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01/04/11 7:20 PM EST
Angels brace for arbitration's impact
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
ANAHEIM -- Eight is more than enough. It is about to become much clearer to disillusioned Angels followers why the club elected not to enter any escalating free-agent bidding wars for the likes of Carl Crawford, Adrian Beltre, Cliff Lee or Jayson Werth this winter. Eight players, including several of the Angels' premier performers, are eligible for salary arbitration on Wednesday. The financial hit will be significant, likely taking the team's payroll into the $130 million range -- about $10 million higher than last season. Prominent among the eight are ace Jered Weaver and first baseman Kendry Morales, with catchers Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis, second baseman Howard Kendrick, shortstop Erick Aybar, infielder Alberto Callaspo and outfielder Reggie Willits rounding out the uncommonly large group. Any player shy of six years of Major League service time falls under team control. After his third full season, he is arbitration-eligible each winter. Both sides offer salary figures if an agreement isn't reached, and it goes to an independent panel to decide. As the process unfolds, players are measured against those who came before them, at the same stage of career. This obviously bodes well for Weaver, who made $4.27 million last season. Represented by Scott Boras, Weaver figures to more than double that figure following a breakout year in which he led the Majors in strikeouts and was among the leaders in a number of other categories, including starts (34), innings (224 1/3) and ERA (3.01). The club averaged only 3.82 runs in his starts, largely accounting for his deceiving 13-12 record. Morales, coming off a fifth-place finish in the 2009 American League Most Valuable Player race, was a major bargain last season at $1.2 million in the final year of his original contract. Despite missing two-thirds of the season with a fractured left leg, the first baseman could triple that salary in arbitration. Serving as a precedent is 2010 AL MVP Josh Hamilton, who had a big 2008 followed by injury-riddled 2009 but still was rewarded a raise from $555,000 to $3.25 million, the Rangers electing to avoid the arbitration process. Napoli claimed a $3.6 million deal last winter and could reach about $6 million -- a hefty salary for a player who will be competing for a regular job behind the plate. Napoli produced big power numbers (26 homers, 24 doubles in 463 at-bats) and enhanced his market value -- and trade appeal -- by branching out and playing a capable first base in Morales' absence. Mathis, who basically has shared the catching job with Napoli for three seasons, was undone by a wrist fracture early in the season and never regained his stroke. Mathis made $1.3 million with an arbitration win last year and can't expect much of a raise, if any, with his .196 batting average and three homers in 205 at-bats. His main asset, defense, doesn't usually translate into profitable numbers at the arbitration table unless the player is a Gold Glove winner. Aybar accepted $2.05 million in 2010 and figures to get a slight bump after a disappointing fourth season, slumping both offensively and defensively. Kendrick, on the other hand, can expect a significant raise, perhaps doubling his $1.75 salary from 2010 after playing 158 games. Kendrick drove in 75 runs while batting .279 and delivering 251 total bases, six fewer than team leader Torii Hunter. Callaspo made $460,000 last season and figures to double it, even though he did not play particularly well after arriving in a midseason trade with the Royals. Willits reached a $625,000 agreement last year and could be in for a minimal raise after batting .258 with a .341 on-base percentage in 159 at-bats as a spare outfielder. The Angels did not tender a contract to Kevin Frandsen, who delivered handsomely early in the season after signing a Minor League contract. Frandsen is a free agent.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.