Insider: Price, Upton Sign One-Year Deals

The Tampa Bay Rays finalized contracts with four of their five remaining arbitration eligible players on Tuesday. Only right-handed starter Jeff Niemann could not come to terms before the 1 pm deadline. Niemann’s side filed for $3.2 million in salary while the Rays countered with an offer of $2.75 million. A third-party arbitration panel will decide which amount he will receive in 2012. As a file-and-go team, Tampa Bay has cut off talks with Niemann until the hearing. The only way the two sides will talk is if it is about a multi-year deal; something that does not appear to be imminent.

Niemann’s salary is to be determined; however, a quartet of players received raises for the upcoming season. New reliever Burke Badenhop will receive $1.075 million while his bullpen-mate J.P. Howell gets $1.35 million. Badenhop could receive an additional $25,000 by reaching 50 appearances – a mark he has hit in each of the past two seasons. B.J. Upton becomes the team’s second-highest paid player at $7 million and David Price gets a sizeable bump with a $4.35 million salary. It was Upton’s third – and final – year of eligibility and the first of four arbitration years for Price.

Player

Projected*

Actual

Badenhop

1.1

1.075

Peralta

2

2.175

Howell

1.4

1.35

Upton

7.6

7

Niemann

3.1

N/A

Price

7.8

4.35

*Projected salaries provided by MLBTradeRumors

**Figures are in millions

In November, I said Price was set to break Dontrelle Willis’ record of $4.35 million for a first-time arbitration eligible pitcher. The Rays’ lefty tied the record by receiving the exact same amount – albeit six years later – but the figure was surprisingly low according to most projections including the one above. Price said he stayed out of the negotiations for the most part, leaving the details for his agent, Bo McKinnis, and the front office to hash out.

With a deal in place, the 26-year-old said he is happy to be a Ray and expressed his love of the organization, his teammates and the Tampa Bay community. When asked about a long-term contract, Price said “If we could work something out, so be it. If not, it’s part of the business.” Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman said the feelings of admiration were mutual, but as far as contract status, the team does not comment publically on those matters.

Some may feel as if Price took a step back in 2011 after finishing second in the 2010 American League Cy Young vote. Last year, the lefty went 12-13 with a 3.49 ERA after going 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA in 2010. Meanwhile, despite the results, one could argue he was actually a better pitcher in 2011.

Price set a career-high in 2011 with 224.1 innings pitched. He also struck out a career-best 23.8% of batters faced and walked a career-low 6.9%. Besides Price, only four other major-league starters struck out more than 23% of batters faced in 2011 while walking fewer than 7%: James Shields, CC Sabathia, Roy Halladay, and Yovani Gallardo (min. 200 innings pitched). Price allowed seven more home runs than he did in 2010; however, that appeared to be some regression to the mean as his 2010 numbers were a bit fortunate.

In setting a career-best 3.46 strikeout-to-walk ratio, Price used a more, well-rounded arsenal. Still leading with his fastball (71% usage), he throw more off-speed pitches than he has in previous seasons. Overall, the lefty threw his change-up 11.4% of the time according to Pitch F/X data which was up from the 6% he averaged from 2008-2011.

The pitch was particularly effective for him when facing right-handed batters. Going against the platoon split, Price threw a change-up 15% of the time. He received a strike on 67% of those pitches – including a whiff rate of 10%. This is noteworthy since 75% of the batters he faced in 2011 were right-handed.

With a salary of $4.35 million, Price will still be a bargain for the Rays in 2012. If he continues his evolution as a pitcher, the disappointing results from last season should turnaround much like they did for James Shields from 2010 to 2011. Considering Price’s number came in much lower than the projections, it is likely that the Rays can afford to give him a raise next season without worrying about him pricing himself out of Tampa Bay’s budget even if a long-term deal does not come to fruition.

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