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How Much Could Carl Pavano Get Through Arbitration?

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Six million?  That's alright.  Ten million?  That's outta sight.  Right?

When the Twins offered Carl Pavano arbitration on Tuesday, it didn't exactly come as a surprise.  He was the only Minnesota free agent to receive an offer, and well, that really didn't come as a surprise either.

Pavano and his agent have made it clear that they intend to test the open market, but for a guy who A) has said he wouldn't mind a return to Minnesota, B) has said he's not really interested in finding himself on another new team, C) probably wants to play for a contender and D) would be entering a free agent market where salaries could be suppressed (hurrah collusion conspiracy theories!), does he really want to turn down the opportunity that's presented itself to him?

The burly right-hander turns 34 in early January, and is coming off of his first not just productive but healthy season since 2004 when he was still with the Marlins.  I don't want to say the end is in sight for Carl, but realistically there are way more years in baseball behind him than in front of him.

We've talked before about how FanGraphs tends to over-value a player's production in terms of dollars, and it's no different with Pavano as they estimate that on the open market his production was worth $16.5 million dollars.  Obviously there's no way his numbers would be worth that much money to replace.  But he was probably worth more than the $1.5 million base he was on the books for in 2009.

Here's Pavano and six other guys who had similar seasons across a number of different categories; some are closer than others.

Player Age Team IP FIP K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/G WHIP FG Dollars
Carl Pavano 33 Indians/
Twins
199.1 4.00 6.64 1.76 3.77 1.17 1.37 $16.5
Nick Blackburn 27 Twins 205.1 4.37 4.29 1.79 2.39 1.09 1.37 $13.3
Mark Buehrle 30 White Sox 213.1 4.46 4.43 1.90 2.33 1.14 1.25 $15.2
James Shields 27 Rays 219.2 4.02 6.84 2.13 3.63 1.19 1.32 $18.3
Cole Hamels 25 Phillies 193.2 3.72 7.81 2.00 3.91 1.12 1.29 $16.9
Ryan Dempster 32 Cubs 200.0 3.87 7.74 2.93 2.65 0.99 1.31 $16.4
Scott Baker 27 Twins 200.0 4.08 7.29 2.16 3.38 1.26 1.19 $15.9



Blackburn was under team control last summer, but the rest of this fine cast of characters were all pitching under a contract in 2009:

Pavano:  $1.5 M
Buehrle:  $14.0 M
Shields:  $1.5 M
Hamels:  $4.35 M
Dempster:  $8 M
Baker:  $750 K

Immediately you see the problem.  All of these guys are at different stages of their careers and at different contractual stages, and it's not realistic to just take the average of the six salaries for an estimate, which is just over $5  million.  Or is it?

Here's a list of arbitration-eligible starters from last winter who were 30 or older, and what kind of a contract they received, although this won't help either because it's not free-agent arbitration:

Mike Gonzalez, 30, 1 year/$3.45 M
Brandon Backe, 30, 1 year/$1.55 M
Wandy Rodriguez, 30, 1 year/$2.6 M
Chris Capuano, 30, minor-league contract
Justin Duchscherer, 31, 1 year/$3.9 M
Todd Wellemeyer, 30, 1 year/$4.05 M

Which of course means Pavano is, more than likely, due more money than Wellemeyer received last year in his final year of arbitration.  But how much?

A 34-year old Braden Looper made $4.75 million in 2009 after signing a contract with the Brewers.  Coming out of his age-31 season Dempster signed a pretty substantial four-year deal with the Cubs.  Randy Wolf (32) made a shade under $5 million this season, and Pavano's former rotation-mate Brady Penny (31 last season) made about the same.  Jamie Moyer (older than baseball itself) made $6.5 million.

Those are the kind of guys Pavano can be grouped with:  veterans who can provide innings and still be effective without breaking the bank and/or being the staff ace.  So maybe $5 million doesn't actually sound so bad for an arbitration offer after all.

If that's all arbitration could garner Pavano, maybe he really might be better taking his chances on the market if he is concerned about the dollars.

Conclusions

With uncharacteristically low contracts offered last season, there has been a lot of talk that teams in baseball would rather non-tender certain arbitration-eligible players and forego the remaining year(s) of team control than pay what has suddenly become a price higher than market value.  It's a financial luxury teams are choosing not to take advantage of.  If this is indeed the case, some veterans who aren't sure of what the market will provide may be tempted to accept that arbitration offer.

Additionally, Pavano's recent history is blemished with injuries and an entire lost season, and that leads me to believe that the chances of his payday in arbitration being closer to $10 million than to $5 million aren't very high.  But realistically, after the season he had in '09, I have little doubt that he could find a team willing to offer a two or three-year deal worth that $5 million...per year.  If not more (I have some doubts about a continued suppression of spending in free agency this year).  So in spite of the possibly lowered expectations on the free agent market and a guaranteed payday via the arbitration route, Carl will probably have the option of multiple years.  Personally, that's not something I want to see the Twins take on.

It was a good move by Minnesota to make Pavano the offer, and oddly enough it puts them in a no-lose situation.  If he accepts they'll get him for one year at what is likely to be a price that the team can easily absorb, and if not then the Twins receive a compensatory draft pick next June and the freedom to go after somebody else with that allocated cash.  As long as this doesn't somehow turn into a multi-year, mega-millions fiasco, this is a good situation.