Marlins Arbitration: Possible Non-Tender Candidates

This is the first part of my four-part arbitration preview, and it’s the saddest group for me. Every single guy here brings something likable to the table, and they’re all the type of underperforming journeyman player that you almost have to root for.

The reason the group is sad for me is because there’s a better than even shot that each of these guys will not be offered contracts this offseason, and will be looking for minor league deals or Spring Training invites come February.

However, baseball is, obviously, a business, and you can’t afford to be sentimental, even with the payroll expected to possibly go up by $25 million next year. The Marlins still need to be smart about payroll, and take advantage of the ways the structure of the game lets them artificially deflate player salaries.

Clay Hensley (Year 2):

Clay Hensley really hasn’t pitched very much for a 32-year old former starter, with just 466 innings to his name; mostly as a result of him being moved back and forth between the bullpen and starting during his time in San Diego because of his inconsistencies.

He floated between slightly above average in 2006, with a 109 ERA+ over 187 innings, and sub-replacement level the next year, with a 59 ERA+ in 50 innings. His career with the Padres ended after another ugly season in 2008, and he was signed by the Marlins as a free agent in 2009, after the Astros cut him, and he spent all of 2009 pitching with the Marlins’ AAA affiliate, with predictably pedestrian results.

However, in 2009, he made a strong run at a starting spot in spring training, and settled in as the Marlins’ set up man, upping his strikeouts to more than a batter per inning, improving his control to about average levels, and remaining typically stingy with the long ball. He even stepped into the closer’s role at the end of the season, and Leo Nunez suffered from ineffectiveness, and his fiery demeanor seemed classically well tuned to the short burst pitching the late innings demand.

His effectiveness continued into the 2010 campaign, with a 3.07 ERA over the season’s first two months. However, two DL stints derailed things, and by the time he was ready to return from shoulder soreness in July, the Marlins had lost Josh Johnson, so Hensley was tapped to step into the rotation.

Forty-two innings later, he had a 6.21 ERA later (and that was with a .254 BABIP! Yikes,) and the Marlins moved him back to the bullpen, where he settled down and put together a pretty good run, giving up runs in only two of his final 8 outings.

Because of his inconsistencies and injuries, not to mention the shuffling between roles, he’s a tough one to find comps for.

Hensley has thrown 466 IP, and a 102 ERA+, or just slightly above average, with roughly 23% of his appearances coming as a reliever.

Probably the best comp in terms of performance would be Carlos Villanueva, who has thrown 532 IP with a 100 ERA+, with about 13% of his appearances coming out of the pen.

Other decent comps include JC Romero, Ron Mahay, and Shawn Camp, however there simply aren’t a lot of active pitchers who have followed his type of career path, and each of the pitchers mentioned have received somewhere between $500,000 and $600,000 less than Hensley during their first arbitration year, due to the fact that he was so very excellent in 2010, receiving a $1.4 million contract.

In the absence of reasonable comps, it’s always a good idea to go with the 20/40/60 rate, which says that, as a general rule of thumb, the player generally gets 20% of what he would in free agency during his first arbitration year, 40% during his second, and 60% during his third. Given this, Hensley was considered a roughly $7 million dollar player on the open market following his 2010 season. Obviously, this is a very rough way of looking at it, but as I said, I didn’t find many comps for Hensley.

Teams are generally willing to pay $4 million or so for an additional Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in free agency, so Hensley was valued as a 1.4 WAR player, while he provided 2.4 Baseball-Reference WAR (rWAR) in his 2010. However, saw a bounce back (or bounce-down, I suppose) to -.2 rWAR, so it works out to 1.1 WAR per year.

That 1.1 WAR per year number sounds good to me, and strikes a nice balance between the 2010 and 2011 years, so I feel comfortable slotting him in as a $5.5 million player in free agency. Take 40% of that, and you’ve got $1.8 million.

In all honesty, this being the first estimate I’ve done, I’m a little upset about the lack of good comps, leading to a very unscientific process. I’ll try to do better.

But you know what? 

$1.8 million feels pretty good to me, though I’d expect Clay’s agent to try for something closer to $2.2. I’d say they’d settle around $2 million, more or less.

However, given that the bullpen basically has five spots penciled in with young, cost-controlled flamethrowers who performed pretty well this year, there’s the possibility that the team may not even choose to pursue this process with Clay.

They already designated Brian Sanches, another arbitration eligible reliever, and it wouldn’t be a total shock to see them non-tender Hensley, rather than risk going to arbitration. His upside is moderate, and he doesn’t represent a true veteran presence at the back end of the bullpen that the team might be willing to pay something of a premium for.

I think, more likely than not, he’s going to be non-tendered. He was entertaining to watch on the mound: A skinny little ball of kinetic energy and anger, not unlike another former Marlin reliever, Byung-Hyun Kim.

But relievers are the most fungible asset in baseball, and there’s no reason to pay a couple of million for a guy without an excellent track record, who is on the wrong side of 30.

