O’s Save Some Money On Adam Jones

A Super-Two is a player qualifies for salary arbitration after their second year in the big leagues as opposed to after their third (as is the usual circumstance).

From Cot’s Baseball Contracts:

“The top 17 percent of players with at least 2 but less than 3 years of Major League service. (See Super 2). To qualify as a Super 2, a player must have accumulated at least 86 days of service in the previous year. (A year of service is 172 days. The historical cutoff point for Super 2 status is 2 years, 128 days of service, though the requirement has been as high as 2 years, 140 days.)”

This year the cutoff was 2 years, 139 days. There were three players who fell right on that line: Mike Fontetot, Mark Reynolds, and the Orioles’ very own Adam Jones.  Only one of the three was able to get across, and the tie-breaker of service days in the previous year gave it to Fontenot. That meant that Adam Jones wouldn’t be making millions of dollars next season, unless the team felt super generous (since they can pay him what they wish). [He’ll have to console himself with his shiny new Gold Glove.]

While it might not sound like a big deal, the savings to the team add up. To find out what they add up to, we need an idea of how much Jones will be worth (very crudely).

Last year Jones’ was an above average hitter, posting a .343 wOBA (.277/.335/.457) worth 6.3 runs more than average over his 519 plate appearances. The previous year he was at -6.6 runs (.313 wOBA). I think Jones is much more likely to get better than worse with the bat, so a +10 over a full season going forward doesn’t seem unreasonable.

Defensively, Jones had a -4.3 UZR/150 this year and a +11.5 UZR/150 last year. Weighting the most recent year more, I’d say maybe a +2 in center which I’ll assume holds steady . Really, his offense should get better as he moves into his prime while his defense gets worse as he gets bigger and slower – I’m assuming they cancel out.

That would make Jones about a 3 Wins Above Replacement player, assuming a 25 run replacement level (AL) and playing time at 75% (about 530 PA a season, which seems low but would be a career high for him).

I’m using $4.5 M per WAR on the free agent market this year, with 7% increases thereafter (plus $0.4 M for the league minimum, also increasing by 7%). In arbitration, players tend to get 40% in their first year, then 60% in their second and 80% in their third. For Super-Twos, that schedule gets moved up and then they get 80% in year four as well. As a free agent on a one year deal, Jones would be expected to get about $14 M.

Let’s take what his salaries might be now: 2010 (team decides): $0.5 M, 2011 (first arbitration year): $6.2 M, 2012: $9.7 M, 2013: $13.7 M.

Now if he was a Super-Two: 2010: $5.8 M, 2011: $9.1 M, 2012: $12.8 M, 2013: $13.7 M.

That’s a difference of $11.3 M, which isn’t a ton of money but could sign you a couple of first-round draft-picks or a corner infield combo (Glaus and Delgado?) for 2010.

Even if you assume the arbitration amounts aren’t reasonable (which is fair – there is certainly some variation there), the team is still saving some money in the millions. One thing they could do with it is invest right back into Adam Jones by offering him a long-term contract. Something like 5 years, $40 M would pay Jones as if he was only a 2.5 WAR player going forward and buy out a year of free agency, while also potentially giving him higher salaries starting next year (as if he was a Super-Two) instead of 2011. It would be a pretty fair deal for both sides, and something I think the O’s should look into.