Astros like their approach to arbitration
Club's preparations helped them stay within budget
HOUSTON -- The homework done by president of baseball operations Tal Smith, general manager Ed Wade and assistant general manager David Gottfried over the past few months ensured the Astros were prepared for the kind of monetary hit they'll take in arbitration this year.
With seven of their eight arbitration-eligible players having reached contract agreements for the upcoming season and pitcher Wandy Rodriguez headed to a hearing, the Astros will pay out either $16.84 million or $18.84 million this year to that group of players.
More than $11.5 million and perhaps as much as $13.5 million -- depending on whether Rodriguez wins his case -- will come from raises and will represent a significant chunk of the 2010 payroll. Three of the Astros' top players -- Rodriguez, center fielder Michael Bourn and right fielder Hunter Pence -- were arbitration-eligible and got big raises.
"The reality is some of our young guys are beginning to move into the stage of their careers where they're becoming more established, and as a result arbitration becomes a mechanism that you have to address," Wade said. "We're happy with the composition of the club, we're happy with the fact we've got good, young players like Wandy and Hunter Pence and Bourn and the other guys that fall into our category."
The Astros' research had them ready for the financial ramifications of having three front-tier players up for arbitration. The club was already going to trim payroll his year by about $10 million, so adding more than $11 million to the tab in arbitration raises made it all that much more challenging.
Wade said Gottfried, in particular, is adept at looking at the market and trying to project what kind of money the arbitration-eligible players will receive. The job Smith and Gottfried did working up the numbers indicated the Astros were within range with respect to those players, Wade said.
Bourn, who was named the team's Most Valuable Player last year and won a Rawlings Gold Glove Award, got a $1.965 million raise when he agreed to a $2.4 million contract Jan. 19 in his first year of arbitration eligibility. Pence, also in his first year, received a $3.061 million raise when he settled for $3.5 million on Saturday.
Reliever Matt Lindstrom, traded from the Marlins in December, got a $1.215 million raise when he signed for $1.625 million on Jan. 19. Rodriguez made $2.6 million last year and will get a raise of either $3.5 million or $5.5 million.
"We have a fairly specific budget to work with, and we tried to use it as effectively as we could," Wade said. "Arbitration is a very significant vehicle for a player to realize a dramatic salary increase, but the reality is it's been in place a really long time and you budget for it and you recognize it's an important part of the process."
Rodriguez and the Astros will have an arbitration hearing Feb. 17. The pitcher, who last year led the team in wins, innings pitched and strikeouts, is asking for $7 million. The Astros countered with $5 million and last week set a deadline to get a deal done or head to a hearing.
"We're fortunate enough in our system and the way [owner] Drayton [McLane] handles the club that we're able to work our way through this process," Wade said. "We're not in position of having to shed payroll [and get rid of arbitration-eligible players]. We don't have to trade good, young players because they're arbitration eligible.
"We're able to conduct business in a fashion that allows us to retain good, young talent, and our hope and expectation going forward is we're going to have good, young talented players coming through the system and getting three-plus years of service time, and we want to be able to retain those players."
The Astros will be challenged next year with Rodriguez, Pence and Bourn all up for arbitration again. Rodriguez will be a free agent after the 2011 season, Bourn and Pence after 2013. As those players get closer to becoming free agents, the Astros will begin to consider signing them to long-term deals.
In the case of Rodriguez, that means after the 2010 season.
"We hope they continue to perform at a level where we're talking about multiple-year contracts and buying out free-agent eligibility and things of that nature," Wade said. "We're close to that point with Wandy. If Wandy goes out and has another big season in 2010, that's a front-burner discussion for us.
"In the case of Michael and Hunter, that's further off on the horizon, particularly in Hunter's case. Our goal is to draft, sign and develop and/or acquire good, young talent and be in position to give them opportunities to succeed and to pay them."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.