Posted: Friday January 21, 2011 12:48PM ; Updated: Friday January 21, 2011 4:38PM
Jon Heyman

Analyzing arbitration cases, plus thoughts on settled deals

Story Highlights

Josh Hamilton and the Rangers likely want to avoid an arbitration hearing

Jose Bautista is in line for a big raise from the Blue Jays after hitting 54 home runs

Jonathan Papelbon got $12M but the Red Sox talked to teams about trading him

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Josh Hamilton
Josh Hamilton led the AL with a .359 average while adding 32 home runs and 100 RBIs despite missing most of the last month of the regular season.

This arbitration season made it clear once again that this truly is the Golden Age of baseball. Players and teams got together like almost never before, reaching 82 settlements in advance of arbitration salary filings and leaving only 37 players and their teams to submit arbitration numbers (by comparison, last year there were 46). Included among those are several potentially very interesting cases, including the Rangers' Josh Hamilton, who is coming off a Mickey Mantle-like MVP season, and the Blue Jays' Jose Bautista, Toronto's sudden superstar. Here's a summary of the biggest cases that remain unsettled.

Josh Hamilton, Rangers, CF

Player submission: $12 million,
Team submission: $8.7 million
Midpoint: $10.35 million
Gap: $3.3 million

Nobody wants to see this go to trial, least of all the participants. That's true even if Texas refrains from bringing up Hamilton's past, which most execs suspect they would. "Neither side should want to be in a hearing room,'' one AL executive said. "Of course, John Rocker, who is far more despicable, wound up in a hearing room.'' Even if the Rangers don't mention Hamilton's well-known drug past, there's no way they should want to bring up anything negative about a guy "who just won the MVP and is the heart and soul of the club,'' as one NL exec put it. "He's the last guy you'd want to end up in a hearing room with.'' There is scuttlebutt the Rangers might try to lock up Hamilton beyond this season, though some could see just a two-year deal to buy out his arbitration years along the lines of Matt Holliday's last deal with Colorado (he got $23 million for two years from the Rockies in January 2008). The Rangers once offered Hamilton $24 million for three years, and an NL exec said now it would have to be "Votto plus" -- meaning more than the $38 million over three years that reigning NL MVP winner Joey Votto just got from Cincinnati -- since a three-year Hamilton deal would buy out one free agent year. While the Rangers might be too discrete to bring up his drug history in a hearing room, his drug and intermittent health issues would likely be in their mind, at least, while they consider how many years to offer.

Jose Bautista, Blue Jays, OF

Player submission: $10.5 million,
Team submission: $7.6 million
Midpoint: $9.05 million
Gap: $2.9 million

This is one of the more intriguing cases ever since he came out of nowhere to have his monster 54-home run season. As one NL exec said, "He had one outstanding year in an otherwise nondescript career.'' He's going to get quite a raise from the $2.4 million he made in 2010, but if they go to trial, it's probably a coin flip between Toronto's submission of a three-fold raise and Bautista's request of a four-fold one. In January 2008, Carlos Pena got a raise from $800,000 base salary to $6 million after a similarly surprising season. But Bautista could be in trouble if he's looking to eclipse eight figures, said one agent, "if length and consistency matter.''

Wandy Rodriguez, Astros, SP

Player submission: $10.25 million
Team submission: $8 million
Midpoint: $9.125 million
Gap: $2.25 million

Rodriguez might have been slightly underpaid last year at $5 million after losing his arbitration case, but how is he going to prove his salary should be doubled after a decidedly mediocre year in which he went 11-12 with an ERA of 3.60? While his case looks like a loser, there's always the possibility the Astros won't want to risk it and split the difference, in which case he wins big.

Jered Weaver, Angels, SP

Player submission: $8.8 million
Team submission: $7.37 million
Midpoint: $8.08 million
Gap: $1.43 million

Win or lose, Weaver will break the record set by Freddy Garcia in 2004 of $6.875 million for a second-time eligible pitcher after a season in which he led the league in strikeouts. Weaver stepped seamlessly into the role of Angels' ace after the defection of John Lackey to the Red Sox, becoming one of the game's better pitchers and going 13-12 with a 3.01 ERA, and league-high totals for strikeouts (233) and starts (34). The Angels have struggled to get things done this winter and have had particularly rough luck dealing with agent Scott Boras (though they did reach agreement with first baseman Kendry Morales at $2.98 million after a season abbreviated by an injury Morales suffered during a home run celebration).

Jeremy Guthrie, Orioles, SP

Player submission: $6.5 million
Team submission: $5 million
Midpoint: $5.75 million
Gap: $1.5 million

Guthrie, who went 11-14 with a 3.83 ERA in 32 starts last year, doesn't look like he's worth $6.5 million after Chad Billingsley ($6.25 million), John Danks ($6 million) and Matt Garza ($5.95 million) all signed for less than that. But he only has to prove he's worth more than the $5.75-million midpoint. It still looks like a difficult case, but his agency, CAA, has had as much success as anyone through the arbitration process.

Rickie Weeks, Brewers, 2B

Player submission: $7.2 million
Team submission: $4.85 million
Midpoint: $6.03 million
Gap: $2.35 million

This is a major difference, with Weeks looking for nearly 50 percent more than the Brewers' offered and could go either way. A settlement at about $6 million might benefit the player in this case, though. Weeks, a former No. 2 overall pick, hit .269 with 29 home runs and 83 RBIs out of the leadoff spot for Milwaukee.

James Loney, Dodgers, 1B

Player submission: $5.25 million
Team submission: $4.7 million
Midpoint: $4.97 million
Gap: $550,000

With such a small gap (only around 10 percent of his submission), it's hardly worth it for either side to take this to trial. They should probably just compromise at the midpoint to avoid wasting time and effort.

R.A. Dickey, Mets, SP

Player submission: $4.7 million
Team submission: $3.35 million
Midpoint: $4.03 million
Gap: $1.35 million

Whichever way this one goes, it's a feel-good story. Dickey struggled to make ends meet into his mid-30s until the Mets gave him a chance to utilize his new knuckleball, and he proved to not only have a viable knuckler but more poise and guts than anyone would have known during a year in which he established career-best marks for wins (11), ERA (2.84), starts (26), innings pitched (174 1/3), strikeouts (104) and WHIP (1.187)
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