When the Miami Marlins formally declined their club option on Starlin Castro last week, they also reinstated four players from the 60-day IL. One of those was JT Riddle, who may have some input on what he should be paid in 2020.
Riddle is part of a group of 23 MLB players who are now eligible for salary arbitration thanks to their so-called Super Two status. As dictated by Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement, the top 22% of players between two and three years of service time are arb eligible. With this class, that cut-off was two years and 115 days of service (abbreviated as 2.115). The benefit to players is that the Super Two puts them on track for as many as four arb raises—rather than the usual three—before qualifying for free agency.
The 28-year-old Riddle, who debuted near the beginning of 2017, became the starting shortstop for the Marlins mid-way through that season when they traded Adeiny Hechavarria to the Tampa Bay Rays. While he has a career batting average of .229 and 18 career home runs in 718 plate appearances, he provides defensive value and versatility, as shown by the fact that he made 31 appearances in center field.
Injuries limited Riddle to 85 games (51 with the Marlins, 34 in the minors). His latest trip to the IL was due to a right forearm strain.
MLB Trade Rumors projects Riddle to make $900k in arbitration this offseason. His 2019 salary was $560k, so an agreement by the Jan. 10 deadline is not a high-risk move.
However, the Marlins will be bringing Miguel Rojas back next season. Rojas hit .284 in 132 games in 2019, establishing himself as a solid everyday shortstop, which is the position that Riddle has spent most of his pro career developing at. Further complicating matters, the former 13th-round draft pick is coming off his least effective offensive campaign and out of minor league options.
For the moment, there is room for Riddle on the 40-man roster. But that could change in the coming weeks as the Marlins prepare for the Rule 5 Draft. They have five openings on the roster and as many as seven key prospects worth protecting. That will force difficult decisions.
While his pay raise would be somewhat minimal, it is in the best interest of the Marlins to let Riddle have a fresh start for another organization. Keeping their next wave of young talent intact and shopping for more established infielders in free agency—such as José Iglesias, Didi Gregorius, or Howie Kendrick—will better suit their needs for 2020 and beyond.