The deadline to exchange salary arbitration figures with arbitration-eligible players is this Friday, January 13. The Royals came to terms with Adalberto Mondesi last month on a $3 million deal to avoid arbitration but still have eight players with which they need to agree on terms.
If a player eligible for arbitration and a club fail to terms by this Friday, the two sides exchange figures and arbitration hearings are scheduled for late January and February. The two sides can still come to terms at any time, although some clubs like to take a tough stance as “file and trial” teams, with a hard deadline of ending negotiations once a hearing is scheduled. If the case goes to arbitration, the arbiter will either side with the player’s figure or the club’s figure. Last year arbitration hearings extended into the season due to the lockout. The Royals had two arbitration hearings last year, with Andrew Benintendi winning his case, and Nicky Lopez losing his case. Generally, the Royals avoid arbitration hearings - they only had one case in the 15 years prior to last year.
Service time is a pretty big factor in arbitration cases. Players in their first year of arbitration - generally those with three years of service time - get much lower salaries than players in their final year of arbitration, who are awarded salaries closer to market value. Player salaries generally do not go down through the arbitration process. A contract awarded through arbitration is now fully guaranteed - in the past you could release such a player in spring training and only pay a portion of the salary. That is not the case under the new labor deal.
Here are the players the Royals eligible for arbitration this year, with their salary estimates provided by MLB Trade Rumors.
Service time: 4 years, 30 days
2022 salary: $2.4 million
2022 numbers: 2.18 ERA/3.62 FIP, 74.1 IP, 0.9 fWAR
2023 salary estimate: $4.9 million
Barlow has been one of the better relievers in baseball over the last few years, and a salary in the $5 million range seems pretty appropriate. It would not at all surprise me to see a two-year deal for Barlow to cover his final year of arbitration in 2024 as well, perhaps giving some cost certainty to the Royals or whatever suitor wants to trade for Barlow.
Service time: 2 years, 135 days
2022 salary: $713,750
2022 numbers: 5.58 ERA/4.78 FIP, 129 IP, 0.5 fWAR
2023 salary estimate: $1.8 million
First-year arbitration players tend to have less leverage, especially those players that are still unproven. Bubic has shown flashes of good pitching, but has been far too inconsistent to demand a high salary. I would expect something around $1.6 million and it would surprise me if Bubic pushed the issue.
Service time: 3 years, 120 days
2022 salary: $975,000
2022 numbers: 4.04 ERA/3.30 FIP, 49 IP, 0.7 fWAR
2023 salary estimate: $1.5 million
Super-Two arbitration is for the top 22 percent of players that did not make the three-year service time threshold for arbitration. Clarke met that number last year as a member of the Diamondbacks, making him eligible for arbitration with less than three years of service time, but they non-tendered him and he signed with the Royals. He put together a pretty decent season with the Royals, so I expect a decent deal, perhaps around $1.8 to even $2 million.
Service time: 5 years
2022 salary: $4.825 million
2022 numbers: 5.09 ERA/4.50 FIP, 139.2 IP, 0.7 fWAR
2023 salary estimate: $7 million
Keller is in his last year of arbitration, generally the most lucrative, but he is coming off his worst season. He was a non-tender candidate last fall, but with the Royals needing starting pitching depth so badly and an escalating free agent market, it makes some sense to bring him back to see if he can rebound. His past numbers will be taken into account by an arbiter, so due to that and his service time, I can see him getting something pretty close to $7 million.
Service time: 5 years, 99 days
2022 salary: $2.025 million
2022 numbers: 4.96 ERA/3.40 FIP, 45.1 IP, 0.5 fWAR
2023 salary estimate: $2.6 million
Garrett’s ERA and walk rate weren’t pretty, but he was close to unhittable with good strikeout numbers. His left arm is much needed in that pen, and in his last year of arbitration I can see him making close to $3 million.
Service time: 3 years, 139 days
2022 salary: $2.55 million
2022 numbers: .227/.281/.273, 480 PA, 1.2 fWAR
2023 salary estimate: $3.4 million
Lopez lost his case last year, asking for $2.95 million after a career season, but ending up with $2.55 million. “The whole process kind of stinks,” he said afterward, illustrating why teams and clubs prefer to avoid a hearing. He regressed badly this year at the plate, but was still a solid defender and has some value, and should get around $3 million.
Service time: 2 years, 156 days
2022 salary: $726,250
2022 numbers: 3.23 ERA/3.58 FIP, 153.1 IP, 2.9 fWAR
2023 salary estimate: $2.9 million
Well there’s an opportunity here for some sort of long-term deal for Singer, who is eligible for arbitration for the first time. His demotion at the beginning of last season also pushed back his free agency to after the 2026 season. So would he be open to a six-year deal? If not, after a breakout season, he seems well worth the $3 million or so he will get through arbitration.
Service time: 3 years, 72 days
2022 salary: $728,000
2022 numbers: 6.45 ERA/4.25 FIP, 37.2 IP, 0.1 fWAR
2023 salary estimate: $1 million
Staumont enters arbitration coming off a disappointing, injury-filled season. He’ll get around $1 million with the hopes he can bounce back to his flame-throwing self in 2023.