With a bullpen that has been below the league average for almost a decade, on a team that has won four consecutive division titles, Al Alburquerque is becoming a familiar name among the Detroit Tigers’ fan base. 2015 will be the fourth season in the major leagues for Alburquerque, all with Detroit.
The hard-throwing right-handed relief pitcher, affectionately known as "Al Al," has slowly but surely worked his way into a prominent role in the Tigers bullpen. At this point he has to be considered a lock to make the team, barring a horrendous Spring Training this year. Alburquerque’s 72 appearances were the most among Detroit pitchers in 2014, and he led all Tigers’ relief pitchers in strikeouts and ERA.
After leading all American League relief pitchers in both strikeouts and walks-per-nine innings in 2013, Alburquerque cut his walk rate almost in half while striking out almost 10 batters-per-nine frames in 2014. More importantly for arbitration purposes, he now has accrued 3.147 years of major league service time, making him eligible for arbitration.
Alburquerque qualified for arbitration for the first time last year as a "super two" exception. His two years and 147 days on a major league roster, including much of the 2012 season (which he spent on the disabled list), were enough to get him a salary of $837,500 for the 2014 season. He returns this season in the class with those between three and four years of service time, but with a higher base salary going in.
MLBTR’s Matt Swartz has projected a salary of $1.7 million for Alburquerque next season. That would reflect his status as a three-to-four year player, his previous salary, and his status as a full-time relief pitcher who is not a closer. Aroldis Chapman of the Cincinnati Reds earned a salary of $5 million in 2014 in his fourth season, but he is a closer and was not "super two" eligible the previous season. Likewise, Greg Holland of the Kansas City Royals and Kenley Jansen of the Los Angeles Dodgers, both closers who earned $4.7 million and $4.3 million, respectively, would not be good comparisons for Alburquerque.
Following is a partial list of relief pitchers who were not closers, with between three and four years of major league service time to start the 2014 season, and their salaries.
|Player||Service Time||2014 Salary|
|Brian Matusz||3.156||$ 2.4 million|
|Jordan Walden||3.043||1.49 M|
|Aaron Crow||3.00||1.475 M|
|Kevin Jepsen||3.163||1.462 M|
|Michael Dunn||3.09||1.4 M|
|Mark Rzepcynski||3.132||1.375 M|
|Tim Collins||3.0||1.363 M|
|Junihchi Tazawa||3.086||1.275 M|
|Troy Patton||3.150||1.275 M|
|Anthony Swarzak||3.038||0.935 M|
|Fernandon Salas||3.048||0.870 M|
At the top of the scale, we find the Orioles’ Brian Matusz, who was "super two" eligible the previous season. He earned a salary of $1.6 million, having been a starter for part of the previous season and he was a former first-round draft pick who had a major league contract to begin his career. The $800,000.00 raise that he received for his fourth season as a reliever is in-line with the projected increase next season for Alburquerque.
Looking at the remaining pitchers on the list, there are a few who were "super two" eligible in the previous season. Rzepcynski and Walden struggled and were traded during the previous season. Most of the others on the list were not "super two" eligible, so they were entering their first season of arbitration eligibility having earned near the major league minimum in the previous season.
Alburquerque would then be near the top of the scale for relief pitchers who are not closers, with three to four years of service time. Given his importance to the Tigers in 2015, that would seem to be appropriate.