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2014 salary arbitration preview: A.J. Ellis

Ellis will receive a raise from the $2 million he made in 2013. Within a few weeks, we will likely know exactly how much.

Harry How

Now that the calendar has turned to January, we can start to focus on salary arbitration. We'll start with catcher A.J. Ellis, arbitration eligible for the second time.

Ellis is one of three remaining Dodgers eligible for arbitration, along with closer Kenley Jansen and ace Clayton Kershaw. We'll get to those two pitchers later this week, but we open with the catcher.

Though the system is adversarial in nature, it is designed to drive both sides toward a midpoint agreement. Both player and team can negotiate throughout the winter, but the important dates to remember are these:

  • January 14: Arbitration filing
  • January 17: Exchange of salary figures
  • February 1-20: Arbitration hearings, scheduled as needed

Many agreements will be made the week of the filing, but in case the player and team can't come to an agreement an arbitration hearing is scheduled. In a hearing, both sides present their case to a three-person panel, which chooses one of the two salary figures exchanged back on January 17, with no in between.

Teams and players are allowed to negotiate up to the scheduled hearing. Andre Ethier and the Dodgers came to an agreement with the Dodgers in 2009 minutes before his arbitration hearing was scheduled to begin.

In 2013, 133 major league players filed for salary arbitration, but for the first time since the process was instituted in 1974 no cases went to a hearing. The Dodgers haven't had an arbitration hearing since 2007, with Joe Beimel.

Knowing the process, let's look at Ellis. This is the second season of arbitration eligibility for Ellis, who was a Super Two last winter.

Normally a player is first eligible for arbitration after three years of service time, but Super Two status is reserved for the top 22% in service time among players with less than three years and more than two years of big league service time.

More details: Dodgers payroll

Last year I overshot by quite a bit for Ellis, predicting he would get a salary in the $3 million range. He ended up signing for $2 million. This year I decided to keep it relatively simple.

Here is a look at some catchers with between roughly similar service time to Ellis, and their career numbers:

Comparable arbitration-eligible catchers
Catcher Years Svc Time PA HR BA/OBP/SLG OPS+ wOBA wRC+ rWAR fWAR Salary
A.J. Ellis 2009-2013 3.151 1,197 25 .256/.349/.378 104 .322 105 6.2 6.8 tbd
Nick Hundley 2008-2011 3.088 1,120 30 .255/.314/.420 104 .320 103 4.6 6.4 $2,000,000*
Miguel Montero 2006-2009 3.031 938 31 .267/.332/.445 97 .335 96 2.2 3.0 $2,000,000
Alex Avila 2009-2012 3.061 1,390 40 .261/.359/.432 113 .347 115 8.4 8.0 $2,950,000
Nick Hundley 2008-2012 4.088 1,345 33 .238/.298/.390 92 .301 90 4.1 5.2
Miguel Montero 2006-2010 4.031 1,269 40 .267/.332/.443 98 .335 97 3.5 3.8 $3,200,000
Mike Napoli 2006-2009 3.151 1,294 66 .256/.358/.493 121 .366 122 9.1 9.3 $3,600,000
*Part of multi-year contract

I cheated a little bit by adding the four-year mark for both Hundley and Montero, but catcher comps are difficult enough to find, let alone one who was a Super Two.

Among the group Napoli was the only other Super Two, but he serves more as an upper limit for Ellis. The Avila comp looks decent, and not just because Tommy Lasorda is his godfather.

Matt Swartz at MLB Trade Rumors predicted a 2014 salary of $3.2 million for Ellis. Last year, Swartz predicted $1.7 million.

I'll guess $3.1 million for Ellis in arbitration in 2014. Prepare for that to be quite wrong.

Thanks as always to the great research tools at Baseball-Reference, MLB Trade Rumors, Cot's Baseball Contracts and FanGraphs.