In a move that is just a mere formailty for Rick Porcello, yet likely to be one of the last of its kind in Major League baseball, the Tigers' starting pitcher has decided to exercise an escape clause on an option for the 2012 season that would have paid him $ 1.344 million for the season. Opting for arbitration, he stands to make closer to $ 4.25 million, based on comparable salaries of pitchers with similar experience and performance levels.
The Tigers drafted Porcello with the 27th pick in the 2007 draft out of Seton Hall Prep High School in New Jersey, and signed him to a major league contract that included a signing bonus of $3.58 million, plus salaries of $380k for 2007, and just over $1 million for each of the 2008, 2009 and 2010 seasons. The deal also included a club option for 2011 at $ 1.536 million, which the Tigers exercised without hesitation. Those salaries netted the Tigers starter almost $3 million above the major and minor league standard fare for those seasons.
Porcello's contract drew some interest at the time it was signed, not only because Porcello was the most highly rated high school pitcher in that year's draft. A key issue was that the Tigers went way over Commissioner Bud Selig's slot recommendation, which drew the ire of the Commissioner's Office. Selig was attempting to limit the amount of bonuses given to newly drafted players.
The fact that Porcello was given a major league contract guaranteed that the pitcher would be in line much sooner for the big dollars that players can get through arbitration after three years of major league service, and through free agency after six years of service in the major leagues. He also began burning up his "option years" right away, which put him on the fast track to the majors.
There won't be any more major league contracts given to amateur draft choices, as the new collective bargaining agreement between the players and owners expressly prohibits such contracts. We also won't be seeing the kind of bonuses or salaries given out that were given to Porcello, as clubs will now be subject to very strict penalties for paying players bonuses above the amounts that will be set for each club.Although the Tigers exercised the 2012 option, the contract contained an escape clause that allowed Porcello to choose arbitration in the event that he was eligible at the time, which he is. Porcello has accrued two years plus 170 days on the major league roster, just shy of the three year mark, but enough to qualify as a "super two" player. The minimum requirement for arbitration this off season is two years and 146 days. In fact, Porcello has accrued the greatest amount of service time of any of the "super two" players that are eligible for arbitration in 2012.
Being eligible for arbitration is, of course, good news for Porcello. But the good news for the Tigers is that their young pitcher will not accrue six years of service time until after the 2015 season, meaning that he will be under "club control" for four more seasons. Had he not been sent down to the minors twice briefly during his time with the Tigers, he would have been eligible for free agency a year sooner as I explained in this article.
Porcello joins Max Scherzer, Delmon Young, Phil Coke, and Don Kelly as arbitration eligible players this winter. Young is eligible for the third and final time, while this will be the first year of eligibility for the others. Kelly and former Tiger Ryan Perry were also eligible as "super two" players.
Players and clubs have until January 18 to exchange proposed salary figures with each other, and hearings will be tentatively scheduled for February. If the two sides do not agree on salary terms, a three member arbitration panel will choose one number or the other, and the player will be on a one-year contract for that amount. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski has a perfect record of avoiding arbitration, as he has managed to reach an agreement with every player that has been eligible for arbitration during his tenure in Detroit.