The next week is going to be Arbitration Week at Wait 'Til Next Year, as I will spend time analyzing who will go to an arbitrator, and those who settled before arbitration. There are 26 players who remain unsigned for the 2004 season, and these are the six players who have the largest disagreement with their team:
1. Albert Pujols- $3.5M
With that being said, this is the rough schedule for the next five days here:
Monday: Eric Gagne
That may all change, but I think all five posts will be well worth your time. As I said, today will be analyzing the contract situation of Eric Gagne, the 2003 NL Cy Young winner. Gagne was converted to relief prior to the 2002 season, and has immedietly become the best reliever in the game today.
2002: 4-1 1.97 55/82.1 114/16 52Sv
Gagne's 107 saves are tied with Dave Righetti for 11th all-time in saves before the age of 28. While he is 71 behind the leader, Bobby Thigpen, no reliever has ever come close to the 107 Gagne has in the last two seasons. He has set the record for consecutive saves, which is still running at 63. And the scary thing about Gagne? He keeps getting better.
2003 1st half: 1-3 1.99 23/45.1 76/11
Yes, you read that right. Eric Gagne only gave up one earned run in thirty-seven second half innings. And that run? On August 20th, Gagne gave up solo shot to Vladimir Guerrero in his second inning of work. Since that time he didn't give up a run in 18.1 innings. I mean, he only gave up 8 HITS! To further put Gagne's 2003 in perspective, the following tables are top ten lists of pitchers with more than 80IP in a season against their league average in ERA, H/9 and K/9:
ERA YEAR DIFF PLAYER LEAGUE 1 Pedro Martinez 2000 3.18 1.74 4.92 2 Roberto Hernandez 1996 3.09 1.91 5.00 3 Eric Gagne 2003 3.08 1.20 4.29 4 Mariano Rivera 1996 2.91 2.09 5.00 5 Tim Burke 1987 2.90 1.19 4.09 6 Pedro Martinez 1999 2.80 2.07 4.87 7 Robb Nen 1998 2.71 1.52 4.24 8 Felix Rodriguez 2001 2.68 1.68 4.36 9 John Wetteland 1993 2.68 1.37 4.05 10 Greg Maddux 1994 2.66 1.56 4.22
After that, I think it is safe to say that Gagne's 2003 is the best relief season ever. No one has approached what he has done against league average in H/9 and K/9, and he is narrowly behind Pedro and Roberto Hernandez in ERA. There are so many fantastic stats about Gagne, the Dodgers should be paying him top reliever money, right?
Well, there is one problem: this is his first offseason being eligible for arbitration. He joins superstars Alfonso Soriano and Albert Pujols in that regard, but Soriano has already signed (5.4M), and Pujols is discussing a long-term contract. Gagne and the Dodgers are negotiating a contract for 2004, but remain three million dollars apart, $6M vs. $9M. Using Doug Pappas' fantastic website, I found out that $9M would be by far the most a first-year eligible player has gone to an arbitrator, excluding the $9.5M that Pujols is asking for. At this point, Derek Jeter is the leader, asking for $5M preceding the 1999 season. The funny thing about Jeter's case...he won.
Since Major League Baseball started using arbitration in 1974, players have a losing record of 194-259 (.428) against the owners, or about the record that the Cincinnati Reds had on the field last year. So Jeter's case is the exception to the rule. And is Eric Gagne, a reliever, more valuable than Jeter was after 1998, being a shortstop? That's a hard case to argue, because at that point Jeter joined two Hall of Famers who had posted three years of a .370OBP and .400SLG before the age of 25.
In a perfect world, Gagne would earn contracts around those of fellow top-notch closers, Billy Wagner (8M), Mariano Rivera (8.89), and John Smoltz (11M). But as we know all so well, the MLB's economic system is flawed. If Eric Gagne's case goes to the arbitrator, he likely will lose. He deserves so much more.