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Predicting 2020 arbitration figures and outcomes

Let’s take a shot at guessing how this year’s spate of arb-eligibles will get paid

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MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Cleveland Indians Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Happy new year, everyone. Welcome to 2020, a new decade that will hopefully result in more than two playoff appearances!

As we cross into the first year of the new roaring twenties, the Phillies still have six remaining arbitration-eligible players on their roster. Andrew Knapp, of course, reached an early agreement with the team for $710 thousand in early December, but those other six — J.T. Realmuto, Hector Neris, Jose Alvarez, Zach Eflin, Vince Velasquez, and Adam Morgan — have yet to receive their own raises. The deadline for teams to exchange their respective figures is next Friday, January 10. Teams and players can still reach agreements before that date, as well as after the exchange date but prior to their hearing; the Phillies, for their part, do not have a long record of actually going to arbitration hearings with their players.

I’m no Jim Bowden, who always seems to be on the nose with his free agent contract guesses, but I figure we can try and talk through each of these guys’ cases to see what we think they’ll get paid. If nothing else, it’s a good way to break up the deafening silence of the deep offseason period we’re all mired in about now. And, like everything else on the internet, a quick record of something to look back on and laugh about how wrong I was. Let’s do it!

MLBTradeRumors estimates furnished by Matt Swartz. A full list for all teams can be found here.

J.T. Realmuto

Eligibility: 3rd year
Service Time: 5 years, 38 days
2019 Salary: $5.9 million
MLBTR Estimate: $10.3 million

It’s widely thought that the Phillies and Realmuto should come to an agreement on a long-term deal, but the team’s insistence on playing games with the Competitive Balance Tax thresholds mean that no such deal would be made official until Spring Training.

Fine. In the meantime, the two sides will establish a baseline for that deal with a one-year settlement that they’ll eventually tack onto. The team’s own admittance that they view Realmuto as the best catcher in baseball now means that they have to pay him like he is, which means visiting the Buster Posey District of $19 million in AAV. Realmuto won’t get nine years like Buster did, but he’s bound to get four or five added on after 2020, which should push his final payout near nine figures, all told, with a backload big enough to push the combined AAV up near $20 million.

Prediction: $10 million for 2020; four-year extension (plus option through 2025) for $80 million

Jose Alvarez

Eligibility: 3rd year
Service Time: 5 years, 35 days
2019 Salary: $1.925 million
MLBTR Estimate: $3 million

Alvarez was a mostly effective, if a bit diminished, version of himself in 2019. He wasn’t overpowering and fell victim to the Great Ball Juicing of 2019, but also managed to become more of a groundball pitcher and bring his walk rate back down a bit. He was the team’s most reliable and healthy left-handed option last season and figures to be in that conversation again 2020.

His longer-term future with the Phillies is a bit cloudier, though. Eligible for free agency after this year, Alvarez may be squeezed out after one more season if the internal LHP options like Ranger Suarez, Cole Irvin, Kyle Dohy, Tyler Gilbert, Damon Jones, and others further define their roles and potential. The team may feel as though they’d be covered there in ‘21.

Prediction: $3.1 million for 2020

Hector Neris

Eligibility: 2nd year
Service Time: 4 years, 68 days
2019 Salary: $1.8 million
MLBTR Estimate: $4.7 million

He’s currently the team’s best reliever and, apart from a first half of 2018 marred by pitch tipping, has been very reliably above-average (or better!) for four years now. Calling him “elite” would be a stretch, but Neris is a solid reliever with a plus-plus pitch that could keep him effective as he ages into his 30s. He’s only 30 now, so he could still have another half-decade of similar performance before tailing off.

Unlike Alvarez, who’s a bit older and doesn’t have as good a track record, Neris doesn’t appear to be on the verge of being squeezed out in favor of cheaper options by this time next year. He’s still eligible for arbitration one more time in 2021, but his play has earned him the leverage to discuss a two- or three-year deal. I think the Phillies would be wise to come to the table.

Prediction: $4.5 million for 2020; part of a two-year deal (through 2021, maybe with an option for ‘22) for $11.5 million

Vince Velasquez

Eligibility: 2nd year
Service Time: 4 years, 86 days
2019 Salary: $2.249 million
MLBTR Estimate: $3.9 million

Forecast for a modest raise, Velasquez enters the 2020s competing for a rotation spot with Nick Pivetta (who will be arbitration-eligible for the first time next season, if he’s in the Majors for about three months). The team continues to hold firm in their belief in Vinny’s potential, and the focus now turns to Bryan Price to try and work some new magic to finally realize that potential.

There’s no consensus whatsoever on what Velasquez’s ultimate role looks like. The Phillies think he’s a starter; many fans think he’s a reliever; maybe there’s a nascent two-way, Michael Lorenzen clone lurking. Who knows? He’s getting another shot this year to prove he belongs, one way or another in one form or another, but may not get many more.

Prediction: $3.75 million for 2020

Adam Morgan

Eligibility: 2nd year
Service Time: 4 years, 17 days
2019 Salary: $1.1 million
MLBTR Estimate: $1.6 million

Morgan, now 30, is entering his sixth season with the Phillies and fourth as a full-time reliever. That simultaneously seems like forever and a shorter time than I expected.

Morgan’s career has been sidetracked and beset by injuries, limiting him to one full healthy season in the Majors (2018), as well as an up-and-down year back in 2016. When healthy in ‘18, he showed flashes of the dominant stretch that wrapped up his 2017 season where he struck out 32, walked just 5, and allowed only 2 runs over a 20-game stretch from August to September, and a scoreless streak to start 2019 raised some hopes again. But the injury bug returned in late May, and after a month on a shelf, Morgan’s return lasted only until the end of July before his season was cut short with a left flexor strain.

Right now, he’s the second LHRP option to Alvarez. But a hard-charging Ranger Suarez could further dilute his innings, especially if he’s unable to get right-handed batters out; he’s kept them under an .800 OPS the last two seasons, but with middling-to-poor K and BB rates. He’ll be walking a fine line with extra exposure to RHBs thanks to the new three-batter rule.

Prediction: $1.8 million for 2020

Zach Eflin

Eligibility: 1st year
Service Time: 3 years, 18 days
2019 Salary: $590 thousand
MLBTR Estimate: $3 million

Congratulations go out to Eflin for racking up the ST needed to finally qualify for arbitration. After dual knee injuries threatened to derail his journey, Eflin has rebounded to become a pretty effective mid-to-back-end-rotation arm, and as such will earn his first significant pay raise.

A 2.83 ERA in his final seven starts of 2019 looked to be something to build on, but he’ll need to have a good defensive lineup behind him as his style doesn’t lend itself to many whiffs. That, in turn, may keep his earning power a bit suppressed, but if he’s able to keep flexing his pitchability muscle, there’s room for him in a rotation.

Prediction: $2.75 million for 2020

Note: If you’re curious, the predictions above total just under $26 million for 2020. Added to the other currently guaranteed money, the Phillies’ payroll would be just over $190 million before accounting for pre-arb and minor league players, plus benefits.