Pondering the Rays Pending Tender Decisions
This is one of those times that Major League Baseball players who are within the salary arbitration process either dread or look forward to with glee. It is the time that their clubs either shower them with confidence and acknowledgment Spring. The Tampa Bay Rays are no different, they will have to decide within the next 24 hour period who is worthy, and who has put on a Rays jersey for the last time.
You might think the process is easy, but with 6 players et to enter the arbitration pressure cooker in this 2011 off-season, I truly think only half of this group which includes LHP David Price, CF B J Upton, RP Joel Peralta, RP/SP Andy Sonnanstine, SP Jeff Niemann and former closer J P Howell can rest easy.
Two of this group could be non-tendered on Monday, while a third could possibly be tendered with a quick resolve to trade them before the arbitration process unfolds this Spring. Only Peralta seems on completely sturdy ground with an impressive 2011 campaign, and an estimated $ 2 million arbitration salary. A great set-up man like Peralta would easily set the Rays back possibly double what Peralta could get in arbitration, and that makes him a safe bet to be with the team this Spring.
Instantly members of the Rays Republic will be scratching their heads wondering if I had taken a hallucinogenic or have lost my friggin’ mind because I did not include the Rays ace, Price in this category. I would think the team is already in closed-door discussions with Price and his agent possibly trying ti iron out an extension, or possibly a viable financial situation that would keep both Price and the Rays smiling beyond his arbitration years.
Price has always been a “team-oriented” player, and if he and the Rays can come together on an extension, then we could see Price blossom in a Rays jersey for a long time. If not, some team would unload their farm system for a guy who is still evolving and is a left-hander. With an estimated $ 7.8 million salary for casted via arbitration for Price, without some sort of unilateral agreement between himself and the Rays, his future will become cloudy within the next 2 seasons, which would be a shame for both sides.
B J Upton is another guy who could easily vault past the $ 7.5 million hurdle with estimates ranging from $7.4-7.6 million for the Rays versatile CF. Upton is one of two players currently in the Rays arbitration process who could see himself being offered arbitration, and possibly be dealt before the team reports to Spring Training in Port Charlotte, Florida in mid-February. Still, Upton has the unique distinction of being “affordable” by Center fielder’s price points, but with several emerging candidates, including Sam Fuld or Desmond Jennings already bursting through on the MLB level, Upton has to feel he is not on stable footing.
The other player who could have pulled on a Rays uniform for the last time is RHP Jeff Niemann. Even though Niemann could only cost an affordable $ 3.1 million through arbitration, the Rays have a budding stable of pitching ponies behind the Tall Texan, and his health concerns and in juries over the past two seasons could make him an instant trade candidate and the least likely player to still be with the team this Spring.
Even though the other “silent assassin”, Wade David is also being mentioned in trades chatter, Davis has an extended contract with the Rays already in hand and that makes his situation more stable compared to Niemann. The Rays could still offer arbitration to Niemann knowing they will also explore trade situations and possibly use his salary arbitration as a key point in their trade talks, maybe even including a minor league prospect or money to another team to take Niemann.
So far on the arbitration forefront we have seen a “sure thing” and another arbitration eligible player who can be included in that category, but who might become expensive in the next 2 years. Also we have explored 2 players who might be on the top shelf of trade chatter, and who could even with salary arbitration attached to them be dealt even before their Spring hearings. Also to consider either of these 2 players could also be involved in a sign and trade situation giving their new squad a bit of financial relief, Niemann seems to be the one definite player on the cusp, but he has value on the trade front, so arbitration might be in the cards on Monday for Niemann.
There are still two player who might have pulled on their Rays uniforms for the last time, and it hurts me that both are baseball friends of mine. Both of these guys have sweat bullets for the team and been “company men” for the Rays enduring heartaches, surgeries and even unexpected trips away from the Rays that might have secured their destiny.
Andy Sonnanstine has done everything ever asked of him by the Rays, but with most of the 2011 season in “arbitration purgatory” with the Triple-A Durham Bulls, Sonny might be an easy candidate for the Rays to non-tender. This is a guy who has been comical, serious and multi-dimensional his entire Rays career, but with the current young guns pushing the ceiling for a shot in the majors, Sonny might be expendable. Even his affordable $1.1 million arbitration estimate might be more than the Rays would be willing to fork over for middle-of-the-road starter/reliever with the huge surplus of young talent on the cusp of being MLB ready.
This pains me, but LHP J P Howell took a huge step backwards in 2011, and that could cost him more than money. Sure he was trying to get back into the seasonal flow coming back into the Rays Bullpen towards the middle of the season, but his numbers and velocity took a tumble even with his mechanics at times plaguing his performance. His favor is an affordable $ 1.4 million estimate for his arbitration, and that could possibly push him over the hump and get an arbitration offer from the team.
But you have to consider Howell has stiff competition this Spring with fellow southpaws’ Jake McGee and Cesar Ramos again manning the hill for the Rays. It might come down to the intangibles like leadership, potential and if Howell can regain his velocity and trickery in 2012. You have to think an entire off-season to prep and regain his command and composure would benefit Howell, but could it be too late to impress the Rays brass that he will come back stronger in 2012.
I would love to see all 6 eligible players get a chance to go through the arbitration process for the Rays this Spring, but the numbers might not support such a move. With an early estimated $ 52.1 million payroll for 2012 with arbitration eligible figures included, that poses a 27 percent raise in the Rays payroll projections, and possibly 11 players topping the $1 million salary mark for 2012, any of these 6 arbitration eligible players could be gone to further lower the projected payroll before a single free agent to signed.
This is a critical year for the Rays with the Boston Red Sox’s recent contemplation of staying under the luxury tax threshold in 2012, and the possible addition of a second American League Wild Card spot anticipated, and all financial decisions on Monday could play into the Rays final position come the end of September. The arbitration process has a way of being cruel or kind depending on your position at the end of the day, but it is a viable way for teams to keep themselves solvent and reduce personnel during the off-season.
Peralta, Price and Upton should be on terra firma on Monday while Sonnanstine and Howell might be chin-deep in a puddle of quicksand without any rope or long branches to save them. Still, the one player who might be in the most vicarious position might be the 6′ 9” Niemann. He has the ability but not the sustained health for the Rays to confidently say without a hint of remorse he should get an arbitration hearing. Niemann will certainly get a hearing, but it might be a precursor to his eventual trade from the Rays.
No matter what happens on Monday, these 6 players have brought instances of joy and memorable events to all of us in the Rays Republic and I hope not matter what the outcome they know they will always be Rays in our eyes. Thank goodness the Rays do not have upwards of 10+ arbitration decisions that teams like the San Francisco Giants (13), Oakland Athletics (10), San Diego Padres (11) and Red Sox (10) on Monday. Those arbitration decisions could dissect half of their roster in one day. Talk about a stressful day.