The Tampa Bay Rays have an outstanding asset in center fielder Kevin Kiermaier. For the past three seasons, he has proven one of the more valuable players in the game. It came as a surprise on Tuesday, when Kiermaier sold his first three years of free agency to the Rays in exchange for a six-year, $53.5 million contract. Then again, this is the sort of thing that the Rays do.
The Rays don’t like free agency. From Carl Crawford to Chris Archer, the Rays have managed to compete by managing player service time to squeeze an extra year of team control from their players. In addition, they’ve aggressively offered inexpensive long-term extensions, and managed to get future stars to accept them before their true worth was realized. All this is well and good for the Rays, one of MLB’s least profitable franchises.
However, the implications of the deal shed a lot of unfriendly light on baseball’s arbitration process. Over the last three seasons, Kiermaier has been worth a total of 13.1 fWAR. He’s basically a four WAR player, and his bat continues to show signs of improvement. Yet earlier this offseason, he had to agree to a 2017 salary of $2.975 million in arbitration. As Dave Cameron of FanGraphs points out, that’s over a half million less than the Texas Rangers’ closer, Sam Dyson, received in his first arbitration year. The problem? Saves are valued in the arbitration process. Defense is not.
Cameron makes a compelling case that one of the key places the players’ union is failing its players, is in allowing arbitration valuations to stay far behind the times. While teams have increasing found value in defense, and in multi-use relievers like Dellin Betances or Andrew Miller, the arbitration process and its precedents have lagged woefully behind. Thus two of the best relievers in the game would be valued less than a closer, because saves are a valuable factor in arbitration. Defensive runs saved, is not.
On the other end of the players’ side, teams are trending toward developing and playing their prospects earlier. Veteran free agents, particularly guys who no longer play solid defense, just aren’t getting as many big contracts. The change hasn’t been dramatic yet, but if teams are able to get more out of cheap, young players, careers are going to end earlier too.
Kiermaier probably didn’t do too badly for himself here. He’s 26 already, and defensive ability, particularly playing on a surface in Tampa Bay with a reputation for wearing on outfielders’ legs, doesn’t hold up the way hitting does. By the time he would reach free agency, its possible that Kiermaier’s overall value will be much diminished. But he’ll also never really be paid for his defense.
The arbitration agreement raises another issue for Tony Clark, Executive Director of the player’s union. Clark has already faced questions about the players’ declining overall share of revenue. Kiermaier’s case illustrates another weak point, where union leadership, having ratified a new five year CBA, may find themselves in hot water with its members in the years to come.
Pitching faster isn’t pitching better
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is looking for every edge in shortening the length of baseball games. Obviously the simplest solution is for the players to just, play the game faster.
And of course there’s a theory that there’s less time for paralysis by analysis on the mound if a pitcher works quickly. Or, that working quickly improves team defense by keeping the position players on their toes. Ben Lindbergh of the Ringer does a pretty solid job illustrating that, whatever the merits of faster games, pitcher success isn’t going to be one of them.
Joe Jimenez is happy with the way his slider is coming along. So are we, Joe.
I think the slider is getting better. What you think? pic.twitter.com/TyJ9hBMLms— Joe Jiménez (@JAJimenez27) March 15, 2017
Justin Verlander got his reflexes from his mom.
And finally Nick Castellanos...baseball player.
Odds and Ends
The Wall Street Journal has a fine article on the rise of the hitting guru. FanGraphs has an interesting piece on pitch lineages and the way good pitchers pass on their knowledge, using the Rays as the subject. Kate Preusser muses on the futility of it all, meaning spring training of course. And Baseball Prospectus uses a bunch of nerd speak to damn the Tigers’ season and immediate future. Finally, Cardinals’ manager, Mike Matheny, has a side job breaking in new gloves.