When the deadline for clubs and players to exchange arbitration figures finally arrived, the D-backs had just two arb players unsigned: Addison Reed and Mark Trumbo. A couple of weeks ago, I dug in on those arbitration cases and thought that while settling with Trumbo would be reasonable, there were extraordinarily compelling reasons for the club to go to trial with Reed. Last Friday, news broke that Reed and the D-backs had made a settlement just before their scheduled hearing, a deal for $4.875M with $50k in incentives that was much closer to the team’s $4.7M filing figure than to Reed’s $5.6M. Pretty good, right?
Maybe. If I were the team’s advocate, $4.9M (and that’s probably how we should value it) would have been just outside of my comfort zone. That’s par for the course in negotiation, however, and the fact that the figure wasn’t over $5M is a good indication that the D-backs were able to convince Reed’s representatives that the club had a far better chance of convincing the arbitration panel to go their way. In my opinion, this was a fine use of the team’s leverage. No major complaints here.
On its face, the Reed settlement nearly accomplishes what going to trial and winning would have accomplished. They managed to keep Reed’s salary lower, although it’s still quite high, and the $175k or so concession will snowball in the next two go-rounds. They sent a message that they won’t keep settling these cases at slightly above the midpoint of team/club figures, which had been their track record. The more difficult one to size up is whether this recent Reed story is sufficient to keep players honest, in the future, when filing their player figures. This Reed situation was the perfect storm: the club went way over what the most likely figure was going to be (per MLBTR and Matt Swartz), which is highly unusual, especially since the club did so in such a significant way (by $900k!). If the club was ever going to make a player “pay” for overextending himself with a filing figure, here it is. And yet, Reed still walks away with $4.875M, more than a million dollars more than the MLBTR projection of $3.8M. I think this is the biggest projection-to-single-season-salary difference, and for Reed it comes in the most important of arb years: the first one, which will also affect years 2 and 3. Hardly a cautionary tale, am I right?
On its face, the Reed settlement was a solid and maybe even good one for the club if you only consider the team and player figures. The truly alarming nature of this minor fiasco was the team’s figure in the first place. I’m sure it was informed by pre-filing negotiations, and I’m not privy to those, so there’s only so much we can judge. Still, the strategy part of filing figures — basically, how close you want to get to the “true” midpoint — has to presuppose some kind of target figure. And here, the D-backs were definitely way off, because their figure was much higher than the MLBTR projection, which is not only highly accurate, but ridiculously accurate (normally) for players who fall into certain specific buckets (like, pretty good strikeout relievers who have closed). Just way, way off. There was an enormous process error here. My understanding is that most teams have their own arbitration projection systems, and the D-backs are probably one of those teams. There should never be an excuse for a team to file at a figure about that projection; filing at exactly that level is picking the strategy that you want to come as close to guaranteeing victory as is possible. Filing above that level is indefensible. I think the D-backs probably know that, and so I conclude that their projection system is horrendous. That needs to be fixed (or just use the MLBTR ones, honestly).
So what does this mean for Trumbo, who, as of this writing, does not yet have a deal? The team has at least taken that stand that it will not reflexively settle just above a midpoint. That’s fortunate, because just like last year, the Trumbo figures offer one of the biggest spreads in the offseason. The D-backs’ $5.3M offer is $1.6M away from Trumbo’s $6.9M figure, and every dollar counts twice (since it’s a platform for Trumbo’s third and final go-round in a year). There’s little reason to change my analysis from two weeks ago, other than the new Reed data point, which should affect negotiation more than the strategy for that negotiation. The MLBTR projection is $5.7M, which is a good indication that the team would be more likely to win a hearing, maybe with a 70% or so chance. We shall see. Whatever the team does, it will affect the handful of new arbitration cases it is likely to have next year, with Patrick Corbin, A.J. Pollock, Rubby De La Rosa and Randall Delgado. It may especially impact the Corbin and Pollock situations, in that, as in the Trumbo case, an arbitration panel would be asked to weigh at least some elite numbers against time missed to injury.
