On Thursday, Rawlings announced Javy Baez was one of three Gold Glove finalists for second base in the National League (other Cubs’ finalists included past winners Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward). I was thrilled to see that Rawlings did not punish Baez for his multi-positional prowess, and recognized that his primary position this year was second base.
Of course, the business end of the Cubs’ front office may be less thrilled. This announcement likely added between $250,000-$500,000 to Baez’s 2019 arbitration salary. If all goes Baez’s way, it will almost certainly be the higher value.
If you are unfamiliar with the arbitration process, I recommend this article for a short explanation. To summarize, players are eligible for arbitration hearings if they have at least three, but less than six, full seasons of MLB service time. Players with six years become free agents, while pre-arbitration player must accept any contract offered by their team. Baez is eligible for arbitration this year for the first time.
Players with arbitration rights may negotiate with their club for any contract that both sides are happy with. If the two sides cannot come to an agreement, the players’ salary for the year is then determined by a neutral arbitration panel through a hearing. Both the player and the team submit a single proposed salary, and the panel chooses one of the two.
These arbitration panels, however, are not made up of baseball analytic experts. For the most part, they consist of lawyers with a reasonable amount of familiarity with baseball. As such, these panelists are often not familiar with the intricacies of newer advanced metrics like UZR, bWAR, or xFIP. They tend to reward players with more old-school accomplishments: wins, home runs, saves, all-star appearances, and, of course, Gold Gloves.
For good measure, I track the Cubs payroll through 2021. Included are arbitration salary estimates for all players for each of their respective arbitration years. This sheet gets updated over the course of the season and if a player performs better than expected I increase future arbitration estimates. If they under-perform, I do the reverse.
Prior to the 2018 season, I estimated Baez would earn $3 million in 2019. When he got hot in April, that figure was increased to $3.5 million. His selection to the All-Star team added another million dollars. By late August, when the conventional wisdom began to crystallize that Baez would be an MVP finalist, I upped his arbitration estimate all the way to $6 million. I did not go higher because, (1) it was apparent by mid-September that Christian Yelich would likely beat him out for the NL MVP and, (2) it was unclear if Baez’s extensive playing time at third base and shortstop would prevent his earning Gold Glove recognition.
By being announced as a Gold Glove finalist, Baez’s estimated arbitration salary increased to $6.5 million. I believe that’s a solid estimate regardless of whether he wins or not, since simply being nominated indicates that he is one of the top defensive players at his position.
Most estimates, including my own, have the Cubs exceeding the salary cap threshold in 2019. Of course, the final numbers are still yet to be determined since there will most certainly be some offseason moves made by Theo and team. Like adding Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, or maybe even both. Nah, probably not.