The deadline for teams to exchange figures with their arbitration-eligible players can be a contentious time. Luckily for the Tampa Bay Rays, all their hard work proved to be enough this offseason as they avoided hearings with all eight of their eligibles. What were the factors that led them to the salaries to which they agreed with their players?
We have finally arrived at the conclusion of this series, and you can find the rest of the parts here. We will finish things off with Desmond Jennings, whose $3.1 million payout in his first time through arbitration says more than we would think.
Desmond Jennings has not yet broken through for the Tampa Bay Rays, but it is remarkable how consistent he has been. According to Baseball-Reference, Jennings was worth 3.3 WAR in 2012, 2.9 WAR in 2013, and 3.3 WAR in 2014. Fangraphs actually likes him a little bit more, saying he was worth 3.3 WAR, 3.2 WAR, and 3.3 WAR respectively in those years.
In 2014, Jennings hit to a .244/.319/.378 line (100 OPS+) with 10 homers, 36 RBI, and 15 stolen bases in 542 plate appearances. We wish he was stronger against righties and ran the bases a little bit better, but between his solid overall bat and excellent defense, he has established himself as an above-average starting centerfielder in the major leagues. Could the Rays realistically ask him for anything more?
If you’re not yet sold on how good Jennings truly is, a glance at his arbitration comparables might do the trick.
Desmond Jennings is in the upper echelon of centerfielders entering their first arbitration season. He beat the overall averages in every single statistic in the table on his way to the sixth-highest non-extension arbitration payout to a centerfielder since 2005.
Of course, Rays fans may be tempted to ignore that given the player directly below Jennings: B.J. Upton. People love making the comparison between the Rays’ current centerfielder and his forebear at the position, and this appears to support that. However, the second and third columns from the right in the table tell a different story.
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Jennings hasn’t been perfect in the field, but his overall performance was enough for him to be above the table average in defensive WAR. Upton, meanwhile, was below-average and only gets to an even 0.0 if we take out his two worst seasons. In addition, Jennings continued going strong in 2014 as his continued his steady productivity from year to year. Upton, meanwhile, collapsed in 2009 and did not find his bearings again until 2011.
Jennings’ defense and solid finish were enough for him to edge Upton, and he was also a very close comparable for Shane Victorino. While this time it was Victorino posting better results in those same two columns, Jennings closed most of the gap with his more impressive bat, particularly when we look at OPS+.
If Desmond Jennings had wanted to, he easily could have gone to a hearing and went for the $3.25 million number shared by Jon Jay, Adam Jones, and Josh Hamilton. He beats all three of them in a multiplicity of categories and deserves to stand in their midst. Of course, it made no sense for Jennings to go crazy about just $15,000–ending up just behind them makes a similar point.
The bottom line from this, though, is that Rays fans need to appreciate Desmond Jennings more. He is one of the best centerfielders entering his first arbitration season from the last decade, putting him right there with some of baseball’s biggest stars.
The question now is what will happen next–will Jennings harness his potential and reveal another gear his game had not reached perviously? The Rays are certainly hoping he does, but even if this is as good as Desmond Jennings will get, there is no shame in that whatsoever.