On to the links:
- Let’s start with this Steve Adams post aggregating the most recent information on this new wave of Cuban players (all amateurs). For all the D-backs have been patting themselves on the back for Yoan Lopez recently, that move was not a commitment to the international market, but a decision to not really worry about it between July 2015 and June 2017. To get out of it, really. But as we pointed out after that signing, there are still some steps that the D-backs could take now or soon to minimize the opportunity cost of the Lopez signing. Our government’s change in stance on Cuba has led to a new little rush on talented and suddenly available players, which should be like Christmas for this team. Yoan Moncada may be a pipe dream, but if the D-backs could scoop up Yadier Alvarez or Andy Ibanez, that alone could change things. Instead of playing this international amateur game as it’s been set up by the CBA in a fairly poor way, we might upgrade them to “fair” or even “not bad.” The D-backs don’t have a desperate need for these guys, but should factor into their decisions that they can’t change their mind and come back to this well at any point until 2017.
- Check out this Kiley McDaniel piece at FanGraphs on the currently available Cuban free agents, including the emerging Yadier Alvarez. The D-backs have shown that they’re not out of this. It’s hard to see Hector Olivera as a fit for this team even if Aaron Hill got traded (and he won’t, at least, not right now), but Alvarez? Hmm. At least check out this piece to understand who we’re talking about here.
- At Snake Pit, Jim McLennan has an opus on the new D-backs regime and the team’s recent history with analytics. Well worth a thorough read. This piece stands solidly on its own two feet. All I’ll do is add one other point: analytics are self-policing. Not only can analytics tell you what is likely, and what is likely the best course of action; they tell you how certain you can be of those things. If we convince some of the baseball powers that be that this is a thing, we will get somewhere. Some people mix numbers with their own doubt to get kind of a new number — but that doubt is already incorporated into the first number, at least frequently (and you can always find out). Analytics will tell you the extent to which you should trust outputs from analytics. That’s what we need to convince people of, first.
- Here’s the quick Nick Piecoro piece on the Reed signing. Nice to hear AGM Bryan Minniti’s name as someone who was involved. Take a look at the quote from GM Dave Stewart, though. Sure, he doesn’t quite say that the D-backs won’t ever go to trial. But in a baseball arbitration — and that’s a term of art used even outside the baseball context — it’s one figure or the other, and it’s a game of chicken. Let’s say you were playing a game of chicken with Stew using cars instead of arb figures, and Stew made a similar public comment. Would this embolden you to stick it out? Remember, in a game of chicken, there is no value in tricking your opponent into thinking you’re more likely to bail. None. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate and even agree with Stew’s sentiment; I do. But the only possible redeeming characteristic of a comment like this is to kind of rub in for your opponent or future opponents just how bad a thing it would be to play chicken and collide. And I’m not sure this comment really has that effect. Players come to understand that from agents and, especially, from stories about/from other players.
- Make sure to check out what was in some ways the most important information of the month (teased in a Piecoro article before the roundup last week): Aaron Hill was not just pressing, but even playing through three non-trivial injuries last season. After you read that Piecoro article, make god damned sure you check out Jeff Wiser’s piece from last week that analyzed this Hill information with available statistics. That’s what we’re about, people!
- No notes in the David Laurila Sunday notebook this week that are especially Diamondbacks-related, but I recommend it anyway just because of the proficient use of the word pairing “scatalogically philosophical.”
- I was a guest on the Venom Strikes podcast yesterday with Joe Jacquez, and we talked about lineup optimization — and how (un?)important that is, as well as a few other things. The guest format here is interesting, and good, and fun. And with all these podcasts cropping up recently (I’m putting the official D-backs version in the same bucket), there’s a lot to listen to. We’re sticking to our model: a “real baseball conversation” between two guys who have a blast talking about the Diamondbacks.
- Speaking of The Pool Shot, I don’t have an Episode 15 link yet because we haven’t recorded it yet (in a couple of hours, though!). We’re doing a new one-time format, despite what I just said, and we’re going to talk out some of the advanced stats that Jeff and I rely on most. You’ll see what we mean, but it’s largely a reference guide. Link to come.
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