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The State of the 2011 Colorado Rockies: Pre-Free Agency

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With the World Series recently completed, it's that time of year again baseball fans -- hot stove season. That means that it is time for another State of the Rockies offseason series! To begin, let's go over the 2010 portion of the offseason calendar briefly (I'll write about 2011 and salary arbitration when it comes closer).

The clock for Colorado and the rest of MLB started ticking when the Fall Classic concluded on Monday, as teams have until today to pick up option years and until November 7th to exclusively negotiate with their prospective free agents. November 23rd is the last day for teams to offer salary arbitration to free agents (in Colorado's case, Jorge De La Rosa) in order to preserve their right to draft-pick compensation. The free agents then have until November 30th to accept those arbitration offers.

For players who have less than six years of MLB service time and fail to qualify for free agency (like Clint Barmes), their teams control their rights, but must tender the player a contract offer or salary arbitration, by December 2nd--with the player needing to make a decision by the Winter Meetings (held December 6-9) so that teams will have some idea as to where the market stands. At the end of the Winter Meetings, teams that haven't filled up their 40 man rosters at the contract tender deadline will be able to participate in the Rule 5 draft.

For more information on the offseason calendar, check out WolfMarauder's articles on free agency declaration and the offseason meetings. In addition, to learn a little bit more about some of the topics I'll be touching on in this series, please check out the following sessions of my MLB Transaction series of Purple Row Academy:

Salary Arbitration

40 Man Roster

MLB Service Time

Free Agency

Trades and Contract Tenders

Rule 5 Draft

Fangraphs Win Values

Now that you understand a little better the timeline that Dan O'Dowd and the Rockies are working with, I'll break down the Rockies' contract situations extensively (and I do mean extensively) after the jump.

Before I begin, let me first note that this analysis will be limited to what I can project the 25 man roster to be, since I'm forecasting the 2011 Opening Day Payroll (which only includes the active roster and DL). For most of the players not on the 25 man roster but who are on the 40 man (like Matt Daley), they will be paid the prorated minimum should they make the Show and considerably less in the minor leagues. Since I can't predict who the Rockies will be able to sign in free agency or acquire through a trade, this roster includes only players under team control.

In addition, MLB service time numbers are educated guesses based on WM's great Project Libra transaction list. Contract numbers are from the fantastic Cot's Contracts as well as my work last year.


What the Rockies Already Owe in 2011

This category is for money that the Rockies have already committed to the 2011 roster. Note that this only includes players who are under contract with the Rockies (not just under team control), giving management concrete salary obligations to work around.

This means that I assume that the Rockies decline every club option (only Olivo at this point). Per email correspondence with the Denver Post's Troy Renck, the Rockies are not responsible for the $500k buyout of Brad Hawpe and are responsible for only $125k of Octavio Dotel's $250k buyout.

For each player I'll give their name, approximate ML service time, 2011 salary, and minimum future salary obligations. Buyouts are denoted by italics.

UPDATE: The chart now takes into account that due to the Olivo trade the Rockies are no longer responsible for his buyout and have $500k more of payroll flexibility.

Player Name Service Time 2011 Salary Additional Min. Obligation Years After 2011
Todd Helton 13.059 $10,600,000 $9,900,000 2
Aaron Cook 8.02 $9,250,000 $500,000 0
Huston Street 6 $7,300,000 $8,000,000 1
Troy Tulowitzki 4.033 $5,500,000 $20,250,000 2
Rafael Betancourt 7.079 $3,775,000 $0 0
Manuel Corpas 4.076 $3,500,000 $250,000 0
Ubaldo Jimenez 3.087 $2,800,000 $5,200,000 1
Chris Iannetta 4 $2,550,000 $3,800,000 1
Ryan Spilborghs 4.082 $1,925,000 $0 0
Brad Hawpe 6.054 $500,000 $0 0
Octavio Dotel 11.113 $125,000 $0 0
$47,825,000 $47,900,000

A few things to note about the above chart. One, though I have Spilborghs down as having no minimum obligation after 2011, he will still be under team control after his contract runs out this year and thus will be arbitration-eligible. The Rockies have the option of not tendering him a contract, so technically there is no obligation for the team to pay Spilborghs beyond 2011. 

