The Rays and B.J. Upton entering arbitration

This off season the Rays had four players who were eligible for arbitration hearings. In the end they managed to sign with three of the players before it got that far. Jason Bartlett signed on for $4 mio., Garza gets $3.35 mio. and J.P. Howell signed for $1.8 mio. All are one year contracts and all more than doubled their salaries from 2009. But especially Bartlett and Garza are key members of the team who deserve to get paid.

My only problem with those deals is the fact that Bartlett is only signed for one year. A really good defensive short stop is not easy to find and Bartlett has said that he was looking for a long term deal but it was the Rays that didn’t want to talk about it. Hopefully it is because they are confident that 2008 1st overall draft pick Tim Beckham is getting ready to get into the majors.

The one player they couldn’t sign with was B.J. Upton even though they were close. The Rays offered a contract worth $3 mio. and Upton asked for $3.3 mio. has put together a report that collects the 2008 and 2009 salaries of all the players who went into arbitration in 2009. According to the list of outfielders in the report the $3 mio. range seems fair. The best comparison is Shane Victorino who signed for $3.125 mio.

Regardless of who they rule in favor of, $300.000 isn’t going to make that great a difference in the team’s finances. The problem comes when you look at what is going to happen beyond 2010. The Rays outfield is anchored by Crawford and Upton but both enter the final year of their contracts. Unless the Rays owners decide to increase the payroll significantly it will be very difficult to sign Crawford to another long-term contract. There have been talks that if the Rays are not headed towards the playoffs by mid-season it is very possible Crawford will be traded. Desmond Jennings is the next outfielder ready to reach the MLB level from Durham and is considered the Rays top prospect by Baseball America among others. But even with him waiting in the wings, losing both Crawford and Upton in the same year will be very tough.

Upton has been saying all the right things the past days and insists that he is still interested in signing a long-term contract and that the hearings won’t affect his relationship with the Rays management. But arbitration hearings are per definition ugly. You can’t tell me you can sit and listen to Friedman make all his arguments for why you are not worth $3.3 mio. and not be affected by it at all. The question doesn’t seem to be whether or not they want to sign a long-term deal but whether or not they can agree on the value of it. The fact that they even have to go through arbitration is not a good sign and if things get too ugly they better get started talking to Crawford or looking for trade options.