In 2011, Sam Fuld had a magical season to help the Rays survive when Evan Longoria went down and make the postseason when it was all said and done. 2012 was not nearly as good for Fuld as wrist surgery sidelined him until late July. But even after that, the Rays chose to retain him, setting up what was an interesting arbitration case between Fuld and the Rays. We now know the results as Marc Topkin reported that Fuld and the Rays have agreed to a 1-year deal worth $725,000.
Fuld, who returned 31 in November, gave the Rays everything they possibly could have hoped for in 2011, managing a .240/.313/.360 line (91 OPS+) with 18 doubles, 5 triples, 3 homers, 27 RBI, 20 of 28 stolen bases, and a 49-32 strikeout to walk ratio in 105 games and 346 plate appearances. Those numbers were punctuated by Fuld’s incredible 11-game stretch that we all remember from that April where he hit .429 with 4 doubles, 2 triples, 1 homer, 8 RBI, and 4 stolen bases in 51 plate appearances. After he returned in 2012, Fuld’s numbers were actually very similar only without any real stretch of greatness. In 44 games and 107 plate appearances, Fuld managed a .255/.318/.327 line (83 OPS+) with 3 doubles, 2 triples, 5 RBI, 7 of 9 stolen bases, and a 14-8 strikeout to walk ratio. Fuld’s arbitration case gets interesting because usually when a player has a season like Fuld does, his team will non-tender him considering he’s a backup-type player who’s either injury prone (as is the case with Fuld) or expendable and spent most of the season at Triple-A. Fuld just barely qualified to be Super Two eligible, but he did and the Rays had to work with him to try to determine his salary for next season. What was Fuld worth? Let’s try to figure that out.
Two players that became arbitration-eligible for the first time under somewhat similar circumstances as Fuld were Mitch Maier and Willie Bloomquist, but the issues here are that neither of them were Super Twos and also that Bloomquist’s case happened back in 2006 and the financial landscape of baseball has changed since then. Nevertheless, this is what we have to go on and we’re going to have to look at their cases and then adjust the specifics of their cases to apply to Fuld.
Maier was a semi-regular player with the Kansas City Royals in 2009 and 2010, managing a .254/.333/.354 line (87 OPS+) with 8 homers and 12 stolen bases in 244 games and 818 plate appearances. But despite being healthy for all of 2011, Maier got into just 45 games for the Royals all season, managing a .232/.345/.337 line (90 OPS+) in 113 plate appearances before being arbitration-eligible following the year. Bloomquist, meanwhile, received right around 200 plate appearances for the Seattle Mariners each season from 2003 to 2005, managing a .251/.296/.329 (68 OPS+) with 3 homers and 31 stolen bases in 264 games and 688 plate appearances, and then filed for arbitration in 2006. To get an idea of how similar Fuld’s case is to those two and how it differs, let’s compare the stats from the three players. Because everyone got a different number of plate appearances in their career entering their first arbitration-eligible season (Fuld got 608, Bloomquist 726, and Maier 1043), the counting stats below, doubles, homers, RBI, and stolen bases, are all their averages per season.
Fuld and Maier are a near perfect comp in the slash stats while Bloomquist isn’t far behind, but looking at the rate stats, it’s clear that Fuld hasn’t received anywhere near as much playing time even on a per season basis- he has averaged just 122 plate appearances per season while Maier is at 209 PA’s and Bloomquist is at 182. To get a better idea for how Fuld compares to Maier and Bloomquist, let’s look at their numbers per 500 plate appearances.
Other than RBIs, which are a product of opportunity, Fuld looks more impressive than either Bloomquist or Maier, especially when factor in ballparks and the fact that Bloomquist put up those numbers in a more hitter-friendly time, hence the much lower OPS+. Fuld’s argument would have to be that even though he played in fewer games than Maier and Bloomquist, he was better when he did get into games, and he was also the only one of three to have a season with 18 or more doubles or 20 or more stolen bases, and then of course there’s the Super Sam narrative. What would he ask for? Well, as first-time arbitration-eligible players after the conventional three pre-arbitration seasons, Maier got $865,000 while Bloomquist got $650,000 (which would be more like $750,000 in 2012 dollars). The question on that would have to be this: how much of Maier’s additional money over Bloomquist was based more on his better performance and how much based on his additional playing time? Maier wasn’t really that much better than Bloomquist in raw stats (OPS+ tells a different story), so the more significant reason was his additional playing time. If we set a model for plate appearances versus salary (with Bloomquist’s salary adjusted t0 2012 dollars), Fuld would be expected to ask for $707,192, which we’ll round down to $700,000, while if we model games versus salary, Fuld would be expected to ask for $685,865, so right around the same area. How did Fuld end up with $725,000, then, especially if the Rays were trying to get him for less money? Chances are that Fuld looked for a deal somewhere around what Maier got and the Rays countered with something similar to what Bloomquist actually received and then the two sides agreed to a contract not too far from the middle of that. I probably would have guessed that Fuld would have received less because he has played so little, but you add in the Super Sam narrative and you never know what happens in arbitration, so the Rays chose to play it safe and give Fuld a contract in the lower range of what he wanted. Considering Fuld does so many things for the Rays that his numbers can’t quantify, the $725,000 deal will be an incredible bargain for the Rays and it certainly be a comfort for Rays fans to know that Fuld is officially under contract for what looks to be an exciting 2013 season.