A.J. Ellis and salary arbitration

Imagine how good a year Ellis might have had if he used a real bat. - Justin Edmonds

The catcher is eligible for salary arbitration for the first time after his first full season in 2012. Ellis has two years, 151 days of service time and is a Super Two player.

Salary arbitration season is still a month away, but in the relative lull of the holiday season at least we have something to analyze. The Dodgers have a pair of arbitration-eligible players in catcher A.J. Ellis and relief pitcher Ronald Belisario. Here is a wild stab at what Ellis might make this winter.

The Dodgers have already done the heavy lifting of their offseason with the signings of Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu for a total of $208.7 million guaranteed over six years (including the posting fee for Ryu). The team already has 21 players under contract for 2013, 22 including Tony Gwynn Jr., who is not on the 40-man roster.

That leaves only a precious few spots for pre-free agency players on the Dodgers' roster. Two of those spots will be filled by Ellis and Belisario, who qualified as "Super Two" players. They are among the top 22% in service time of players with at least two years but not quite three years in the big leagues.

Salary arbitration is all about finding comparable players, which is an inexact science. For a nice look inside the arbitration process, take a listen to this interview of Braves director of player administration John Capolella by Baseball Prospectus and Kevin Goldstein from September 2011.

Finding similar players and performances can be especially tough for catchers. Here is a look at possible comps for Ellis, and their career numbers.

Arbitration Eligible Catchers, Career to Date
Catcher Years Service Time PA HR BA/OBP/SLG OPS+ wOBA wRC+ rWAR fWAR Salary
A.J. Ellis 2009-12 2.151 749 15 .267/.369/.386 110 .333 112 3.5 5.0 TBD
Nick Hundley 2008-11 3.088 1,120 30 .255/.314/.420 104 .320 103 4.3 6.4 $2,000,000
Geovany Soto 2005-10 3.096 1,426 54 .268/.360/.470 113 .360 115 7.2 9.3 $3,000,000
Jarrod Salatalamacchia 2007-10 3.043 899 23 .248/.315/.386 83 .310 81 0.5 0.2 $750,000
Miguel Montero 2006-09 3.031 938 31 .267/.332/.445 97 .335 96 2.0 3.0 $2,000,000
Jeff Mathis 2005-09 3.012 861 20 .200/.277/.320 57 .266 56 0.6 0.2 $1,300,000
Jesus Flores 2007-09 2.158 627 16 .260/.313/.406 89 .315 88 1.5 1.8 $750,000
Russell Martin 2006-08 2.150 1,738 42 .285/.373/.433 109 .354 113 11.0 13.9 $3,900,000
Mike Napoli 2006-08 2.151 862 46 .248/.362/.493 121 .367 123 5.7 6.8 $2,000,000

Remember, these are career numbers heading into arbitration and though some are similar to Ellis in some ways have extenuating circumstances that both differentiate them and limited their salaries. Flores was limited to 29 games in 2009 with a torn labrum in his shoulder, an injury that would keep him out for all of 2010. Saltalamacchia spent most of 2010 in the minors and had just 30 major league plate appearances in his platform year. Mathis is a career back-up who is one of the worst hitters in major league history.

Ellis, however, is coming off a stellar season, a full season behind the plate, which should give him a bump heading into arbitration. Let's look at how Ellis compares with his recent peers in the year immediately preceding salary arbitration.

Arbitration Eligible Catchers, Platform Years
Catcher Platform Year Service Time PA HR BA/OBP/SLG OPS+ wOBA wRC+ rWAR fWAR Salary
A.J. Ellis 2012 2.151 505 13 .270/.373/.414 118 .341 118 3.2 4.1 TBD
Nick Hundley 2011 3.088 308 9 .288/.347/.477 134 .356 132 3.1 3.5 $2,000,000
Geovany Soto 2010 3.096 387 17 .280/.383/.497 135 .387 137 3.1 3.5 $3,000,000
Miguel Montero 2009 3.031 470 16 .294/.355/.478 113 .359 113 3.1 2.8 $2,000,000
Russell Martin 2008 2.150 650 13 .280/.385/.396 108 .350 112 3.7 5.2 $3,900,000
Mike Napoli 2008 2.151 274 20 .273/.374/.586 148 .399 146 2.3 2.7 $2,000,000

This gives us a better idea of the salary range for Ellis in 2013. Hundley and Napoli had part-time roles heading into their $2 million season, so adjust Ellis accordingly. Martin's $3.9 million serves as an absolute ceiling for Ellis, and one he is unlikely to reach as Martin carried two consecutive All-Star berths into his first arbitration year.

Ellis compares favorably with both Montero and Soto, and the difference in their salaries appears to have been aided by Soto's advantage in career bulk production. Ellis figures to settle in at somewhere close to the $3 million earned by Soto in 2011, depending on how heavily his platform year is weighed relative to his career performance to date.

The date to file for salary arbitration is Tuesday, Jan. 15, and both sides will exchange salary figures on Friday, Jan. 18. In many cases, agreements are made right around the exchange date, but the two sides are free to continue to negotiate even after submitting salary figures. Last offseason, the Dodgers reached agreement with both Andre Ethier and James Loney on the exchange date.

Salary arbitration hearings in 2013 will be held from Feb. 1-20. Last year, Clayton Kershaw avoided arbitration with a two-year contract signed on Feb. 7, just before his scheduled hearing.

If the player and team can't reach agreement and do in fact engage in a hearing, they will each present their case and a three-person panel will pick one side or the other, with no compromise. The last Dodger to have an arbitration hearing was Joe Beimel in 2007.

Hat tip as always to Cot's Baseball Contracts, Baseball-Reference, and FanGraphs.

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