The oblique strain that currently has Toronto Blue Jays centre fielder Colby Rasmus on the disabled list will limit his 2014 earnings significantly.
Arbitration-eligible for the third and final time this winter, Rasmus will earn a raise from his current $4.68 million salary. The increase just won’t be as large as the one he appeared to be headed for earlier in the summer.
Now that there’s a good chance Rasmus’ year is over, the results are in, and it’s possible to estimate his 2014 earnings with increased certainty.
With the assistance of five agents and MLB team executives experienced in the arbitration process, Sportsnet examined comparables for Rasmus and determined that he’s still on track to earn more than $6 million in 2014. Here’s a closer look, including an estimate of how high his salary could go:
The Blue Jays control Rasmus’ rights for one more season before he’s eligible for free agency. The 27-year-old’s 2014 salary will be determined by the arbitration process, a decades-old system put in place to reward players with significant MLB experience.
Arbitrators -- legal professionals who may or may not follow baseball -- tend to value traditional statistics such as innings pitched and home runs. Advanced stats, on the other hand, have limited use in arbitration hearings. Good luck explaining wins above replacement or UZR to arbitrators in the span of a couple hours with millions on the line.
Comparable players are essential to the arbitration process. Rasmus will be measured against other position players who went to arbitration with similar service time and offensive numbers in recent years. Recent comparables matter most, and that includes other players going to arbitration this winter.
In recent years, the Blue Jays have operated as a "file and trial" team, which means they don’t settle between the date on which teams and players exchange filing numbers and the date of a scheduled hearing.
This policy tends to affect filing numbers, drawing the sides closer to the midpoint. Either side could be forced to justify its position in front of a panel, and nobody wants to position themselves unreasonably, as final-offer arbitration panels select one side’s number while dismissing the other.
Rasmus, a client of Excel Sports Management’s Casey Close, will show that he added value with his bat and (to the extent that it's possible) his glove. Excel will compare him to players who obtained substantial raises to show that Rasmus should get a similar bump.
If Rasmus doesn’t return to the field in the remaining three weeks of the season, his 2013 numbers will not change: 18 home runs, 60 runs batted in and a .273 batting average in 439 plate appearances and 112 games. He also plays centre field, which generally provides him with an advantage relative to corner outfielders or first basemen in the eyes of arbitrators.
To obtain a raise of more than $2 million, Rasmus could point to the recent cases of players such as David Murphy and Carlos Quentin. While each of those players got more playing time than Rasmus in their respective platform seasons, they posted relatively similar power numbers on their way to raises of at least $1.975 million.
But they don’t have massive playing time advantages over Rasmus, and unlike the Columbus, Ga., native, Murphy and Quentin were not their teams’ primary centre fielders. Furthermore, salary inflation has taken place since Quentin rebounded from a season-ending injury of his own to obtain a raise of close to $2 million.
Rasmus' 2013 power and position should separate him from players such as Josh Willingham, who obtained raises in the $1.4-million range in recent years following roughly comparable seasons.
It’s difficult to envision a raise of less than $1.4 million for Rasmus, and that would push his salary to $6.1 million or more. He could reasonably file for a salary of $6.7 million, and he’ll presumably file at a higher figure. The specific filing number submitted by Close would depend on the tenor of talks with the Blue Jays and Rasmus’ tolerance for risk.
While advanced stats value Rasmus highly, his 120 OPS+ and 4.0 wins above replacement wouldn't provide him with much of an advantage in front of a panel of arbitrators.
THE TEAM’S ARGUMENT
Playing time plays a significant role in determining the salaries of arbitration-eligible players, and manager John Gibbons has said Rasmus may not return from the disabled list this year.
Multiple people experienced in the arbitration process said finishing the season on the disabled list limits a player’s earning potential considerably. Stats such as plate appearances and innings pitched correlate closely with arbitration earnings year after year.
Arbitrators spend most of their time resolving disputes in other industries, where an employee’s history of showing up for work is of paramount importance. In baseball, completing innings and logging plate appearances approximates "punching the clock" as an auto worker or flight attendant.
Shin-Soo Choo’s $2.475-million raise from 2012-13 would not be attainable by Rasmus in the view of those in the industry. Choo's massive edge in playing time -- 247 more platform-year plate appearances -- was viewed as too much of an obstacle for Rasmus to overcome.
Similarly, B.J. Upton's case could help the Blue Jays limit Rasmus' raise. After a season in which Upton hit 23 home runs with 81 RBIs in 640 plate appearances in centre field, his salary rose from $4.825 million to $7 million, an increase of $2.175 million. It could be a challenge for Rasmus to argue that he should enjoy a similar boost since Upton has a playing-time edge and an advantage in terms of platform-year power while playing the same position.
Instead, the team could bring names such as Willingham and Cody Ross into the discussion to argue that Rasmus has earned a raise of less than $2 million.
The Blue Jays could also look to extend Rasmus beyond 2014 in an attempt to prevent him from hitting free agency a year from now. In that scenario, Rasmus’ 2014 salary wouldn’t necessarily be determined according to the guidelines regulating the arbitration process.
Based on the insights of those experienced in the arbitration process, it would be difficult for the Blue Jays to justify a salary of less than $6.1 million. Rasmus has a case for a salary in the $6.7-million range, or perhaps a little higher.
There appears to be a strong possibility that Rasmus' representation will file above $7 million, assuming the sides exchange figures. If a trial occurs, there's no predicting who will win.
So even though Rasmus missed the chance for a massive raise by spending so much time on the disabled list, he’ll still do well for himself when he goes through the arbitration process for the final time before hitting free agency.