Two, in last year's articles I prorated out Aaron Cook's $2.5 million signing bonus over the three years of his contract (adding $833k to each year's salary). It makes more sense to me just to assume he received the entire balance of that signing bonus in the first year of the contract (which is what Tracy Ringolsby among others do) and go forward like that. Therefore, where last year I projected his salary for 2011 to be $10.083 million, this year I have his contract as the base $9.25 million amount.

Three, Todd Helton will be paid $13.1 million from 2014-2013 (in $1.31 million increments), which I did not include here because I'm only looking through 2014 at this point.

Finally, the additional minimum obligation numbers for Street ($500k), Tulowitzki ($2M), Jimenez ($1M), and Iannetta ($250k) include buyouts but are not in italics because the bulk of those obligations are for playing. In addition, many of these contracts include incentives and bonuses, but they will be paid at the end of the year and therefore won't be figured into these projections.

In conclusion, this chart shows that the Rockies, even if they do not re-sign Olivo, have committed almost $48 million to only eight players on the 2011 roster (since Corpas won't be contributing). And these are only the players who the Rockies know how much they have to pay. 


Arbitration-Eligible Players

The next step down from players under contract are those who aren't free agency eligible but who are eligible for salary arbitration. The Rockies have only five potential salary arbitration cases on their hands with players that have between three and six years of ML service time: Clint Barmes, Matt BelisleManny DelcarmenJason Hammel, and Ian Stewart. Stewart is the Rockies' only Super Two arb-eligible player (Hammel was last year).

I think that it's safe to assume that Barmes will not be tendered a contract and therefore won't be entering arbitration with the Rockies (though he could be brought back as a free agent for less money), so I'm projecting only four arbitration raises for the 2011 roster. This is much better than the nine potential arbitration eligibles (not counting obvious non-tenders like Atkins) that the Rockies had going into 2010.

Calculating potential salaries for these players is quite tricky. In 2010 the Rockies gave multi-year deals to Iannetta, Spilborghs, and Street (average raise 218%) and one year deals to six others (average raise 107%). In total, to the nine players Colorado gave raises of almost $12 million over their 2009 salaries (average 144% raise). Of course, those numbers need to be put into the proper context and categories.

Three out of nine, as I wrote above, were given multi-year contracts, all in either their final arb year (Street) or first (Iannetta, Spilborghs). I could see both Belisle (final arb year), Hammel (two solid years in a row), and even Stewart (first arb year, high reward potential because of his high ceiling) falling into this category but I won't project them as such right now. I'm going to assume that each of these players signs a one-year contract until I know more. Of the three, Belisle is the most likely to sign for multiple years (2 years, $6 million would be my guess).

Three of the nine (Taylor Buchholz, Belisle, Randy Flores) were essentially given the same salary as they had been given last year. Of the four arbitration players, I see Delcarmen in this situation, so we'll chalk him down for a tiny raise from 2010.

Three of the nine (Street, Jorge De La Rosa, and Hammel) had outstanding years in 2009 and were richly rewarded in 2010 with big raises. Both Belisle and Hammel fit into this category for 2011--I'm projecting big raises for both.

In addition, I'm projecting a big raise percentage-wise for Stewart because it is his first arbitration year, when MLB players stop making peanuts and s. Last offseason Rockies first year arb-eligibles got an average raise of 315%, so expect Stewart to get a nice pay bump. Basically, when projecting arbitration raises for the Rockies I did so based on some past history--giving higher % raises to players with a lower starting salary and to those who had performed in a starting role.

Looking at the raises more analytically, the rule of thumb when predicting arb raises is that the player will be paid in his three arbitration years 40%, 60%, and 80% of what he's worth on the open market. The easiest way of projecting a player's worth on the open market is to use his 2010 Fangraphs WAR total (with some leeway for your own projections of the player's 2011) and coming up with a valuation based on that. I certainly take this method into account when evaluating this raises, but by no means is it my only method.

Without further ado, here is my projection for these players' 2011 salaries:

Player Name ML Service Time 2010 Salary 2011 Salary Diff. from 2010
Jason Hammel 3.153 $1,900,000 $5,400,000 184%
Matt Belisle 5.02 $850,000 $3,200,000 276%
Ian Stewart 2.154 $406,000 $2,250,000 454%
Manny Delcarmen 4.133 $905,000 $1,000,000 10%
Total $4,061,000 $11,850,000 231%

Note that the bottom right number is average difference per player, not total difference from 2010 to 2011.

