Late last week the annual salary arbitration filing deadline came and went across baseball. The Yankees had a very large arbitration class this offseason. Nine players combined for $53.2M in projected salary. The Yankees agreed to a one-year contract for 2019 with eight of those nine players. Those eight players combine for $45.4625M in actual salary, below their $48.1M projected salaries.
The one arbitration-eligible player the Yankees could not sign before the deadline: Luis Severino. Severino is one of 15 arbitration-eligible players who did not agree to a contract before the deadline and he is hardly the biggest name. Nolan Arenado, Trevor Bauer, Gerrit Cole, Carlos Correa, Aaron Nola, and Blake Treinen also failed to come to a contract agreement with their teams. Arenado is seeking a whopping $30M. Arenado winning his case would change the arbitration salary scale entirely.
It is important to note that, just because they didn’t get a deal done before the filing deadline, the Yankees and Severino can still agree to a contract of any size. They could hammer out a six-year extension tomorrow. That said, many teams are “trial and file” these days, meaning once the two sides file salary figures, the team cuts off contract talks and they go to a hearing. It’s designed to put pressure on the player. All indications are the Yankees and Severino are heading to a hearing.
Arbitration hearings take place throughout February. Each side gets up in front of the three-person arbitration panel and defends their salary filing number. It can get ugly. Teams will detail the player’s shortcomings in an effort to save money. Remember when Randy Levine said Dellin Betances didn’t have closer stats? Like that. Things can get heated. After the hearing the panel will pick either the player’s salary number or the team’s salary number. Nothing in between.
Severino filed for a $5.25M salary with the league. The Yankees countered with $4.4M. That is an $850,000 gap. It doesn’t sound like much, and I guess it isn’t, but remember arbitration raises are based on the previous year’s salary. That $850,000 difference this year means several million dollars are on the line during Severino’s four arbitration years as a Super Two. If Severino wins, his base salaries are higher going forward, which equals more total dollars.
Since the Yankees and Severino appeared headed to an arbitration hearing, I figured it was worth looking at recent starting pitchers who went through the process in their first year of arbitration-eligibility as a Super Two. Arbitration is based on comparables. This player at the same service time level as me received that salary, so I deserve more. That’s arbitration, basically. Find comparable players and base your argument around that player’s salary.
Over the last five years 20 starting pitchers went through the arbitration process for the first time as a Super Two. Only seven of them made it as far as filing salary figures and five went to a hearing. (Teams won three of those five hearings.) Here are those 20 pitchers and their arbitration details:
|Year||Salary||Player Filed||Team Filed|
|Kevin Gausman (settled)
|Marcus Stroman (won hearing)
|Garrett Richards (settled)
|Lance McCullers Jr.||2018||$2.45M|
|Chase Anderson (lost hearing)
|Vance Worley (won hearing)
|Taijuan Walker (lost hearing)
|Mike Foltynewicz (lost hearing)
Yes, the Braves really took Foltynewicz to an arbitration hearing over $100,000. And yes, Heaney really did earn only $800,000 in his first year of arbitration-eligibility as a Super Two. That’s because he missed a whole bunch of time with Tommy John surgery and had only 162.2 career innings under his belt when he qualified for arbitration.
Anyway, one thing stands out right away: Severino is going to become the highest paid first year Super Two starting pitcher regardless of whether he wins or loses his hearing. deGrom’s $4.05M salary in 2017 is the highest ever for a first year Super Two starter. The Yankees filed a $4.4M salary. They’re already willing to make Severino the highest paid first year Super Two starter ever. Severino wants to shatter the record though.
Furthermore, the Yankees are willing to make Severino the second highest paid starting pitcher in his first year of arbitration-eligibility overall, Super Two or otherwise. Here are the three largest first year arbitration salaries for starting pitchers:
- Dallas Keuchel: $7.25M in 2016
- Dontrelle Willis: $4.35M in 2006
- Tanner Roark: $4.315M in 2017
Quite a collection of names, eh? Willis rather amazingly held the first year arbitration salary record for starting pitchers for a decade, until Keuchel smashed it in the offseason immediately following his Cy Young award. The Yankees filed $4.4M. They’re just above Willis, so they’re willing to pay Severino more than any starting pitcher in his first year of arbitration-eligibility, Super Two or otherwise, except Keuchel, who had a Cy Young.
The way I see it, we only have three good comparables for Severino: deGrom, Keuchel, Roark. That’s pretty much it. Willis is too far in the past and none of the other first year Super Two starters are over $4M. Here are the side-by-side numbers going into that first year of arbitration-eligibility:
|W-L||30-22 (.577)||41-35 (.539)||42-28 (.600)||41-25 (.621)|
|Cy Young finishes||7th||1st||10th||3rd, 9th|
|Other awards||ROY||2 GG, 5th in MVP||none||none|
Huh, who knew Roark was that good early in his career? deGrom is, clearly, a cut above the rest when it comes to run prevention. He also had a Rookie of the Year award. Keuchel had way more innings under his belt than the other three and also the most hardware between the Cy Young, the fifth place finish in the MVP voting, and two Gold Gloves. Severino has the big strikeout numbers and is the only one of those pitchers to get Cy Young votes in two different seasons, which is not nothing.
To me, it seems the Yankees filed a fair number at $4.4M. They’re a bit above deGrom, the current record for a first year Super Two starter. They’re also above Willis, the former record for a first year non-Super Two starter. For all intents and purposes, the Yankees are willing to pay Severino more than any pitcher without a Cy Young award in his first year of arbitration-eligibility. They’re definitely not lowballing him.
Severino came in at $5.25M with his filing number, which is closer to deGrom and Willis than it is Keuchel. It is also approximately 20% more than any non-Keuchel first year arbitration-eligible starting pitcher. Is that too big an ask? That’s what the Yankees will argue. It’s too much. Look at the numbers. Why does Severino deserve that much more than deGrom at the same point in his career? It seems to me the Yankees will have an easier time defending their $4.4M number than Severino will his $5.25M number.
The Yankees have gone to three arbitration hearings this century and they won all three. They beat Mariano Rivera in 2000, Chien-Ming Wang in 2008, and Dellin Betances in 2017. Arbitration can be a painful process but it doesn’t have to create bad blood. The Yankees took Rivera, Bernie Williams, and Derek Jeter to hearings back in the day and they all lived happily ever after. Hopefully the Yankees and Severino can work out a deal before a hearing. If not, it’s not the end of the world, even if it looks like the Yankees are positioned well to secure another arbitration win.