Friday, February 15, 2008

Milwaukee Brewers vs. J.J. Hardy

Unless a deal is stuck over the weekend, the Brewers will be headed to their first arbitration case in quite a few years on Monday with J.J. Hardy. The Brewers are offering Hardy $2.4M while he's asking for $3.05M. The arbiter, of course, must chose between one of those two figures.

One of the ways arbiters decide is to look at similar players and consider what they make. Fortunately for us fans, Baseball-Reference.com has a fascinating little utility which identifies who those similar players are. In glancing down the list of players most similar to J.J. Hardy, one jumps out as being amazingly comparable, and probably very relevant to Hardy's arbitration case - Jhonny Peralta of the Indians. Peralta is a year older than Hardy, also a shortstop, and has eerily similar career stats:

Player Age G HR BA OBP SLG
Hardy 25 310 40 .263 .321 .429
Peralta 26 527 62 .266 .336 .425

Another fascinating website, Cot's Baseball Contracts, lists the contract status of every Major League player. A quick check of Peralta shows that his 2008 salary will be $2.25M - slightly less than the Brewers' offer to Hardy. Peralta's salary is part of a of a 5-year deal that he signed last year, and has built-in pay raises, but even next year when Hardy is eligible to go back to the bargaining table, Peralta's salary will be only $3.4M. It appears that J.J. Hardy is aiming a little high. He would be best served to go back to the Brewers with an offer of $2.5M-$2.6M and get a deal done. Otherwise, I expect the Brewers to win this one.

There has also been a lot of talk in the blogosphere about the long term impact of a player going to arbitration. Arbitration hearings are ugly. As Bill James put it once, the player tries to convince the arbiter that he's Cal Ripken and the team tries to convince the arbiter that he's Royce Clayton. A lot of dirty laundry gets aired. The feeling is that if a player loses an arbitration case, he walks away with a bad taste in his mouth and remembers that when it comes to free-agency time. If the team loses, they feel they've got an over-paid prima donna on their hands. I don't buy either argument. I don't think there's room for grudges and spite when it comes to negotiating multi-million dollar contracts. Both sides are doing what they feel is most fiscally responsible for themselves. When it comes time to negotiate Hardy's contract again, his performance on the field will dictate how it goes down - not some bad blood over an arbitration hearing.

UPDATE: Hardy signs for $2.65M avoiding arbitration.

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