's right elbow, the Phillies will want a trusted sixth option. And behind Kendrick, there probably is no Vance Worley again in 2012. Dave Bush will head the rotation at triple-A Lehigh Valley. Maybe someone like Austin Hyatt could provide depth, but there isn't much to be spoken of.
It's difficult to find comps for Kendrick because of his service time situation and change in roles. The arbitration process considers a bunch of factors and not just the most recent season. The most important stats are service time, innings pitched, wins and ERA for pitchers. One of Kendrick's best comps, statistically, is Ricky Nolasco. Through their Age 26 seasons, they were close in wins (43, 40), ERA (4.41, 4.43) and innings pitched (598 1/3, 558 2/3). But the service time doesn't match because Nolasco did that in three full seasons and Kendrick in four. Nolasco made $3.8 million in 2010. Kendrick, because of his service time, could expect a similar figure.
The Phillies could also decide to non-tender Kendrick, making him a free agent, but still reach a deal at a lower rate. Then again, Chien-Ming Wang, who has thrown exactly 62 1/3 innings in the last two years, already signed for $4 million this winter. So it's probable that whatever raise Kendrick receives through the arbitration process is less than what he'd see on the open market.
UPDATE: Francisco was traded to Toronto. Here's what we wrote earlier:
He was the hero of Game 3 of the NLDS and that's about all. He did have more at-bats in 2011 than 2010 but his power numbers fell off a cliff with a 64-point drop in slugging percentage. But his on-base percentage rose and Francisco entered the season as the starting right fielder.
He made $1.18 million in his first year of arbitration — hardly a debilitating figure. His 2012 salary will be less than $2 million. One important note: Francisco does have an option remaining. So if the Phillies are to re-sign him and face a roster crunch, he could be sent to the minors.
The case to retain Francisco probably lies in the fact that the bench is lefty-heavy — at least at the beginning of the season. Say Ty Wigginton receives the majority of time at first base. That leaves Jim Thome and Laynce Nix (on days John Mayberry Jr. plays in left) as the top bats off the bench. Both are lefties.
Really, the Phillies will probably tender Francisco just because of the uncertainty put on the roster by Ryan Howard's left Achilles tendon. They are unsure how to fill first base and left field with Howard out. How long they will require backup solutions is still unknown.
Valdez was again recently labeled by Amaro as the MVP of the 2010 team. That's probably a stretch, but what Amaro was saying is that Valdez could effectively do anything (albeit at replacement level or below) when called upon. And yes, there is value in that.
The Phillies must basically choose between Valdez and Michael Martinez. Martinez, no longer bound by the Rule 5 requirements, can be optioned to the minors freely in 2012.
Valdez made $560,000 in 2011 and is first-time arbitration eligible. His salary will likely not eclipse $1 million, again, hardly a debilitating figure.
Colleague Bob Brookover took an interesting look at Valdez's numbers with runners in scoring position and found even more value than you'd expect.
So let's say, as Amaro has, the Phillies tender all five players. They have already guaranteed $123.15 million to 14 players. Assuming that Hamels and Pence combine for $25 million in salary along with guesstimates for Kendrick ($3.4) and Valdez ($900,000), the Phillies will have approximately $152.5 million invested in 18 players.
Even if Jimmy Rollins were to earn $13 million in 2012, there remains flexibility under the $178 million luxury tax threshold. They could still sign a lefthanded reliever. The other spots would be filled by pre-arbitration players making less than $500,000 each.
Because the Phillies are not up against the wall, they are likely to opt for familiarity in Kendrick and Valdez.