Many of you know the gig by now. MLB players spend their early big league careers making roughly league-minimum salaries, accruing service time while establishing their baseline level of performance. If they’re good enough to a) accrue three ‘years’ worth of service time and b) still be employed by an MLB club, that’s when they finally get the chance to let their playing performance drive their earning power.
Those subsequent years are called arbitration years, the years where the player is still under ‘team control’ by a franchise prior to reaching free agency, but years where their past performance and status begin to drive their salaries upwards.
It’s an antiquated system in many ways, as the stats that are used to fuel the rise in salaries have often been proven to be less important than many newer ones. Still, the basic gist is that when players play often and play well, they’ll be due more money the next year than they earned in the previous one. And while that ultimately hits the team payroll on the bottom line, rest assured that even the clubs who are paying these players want them to warrant big time pay raises - by definition, that means they’ve got players who played often and played well.
Over at MLB Trade Rumors, Matt Swartz has released his salary estimates for arbitration-eligible players for the 2022 season, his model a tried and tested one that has shown itself to be a reliable estimate for what to expect in real life. Some of the finer details in the arbitration process might yield somewhat significant results - in the end, an arbiter faces an either/or decision between player requests and team offer after all, and doesn’t create a midpoint - but these give a pretty precise idea of what financial obligations teams will face with these players for the upcoming year.
For the Reds, Swartz has 11 arbitration-eligible players listed, likely because his calculations were done before the Reds announced they’d outrighted Delino DeShields off the roster. So for now, we’ll focus on the 10 still on the team’s 40-man roster, and will highlight just what that means for the team’s overall payroll position heading into a vital winter of roster maneuvering. For reference, we’ll list Swartz’s 2022 estimate, what each of these players earned during the 2021 season, and which year of arbitration they’re entering.
- Tyler Naquin – $3.6MM (2021: $1.5MM, arb3)
- Luis Cessa – $1.6MM (2021: $1.05MM, arb2)
- Luis Castillo – $7.6MM (2021: $4.2MM, arb2)
- Amir Garrett – $2.2MM (2021: $1.5MM, arb2)
- Jesse Winker – $6.8MM (2021: $3.15MM, arb2)
- Tyler Mahle – $5.6MM (2021: $2.2MM, arb2)
- Kyle Farmer – $2.2MM (2021: $640K, arb1)
- Jeff Hoffman – $1.1MM (2021: $570K, arb1)
- Lucas Sims – $1.2MM (2021: $570K, arb1)
- Nick Senzel – $1.1MM (2021: $570K, arb1)
All told, that’s a a total of $33 million that will due to that class of 10 arbitration-eligibles for the 2022 season. That same group of 10 earned a combined $15.95 million during the 2021 season, so it’s going to cost an additional $17.05 million for the Reds to simply keep that band together again for the upcoming season.
That money’s going to have to come from somewhere, of course, and we’ve long known how frugal this Reds franchise can be. Prior to last season, they jettisoned Archie Bradley by nontendering him as an arbitration-eligible, opting to simply release him to free agency rather than pay him the ~$6-7 million he was due in the process. They followed by gifting Raisel Iglesias to the Los Angeles Angels to simply move his salary off the books, all in order to get their overall payroll down to the level where Bob Castellini felt comfortable operating.
Per Cot’s Contracts, the 2021 Reds had an Opening Day payroll of some $122 million. Right now, the 10 players listed above are set to account for $33 million. Roll in the guaranteed salaries due to Joey Votto ($25MM), Mike Moustakas ($16MM), Eugenio Suarez ($11.29MM), Sonny Gray ($10.17MM), and Shogo Akiyama ($8MM), and that’s a baseline payroll of $103.46MM for just 15 players. If the Reds choose to pick up the team options on Wade Miley ($10MM) and Tucker Barnhart ($7.5MM), that brings the total to $120.96MM for 17 players. The complicated option situation included in lefty Justin Wilson’s contract most likely will result in him exercising his $2.3 million player option for 2022, which would raise that total to $123.26MM.
Even if the Reds choose to round out the active 26-man roster for the 2022 season with players making league-minimum (roughly $600K each), that’s an additional $4.8MM, which would bring the team’s Opening Day payroll to $128.06MM, or a bit over $6MM more than it was to begin the 2021 campaign.
That all includes losing Nick Castellanos, who we all anticipate will opt-out of his contract and become a free agent yet again. It also includes waving goodbye to the likes of Mychal Givens and Michael Lorenzen, each of whom reached free agency. In other words, the Reds are in-line to have a larger payroll for next season than they had this year despite some significant subtractions already baked into those numbers. And, y’know, before we even talk about the additions we’d love to see them pursue given yet another lackluster performance in the standings relative to their peers.
Once again, it’s going to be a tricky navigation for the front office of the Reds since they’re a team that consistently places an equal or larger importance on money than they do on winning baseball games. Getting better without getting more expensive is a very tough thing to do in this monopolistic vacuum called Major League Baseball, but it will likely be the route pursued again this winter instead of the ‘spend what it takes to get good enough to win’ route. Nothing about today’s arbitration estimates truly changed any of that, but at least it gave us a trusted set of baselines off which to begin to ruminate.