The Colorado Rockies and Charlie Blackmon on Monday avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $3.5 million deal, leaving DJ LeMahieu as the lone player on the Rockies' roster left unsigned for 2016.
Blackmon joined fellow arbitration eligibles Nolan Arenado, Brandon Barnes, Jordan Lyles and Adam Ottavino in the ranks of Rockies players who will receive a nice raise as a result of the arbitration process. Earlier today, Jay Tymkovich provided an insightful simulation of how the hearing portion of the process works. The Rockies and Blackmon fortunately didn't get that far, but a lot goes into negotiations even before that point.
There are six factors to be considered when going to arbitration: (1) The quality of the player's contribution to his club during the past season, including but not limited to his overall performance, special qualities of leadership and public appeal; (2) the length and consistency of his career contributions; (3) the record of the player's past compensation; (4) comparative baseball salaries; (5) the existence of any physical or mental defects on the part of the players; and (6) the recent performance record of the club. The two most important are generally the length and consistency of his career contributions and the comparative baseball salaries. Injury and past compensation play a role, as well.
The Business Of Baseball
The Business Of Baseball
While it might seem Blackmon hitting a backwards half court shot at the Nuggets game the other night was important, it was nothing compared to his recent negotiations with the Rockies. Blackmon has accumulated 3.102 years of service, making him first-time arbitration eligible. He (his agent) filed for a salary of $3.9 million. The Rockies, on the other hand, filed at $2.7 million. This left the potential case with a midpoint of $3.3 million, a figure vitally important to remember.
While it would be nice to pour into a bunch of advanced statistics with Blackmon to help demonstrate his value, this isn't always possible with arbitration. The panel can range from those who greatly understand baseball to those who know much less. With there only being one hour for each side to present (and a 30-minute rebuttal), the sides don't want to spend too much time explaining statistics. It is not to say teams won't use advanced statistics, but we won't get too crazy here.
This is Blackmon's base stat line this past year, his platform season. Since he is first-time eligible, a lot of stock goes into platform season, although career bulk is considered as well.
.287/.347/.450, 27 doubles, 9 triples, 17 home runs, 43 stolen bases, .797 OPS
The platform season was the perfect time for a career year for Blackmon. Now we need to find some comparable players. These players must have received first-year arbitration contracts. The team presumably looked for several below the midpoint, while Blackmon searched for several above. Also, you can compare middle guys to middle guys (CF, 2B, and SS) and corners to corners (1B, 3B, RF, LF).
Blackmon's Comparable Players
Ian Desmond, following 2012 (3.027) at $3.8 million
.292/.335/.511, 33 doubles, 2 triples, 25 homers, 21 steals, .845 OPS
Austin Jackson, following 2012 (3.000) at $3.5 million
.300/.377/.479, 29 doubles, 10 triples, 16 HR, 12 SB, .856 OPS
Neil Walker, following 2012 (2.166, first time eligible) at $3.3 million
.280/.342/.426, 27 doubles, 14 HR, 7 SB, .768 OPS
Rockies' Comparable Players
Lorenzo Cain, following 2014 (3.074) at $2.725 million
.301/.412/.752, 29 doubles, 4 triples, 5 HR, 28 SB, .751 OPS
Desmond Jennings, following 2014 (3.101) at $3.1 million
.244/.319/.378, 30 doubles, 2 triples, 10 HR, 15 SB, .697 OPS
Will Venable, following 2012 (3.155) at $2.675 million
.264/.335/.429, 26 doubles, 8 triples, 9 HR, 24 SB, .765 OPS
I will note, for both sides, it was incredibly challenging to find comparable players for Blackmon. His platform season was strong and unique. I ended up having to go back several years to find players with comparable seasons, and I stretched Venable a bit, since he has played a lot of right field. Neil Walker might also be a bit of a reach; he was a Super Two second baseman, but was first-time eligible.
Now here is where the fun part begins. There are clearly arguments available to both sides should they have gone to arbitration. In the end, it is all about bargaining power.
Blackmon had more stolen bases in his platform season than any of the comparable players. The most comparable player is Austin Jackson following his 2012 campaign. Jackson had almost identical doubles, triples, and home runs. He also had fewer stolen bases, while his average was a bit better. When comparing career numbers for Jackson up until 2012 and Blackmon through 2015, Jackson was at .280/.346/.479 with 30 HR and 61 SB and Blackmon sits at .288/ .336/.437 with 45 HR and 84 SB. This is going to be a difficult comparison for the Rockies to overcome in future years, though one interesting positive for the Rockies is Jackson's 15.4 WAR compared to Blackmon's 4.7.
To delve just a bit into defense, Jackson had a career dWAR of 6.0 at this point while Blackmon is at -1.5. In terms of defensive runs saved, Jackson had 47 while Charlie is at 2. Clearly at this point in his career Jackson was a far superior defender.
There would have been a theme had the two parties gone to arbitration. I assume Blackmon would have argued none of the comparable players could match stolen bases in addition to his similar or better power. The question would have become whether his offense could overcome his defense.
The Rockies would've had a strong case as well, although I don't believe the case is as strong as Blackmon's. Colorado's brass might have sat on a theme surrounding Blackmon's lack of defensive ability compared to the others. The Rockies may have also pointed to his home/road splits as a reason for his strong surface statistics.
Among the three comparable players for the Rockies, Blackmon had the lowest career dWAR (Cain 7.7, Jennings 1.2, Venable 1.0). Additionally, all three players had stolen base totals at least a bit closer to that of Blackmon and his comparables during their platform seasons. Additionally, Venable and Cain were much closer in OPS.
These arguments can go on and on, especially when comparing career bulk statistics and some additional defensive metrics. However, this is hopefully a glimpse into how the arguments would have been structured and what the process would have looked like.
Ultimately, I believe Blackmon was far too similar to Austin Jackson following his 2012 season for the Rockies to risk actually going to arbitration. Jackson received $3.5 million and was nearly identical to Blackmon in so many categories, particularly for their platform season. The question for Charlie was, did he think he could win his case? I think, because defensive metrics don't favor him, he wouldn't have been so bold as to go to arbitration. In this case Charlie had $1.2 million at risk, a chance not many athletes are willing to take.
It should be remembered, the player sits in the room for the hearing. The Rockies would have had to tell Charlie to his face why he was worth so much less than the figure he submitted. That's a hard position to be in as a club with a player it generally respects.
In the end, I believe overcoming the similarities to Jackson in the platform season were going to be an uphill battle for the Rockies, while Blackmon had too much to lose. This is why he'll earn $3.5 million next season and, presumably, will now be able to afford gas.
Tomorrow, I'll detail what the negotiation process will likely resemble in the case of LeMahieu.