This chart tells us that based on career performance and function (weighted more heavily toward 2009), the Rockies will probably pay these four players in the neighborhood of $12 million--about $8 million more than they were paid in 2010. The projected average arbitration salary increases is 231% due to the caliber of Rockies players that are up for arbitration and are only slightly above where I see the MLB average ending up--meaning that my estimated raises, shocking in their size as they may seem, may even be on the low side.

This is especially the case for Stewart. If you project Stewart as being at least a league average player next year (and I do), he should be getting paid closer to $3.5 million. However, I lowered this total because of Stewart's lack of success in important arbitration metrics like batting average and for his perceived work ethic problems.

As for the three pitchers, I'm projecting Hammel as a three win pitcher in 2010, which might be high or low depending on whether you subscribe to Fangraphs valuation of his 2010 (3.7 WAR) or BB Reference's (1.7 WAR). Belisle is a reliever coming off a career year that tired down the stretch (and no wonder), so I'm projecting a regression back towards 1 WAR. The combination of this and his low 2010 salary lead me to believe that despite his great 2010 I might be overestimating Belisle's award. Delcarmen had a terrible 2010 but I can't see him getting a pay cut in his second arbitration year because of past performance, so I'm projecting a small raise for him.


Pre-Arbitration Players

For the players listed below with less than Super 2 MLB service time status, the Rockies have the option of keeping them under control for several more years and can do so cheaply in 2010 (for a price between $400,000 and $460,000). In 2010 the most the Rockies paid a pre-arb player was $407k.

Because I'm projecting that the Rockies decline Olivo's option, I've inserted Mike McKenry in here for now. In addition, I'll say for the sake of this exercise that Eric Young and Jonathan Herrera make the Opening Day roster and Chris Nelson is optioned to AAA. In addition, because for this roster projection I'm not including any free agents, I have Esmil Rogers as the fifth starter with Franklin Morales and Matt Daley filling out the bullpen and Cole Garner serving as the fifth outfielder. 

The pre-arbitration players as I see them, arranged in order of service time:

Player Name ML Service Time 2011 Salary
Seth Smith 2.119 $425,000
Carlos Gonzalez 2.06 $450,000
Franklin Morales 2.018 $406,000
Dexter Fowler 2.005 $406,000
Matt Daley 1.166 $406,000
Eric Young Jr. 1.017 $406,000
Jhoulys Chacin 1.01 $406,000
Jonathan Herrera 0.155 $406,000
Esmil Rogers 0.129 $406,000
Matt Reynolds 0.045 $403,000
Mike McKenry 0.027 $401,000
Cole Garner 0 $400,000
Total $4,921,000

As you can see, having a lot of cheap pre-arbitration players on your roster (I'm projecting 12 right now but it will likely be closer to 9) is easy on the payroll. Combined these twelve gentlemen will be making only $1.4 million more than Manny Corpas is being paid to be on the DL. This fact again emphasizes the importance of teams maximizing the value of young players.


Estimated 2011 Opening Day Payroll

This calculation represents the status quo, if the Rockies neither re-sign any of their free agents nor get rid of any players under team control (besides Barmes) and remain dormant in free agency. The resulting roster would have 24 players on it with Corpas spending the year on the DL (therefore another player's salary would need to be added in to complete the roster) and would be paid:

Multi-Year Contracts: $47,825,000

Arbitration Contracts: $11,850,000

Pre-Arbitration Contracts: $4,921,000

Total ODP$64,596,000

Dan O'Dowd has said that the Rockies' 2011 ODP will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $80-83 million, so there's about $20 million of payroll flexibility here for what I see to be four to six roster slots (SP, corner bat, outfielder, catcher, maybe one or two RP). That's more than enough room to re-sign De La Rosa (estimated first year contract cost of $7-9 million) and a big-time right-handed hitter through either free agency (Martinez? Konerko?) or trade (Willingham? Uggla?). Either way, most of the 2011 roster for the Rockies is already intact.

I could write a lot more about what I think the Rockies should do (like how they should exercise Olivo’s option and trade him) but this column is way too long already. I'll have more analysis for you on the 2011 payroll a couple of weeks down the road after the GM meetings, but in the meantime, I'll return you to your regularly scheduled 2010 Audit programming.