He’ll catch on somewhere, though. Maybe he channels 2010 and can be a fire-man in the back of a contender’s bullpen for a couple of years, and it turns out to bite the Marlins. Or it may turn out, like the Joe Nelson situation before, to be the best move the team could make. Either way, he likely won’t be back.

John Baker (Year 1):

Oh, John Baker. I am a fan. You just seem like a good dude, and I’ve followed baseball long enough to know that the guy who the reporters go to for quotes* is usually the smartest guy on the team, and that was always you. As someone who has covered sports before, I appreciate your ability to string together three sentences without tossing in five "You know’s" and an "It is what it is."

 

*Unless they’re looking for an older "plays the game the right way" type of guy to rip one of his young teammates, then they just go for Wes Helms.

 

I might get misty eyes during this one, so excuse any typos as the expression of my respect for the man who goes by @ManBearWolf on Twitter, is gregarious with fans, trains by doing MMA in the offseason, used to keep up a blog (HE'S JUST LIKE US!), and wears the number 21 in honor of Robert Clemente, a legend of my father’s hometown, Pittsburgh, and my mother’s home island, Puerto Rico.(Editor's note: Chris does not apologize for the run-on sentence, mostly because he's weeping right now. Don't blame him, Baker is good guy. -MJ) What a guy.

So it does pain me to even consider you as a non-tender candidate. If I had my way, I’d give you the Wes Helms treatment: $900k per year just to stick around in the clubhouse and make me feel better about the state of modern athletics.

You were once a member of a platoon that couldn’t play a lick of defense collectively but nonetheless mashed it’s way to a top-10 MLB catcher OPS, but injuries have gotten in the way over the last two years, and now questions abound about whether your Tommy John’s reconstructed elbow can even get to the meager 19% CS% you were at pre-injury.

But you’ve got a sweet, left-handed swing, a good approach at the plate, and the perfect offensive complement to John Buck, a free swinging right hander (who, to his credit, drastically improved his approach last year), who probably needs to be shielded from some of the tougher righties in the league.

John Buck’s career splits, look like this: vs LHP, .765. vs RHP, .698.

Baker’s: vs LHP, .599. vs. RHP, .782.

Offensively, it makes a lot of sense to keep Baker around to start twice a week against tough right handers and give Buck a day off, while serving as an excellent LHB off the bench, but Baker’s looking at some sort of salary increase here, which might be enough to give Brett Hayes (Let me say: YUCK) the inside track.

Baker spent basically one third of his service time, if not more, on the 60-day DL over the last year and a half, so it’ll be tough to find comparables. In terms of just production and playing time, Ryan Hanigan provides a pretty good comp:

 

80 more PAs through three full time seasons, with a dead average 100 OPS+; 14 HRs, 82 RBI, and a good approach at the plate.

Baker’s got a 99 OPS+, 14 HR, and 89 RBI, with a slightly lesser approach, but still very good.

 

It’s not perfect; Hanigan doesn’t have the injury concerns, and he’s sitting at 35% CS to Baker’s 19%, but it’s pretty close.

Hanigan signed a three year, four million dollar deal prior to his 3rd club controlled year; so he’s due to make $1.2 millon in what would be his first year of arbitration. Baker, for a number of reasons, won’t come anywhere close to that, but it’s a view of what could have been, if not for a balky elbow that torpedoed his ’10 campaign and left him unable to throw for much of ’11.

How much does Baker lose because of his injury? I’d say it’s reasonable to cut Hanigan’s in half, and go down from there. If the Marlins even tender him a contract, it won’t be for more than $600,000.

I would say John Baker, sadly, is a very strong non-tender candidate. But, unlike Clay, I think there’s a very strong chance he comes back to the organization as a non-roster Spring Training invitee, with a shot to fill the Ross Gload, Luis Gonzalez, Greg Dobbs, roaming veteran-LHB-bench-player-for-hire roll that always seems to work out so well. The luxury of carrying a third catcher who just so happens to hit the crap out of right-handed pitching is too much to turn down, and he makes the team.

That may be wishful thinking on my part, though.

Donnie Murphy (Year 1):

Hard to believe Donnie Murphy is arbitration eligible already. Author of some magical clutch moments in 2010, his 2011 was a disaster, sunk early by a wrist injury from last year that never quite healed, with the help of a hit by pitch in the first series of the season.

Donnie was a fan favorite for a little while, but with just 511 PAs over parts of six seasons, there’s really not much to go on here as far as comps, and quite honestly, it’s not worth looking at. He’s an obvious non-tender candidate.

He’s put up a career .792 OPS in the minors, including an .864 mark at the highest level, AAA, and he may be able to put it together at some point and become the role player/occasional fill-in the Marlins envisioned over the last two years before injuries blew any chances of that happening. The .555 OPS he put up last year over 100 PAs just about cements his status as a non-tender candidate.

He is 29 on opening day of next season, and there’s no way the team is risking guaranteed money on this. He may get a ST shot again, but there’s a good chance we’ve seen the last of Donnie ‘Bleepin’’ Murphy in a Marlins uniform.

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