An important date on the Oakland A’s offseason calendar is approaching.
That would be Dec. 2, the deadline for teams to tender contracts to their players eligible for salary arbitration. It’s worth an early look as the A’s have 10 such players to make decisions on this winter – outfielders Josh Reddick and Seth Smith, shortstop Jed Lowrie, first basemen Brandon Moss and Daric Barton, catcher John Jaso, second baseman Scott Sizemore and pitchers Jerry Blevins, Jesse Chavez and Fernando Rodriguez, a reliever who missed all of 2013 while recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery.
Arbitration-eligible players are under team control, but the A’s must tender contracts to these players by Dec. 2 or they become free agents. Once contracts are offered, teams start negotiating salaries for these players (most of the time on one-year deals) with the hope of avoiding actual arbitration hearings, which can get contentious as the player proposes a salary he thinks he’s worth, the team presents its own figure it wants to pay, and an arbitration panel chooses one or the other.
The A’s, over the years, have had great success agreeing to terms with players and avoiding arbitration. Many in this year’s group of 10 are locks to return while a couple could be cut loose. Some are intriguing just for the salary bump they’re likely to command.
How much of a pay raise, for example, is right fielder Josh Reddick due in his first year of arbitration eligibility? Reddick won a Gold Glove in 2012 and hit 32 home runs with 85 RBI that season. He was a Gold Glove finalist this past season, but his offensive production dropped to 12 homers and 56 RBI. His batting average also fell from .242 to .226.
Reddick, 26, made $510,000 this past season but he and his agent have some strong credentials to bring to the negotiating table. The website mlbtraderumors.com developed its own model for predicting arbitration salaries, and it projects a $2.2 million figure for Reddick in 2014.
Reddick, Lowrie, Moss, Jaso, Blevins and Chavez would appear certain to be tendered contracts. But Smith will be the A’s most high-priced decision.
The outfielder played an important role in the 2013 playoffs, but his playing time was squeezed in the regular season. He appeared in just 117 games and hit .253 with eight homers and 40 RBI. Mlbtraderumors.com projects the 31-year-old Smith, in his third season of arbitration, for a $4.3 million salary.
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The A’s might deem that too steep for a role player. Oakland seems to have its starting outfield set with Reddick, center fielder Coco Crisp and left fielder Yoenis Cespedes. Prospect Michael Choice will have the chance to grab a roster spot and the A’s could always look to acquire another outfielder too.
Barton appears a non-tender candidate given that Moss and the right-handed hitting Nate Freiman could once again form a first-base platoon.
Sizemore has missed the past two seasons due to two ACL tears in his left knee, but he doesn’t figure to command a big raise, and the A’s could give him a chance to prove he’s healthy and compete for the second base job. Same goes for Rodriguez, who came over from Houston in the same trade that netted Lowrie last offseason. If Rodriguez recovers fully from reconstructive elbow surgery, he could get a chance to win a bullpen spot.