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Salary Arbitration-Eligible Dodgers: Hong-Chih Kuo

Hong-Chih Kuo is fired up about his upcoming raise in 2011.
Hong-Chih Kuo is fired up about his upcoming raise in 2011.

Now that 2011 is upon us, it is nearly time for salary arbitration. The filing period for arbitration begins Wednesday and runs through January 15, but the important date to remember is Tuesday, January 18. That is the date that both sides, player and team, submit salary figures. In most cases, the two sides agree to a contract by this date, or some time shortly thereafter. If the two sides can't agree, a three-member arbitration panel will hear arguments from both sides at a scheduled hearing in February, and the panel will simply choose one salary or the other.

The last Dodger to go to an arbitration hearing was Joe Beimel, who lost his case in 2007. Andre Ethier and the Dodgers worked out a deal in 2009 just minutes before his arbitration hearing was scheduled to begin. Last season, the Dodgers had a whopping nine players eligible for salary arbitration: they worked out a deal with Jason Repko nine days before the deadline to exchange figures, signed Matt Kemp and Chad Billingsley five days later, and worked out contracts for the other six players on the deadline date.

The Dodgers have three players eligible for arbitration this winter: Billingsley, James Loney, and Hong-Chih Kuo. Today, we focus on Kuo.

Kuo is coming off a wonderful year in 2010. He set a Dodger record for lowest ERA in a season (minimum 40 innings) at 1.20, and filled in capably as closer when Jonathan Broxton faltered in the second half. Kuo is always a tough pitcher to project going forward; if he's healthy, he is one of the best relievers in the game, but that health is anything but a given. He has had two Tommy John surgeries, and has battled elbow and rotator cuff injuries in the last few seasons.

Kuo made $975,000 in 2010 ($950,000 base salary, plus $25,000 for pitching in 55 games), and currently has four years, 114 days of service time. It's hard to project him as a closer going forward given that (a) the club has publicly said the closer's job is Broxton's to lose; and (b) Kuo is rarely used in back-to-back days, in an effort to preserve his fragile, yet very valuable left arm. But just how valuable is Kuo? Here are a few relief pitchers from last offseason, each in the same service class as Kuo and each with similar experience as closer.

Pitcher Years Svc Time IP Saves HR/9 BB/9 K/9 ERA ERA+ FIP Salary
Michael Wuertz
2004-09 4.139 341.0 5 0.9 4.0 9.8 3.35 135 3.55 $2.2 million
Todd Coffey 2005-09 4.024 297.1 11 1.1 2.6 6.3 4.03 110 4.33 $2.025 million
Brian Bruney
2004-09 4.164 221.1 13 0.9 6.2 8.9 4.27 107 4.68 $1.5 million
Hong-Chih Kuo
2006-10 4.114 265.1 13 0.5 3.5 10.5 3.19 132 2.75 ???

Wuertz's salary was the first year of a two-year, $5.25 million contract he signed with Oakland before last season.

Kuo compares very favorably to these relievers, each with a small amount of closing experience. Kuo has a case to make at least the $2.2 million made by Wuertz last season, but the only thing holding Kuo back is his injury history, which of course is a big if.

Here are a few more pitchers comparable to Kuo, but with more closing experience:

Pitcher Years Svc Time IP Saves HR/9 BB/9 K/9 ERA ERA+ FIP Salary
Jonathan Broxton 2005-09 4.020 317.0 55 0.5 3.6 11.9 2.92 147 2.55 $4 million
Heath Bell 2004-09 4.099 349.1 44 0.6 2.9 9.2 3.40 118 3.04 $4 million
C.J. Wilson
2005-09 4.055 280.2 52 0.9 4.1 8.4 4.30 107 4.06 $3.1 million
Hong-Chih Kuo
2006-10 4.114 265.1 13 0.5 3.5 10.5 3.19 132 2.75 ???

Broxton made $4 million in the first season of a two-year, $11 million deal signed last winter.

Kuo simply doesn't have the closing experience to match these relievers. It seems like Kuo's salary will fall somewhere in between the $2.2 million of Wuertz and the $3.1 million of Wilson. Given Kuo's limited closing experience, I believe his salary will fall somewhere nearer the low end of that range, so I'll stick with the $2.5 million estimate for his 2011 salary.

Thanks as always to Cot's Baseball Contracts and Baseball-Reference.