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Arbitration case: Brennan Boesch should get over $ 2 million despite terrible season.

Brennan Boesch was arguably the worst outfielder in the American League in 2012, yet he stands to get a $ 2 million salary in 2013. How does this work?

Brennan Boesch stands to get $ 2 million despite a poor season in 2012
Brennan Boesch stands to get $ 2 million despite a poor season in 2012
Leon Halip

The Tigers drafted Brennan Boesch in the third round of the June, 2006 draft out of the University of California. He moved up through the organization steadily from rookie league in 2006, to Low-A West Michigan in 2007, High-A Lakeland in 2008, Double-A Erie in 2009 where he had a breakout season. Boesch began the 2010 season at Triple-A Toledo and was called up to Detroit after just 15 games. He has been a major leaguer ever since.

Boesch burst onto the major league scene in 2010, hitting .392 with a dozen homers, 49 RBI, and an OPS of .990 before the All Star break. But then, he cooled off rapidly, hitting just .163 with an OPS of .459 in 220 at bats after the break. Despite the second half swoon, he finished fifth in the voting for Rookie of the Year, leading all AL rookies in home runs and RBI, and he qualified for the batting title. The only other rookie to qualify that season was Austin Jackson.

2011 was a remarkably similar season for Boesch. He hit .306 with an OPS of .850 before the break, then got ice cold, hitting just .219 with a .656 OPS after the break. He finished the season on the disabled list but came within 30 plate appearances of qualifying for the batting title once again. There was no question that Boesch was a full time major league player, despite the inconsistency.

Boesch began the 2012 season as the Tigers’ every day right fielder. However, he didn’t set the world on fire either to start or to finish the season. He hit .243 before the break and just .237 after. He showed some sporadic power with a dozen home runs, and he logged 503 plate appearances, once again qualifying for the batting title. Boesch again was left off the playoff roster as his performance dropped to below replacement level. Worse yet, any progress he had made in the field during the previous season was noticeably absent in 2012.

Boesch entered the off season as a candidate to be non tendered. He has three years of major league service time, is eligible for arbitration for the first time, and the projection is that he will receive about $ 2.1 million. The Tigers chose to release Don Kelly and Ryan Raburn, two others that were eligible for arbitration, but not Boesch. The tease of two half seasons of all star level performance at the plate was too good to give up on, and they tendered a contract to Boesch.

Until a player is eligible for arbitration, the vast majority of players receive at or near the major league minimum salary of $490,000 while in the major leagues, and a minor league salary while in the minors.

We covered the criteria that is used to determine player salaries in arbitration in the first article in this series. Boesch will be compared to other outfielders with the same amount of service time. The arbitration panel would look at what players who have three years of service time received in their first year of arbitration eligibility.

I’ve researched a bit and come up with the following comps.

Garrett Jones Pirates 2.158 2012 $ 2.25 M
Dexter Fowler Rockies 2.168 2012 $ 2.35 M
Colby Rasmus Blue Jays 3.000 2012 $ 2.70 M
Emilio Bonafacio Marlins 3.066 2012 $ 2.20 M
Brett Gardner Yankees 3.072 2012 $ 2.80 M
Donnie Murphy Marlins 3.075 2012 $ 0.56 M
Nate Schierholtz Giants 3.078 2012 $ 1.30 M
Seth Smith Rockies 3.119 2012 $ 2.42 M
Nyjer Morgan Brewers 3.120 2012 $ 2.35 M
Adam Jones Orioles 3.139 2011 $ 3.25 M
Andres Torres Giants 3.115 2011 $ 2.10 M
Hunter Pence Astros 2.156 2010 $ 3.50 M
BJ Upton Rays 3.126 2010 $ 3.00 M

When reading the service time in the above chart, the number 3.120 for Morgan, for example, means that he was on the major league roster for three full seasons, plus 120 days. Garrett Jones was on the roster for two full seasons plus 158 days, which is enough for him to qualify as a "super two" arbitration eligible player. Fowler and Pence also qualified as super twos in their first season of eligibility.

Each season, there are a just few outfielders who are arbitration eligible that get to the point where the player and club exchange figures. Several of the players listed above came to an agreement before numbers were exchanged. Others exchanged figures and then came to an agreement. One case actually went to a hearing with an outfielder in his first year of eligibility. That was BJ Upton in 2010, who wanted $ 3.3 million but was awarded the club’s offer of $ 3.0 million.

Note that each player on the list with the exceptions of Murphy and Schierholtz received salaries in excess of $ 2 million. Those two players are, or were part time players. Schierholtz logged 335 AB’s in the season before his first year of eligibility, while Murphy never topped 150 at bats in any season.

So, when Boesch is estimated at $ 2.1 million, that represents the lower end of the scale for a full time outfielder. Despite his struggles at the plate in 2012, he was a full time player, and that is an indication of how valuable the team views him.

When it came time for the Tigers to make a decision on whether to tender a contract to Boesch, they obviously felt that his two super half seasons were no fluke, and he has the potential to repeat those numbers. Many if not most Tiger fans are skeptical of that at this point, and most clubs probably would not have spent $ 2 million to find out.

There has been much talk of trading Boesch, since the Tigers have signed Torii Hunter to play right field, and they have Andy Dirks in left with Avisail Garcia and Nick Castellanos knocking on the door. There have been reports that the Seattle Mariners are interested in Boesch.

If the Tigers did trade Boesch, they should probably not expect to get much in return. Despite the fact that he has been a full timer the past three seasons, he has large gaps in his swing and in his defense. If he is even worth the money he will be paid, he certainly doesn’t have much more value than that. He has little or no "surplus value" in his contract. He might bring a part time player or a prospect from a team that likes his potential.

The Tigers will have the option of cutting their losses with Boesch and paying just a portion of his salary this spring if he doesn’t show signs of improvement in spring training. The best scenario is that he consistently hits like he did during the first half of the season in 2010 and 2011. In that case, he will be well worth his contract, and much more in the future.

Next: Max Scherzer