Sean Rodriguez had a strange 2013, but it was a good one nonetheless. The usual middle infielder wound up seeing time primarily at left field and first base and hit to a .246/.320/.385 line (98 OPS+) with 10 doubles, 5 homers, and 23 RBI in 222 plate appearances. He was especially good against left-handed pitching, putting up a .252/.326/.419 line. After a season like that, what will Rodriguez receive in his second go-around through arbitration? After he made $1 million in 2013, Matt Swartz projects a $1.3 million salary. Let’s look at comparable players to understand that number and give our own take about what Rodriguez will get.
The bottom line with figuring out Rodriguez’s salary is that he had a solid season but in limited playing time. In finding comparable players, I looked for players with between 175 and 285 plate appearances and similar outputs in terms of on-base percentage and slugging percentage. The best fits are one fellow utility player and two players you may not have expected.
In 2010, Jeff Baker hit to a .272/.326/.413 line with 13 doubles, 4 homers, and 29 RBI in 224 plate appearances for the Chicago Cubs. The result: a $200,000 raise in his second time arbitration from $975,000 to $1.175 million. Rodriguez’s numbers are eerily similar with the exception of his batting average, and that $200,000 raise could make a lot of sense for him. Another potential comparable is Ben Broussard. Broussard has several seasons better than anything Rodriguez ever did, but after slipping to a .275/.330/.404 line with 10 doubles, 7 homers, and 29 RBI in 264 plate appearances in 2007, he received a $300,000 raise from $3.55 million to $3.85 million. Then there is Alex Gordon. Before Gordon ascended to stardom, he managed just a .215/.315/.355 line with 10 doubles, 8 homers, and 20 RBI in 281 plate appearances in 2010. Despite significantly worse slash stats than Baker and Broussard, he received a $250,000 raise to $1.4 million. We see that there is not much variability in this case–Rodriguez will get a raise of somewhere between $200,000 and $300,000. But how do we determine what Rodriguez gets within that?
One thing that is going to be an interesting factor is Rodriguez’s defense. UZR really liked what he did while DRS and FRAA thought he was a touch above-average. The issue with that, however, is that he played in just 12 games at shortstop and second base, starting only four times. He played primarily at left field and first base, two positions that are much less demanding. Baker was only an average defender, but he was playing mostly at third base and second base. Can we really argue that Rodriguez is better? Gordon and Broussard were both worse defenders at primarily left field and first base respectively, yet they got more money. If we’re looking at Gordon and Broussard, it seems like they received more because they made more plate appearances, with Broussard getting more because he played better in that additional time. Rodriguez and his agents, MVP Sports Group, can make a lot of arguments, but they can’t magically make 40 to 60 more plate appearances come out of thin air.
Rodriguez is not in a great spot to make more than $1.2 million because Baker is just such a great comparison. Whatever advantages he gain by hitting one more homer, having a higher slugging percentage, and playing some shortstop is negated by his lower batting average. This isn’t even a case where it gets bigger when we adjust for inflation–Baker’s raise actually goes down from $200,000 to $173,982. With that in mind, expect the Rays to give Rodriguez just a touch over Baker, say $1.205 million, and close the book on his arbitration case.