Insider: Award Impacts Rays, Hellickson’s Future

On Monday afternoon, Jeremy Hellickson was named the 2011 American League rookie of the year. The right-hander went 13-10, making 29 starts in his first full major-league season. There have been debates about whether his 2.95 ERA is a sign true talent level or a byproduct of good luck since he produced average peripherals with a high number of balls in play converted into outs.

The potential for statistical regression in conjunction with the potential for progression as a young pitcher will make Hellickson’s future production a topic for further debate. That said, most can agree the results which produced the hardware and accolades that come with winning the rookie of the year award will certainly impact Hellickson’s future earning potential and value to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Projected production is important when calculating a player’s true value, but awards and things of that nature – while subjective – still hold weight in negotiations. With a plaque saying he was the best rookie in his class, Jeremy Hellickson picked up a valuable chip to play the time comes for a contract extension or arbitration. And while fans, teams, and players should celebrate these achievements – for a club like the Rays – each award handed out has the potential to stretch what is already a very thin operating budget.

Worrying about future salary obligations is never fun for a fan base; however, it is almost a necessity for followers of the Rays. The good news is Jeremy Hellickson’s current service time puts him roughly two full seasons away from arbitration eligibility. This means his salary for the 2012 and 2013 seasons will be less than $1 million combined.

Some point between now and then the Rays will likely approach Hellickson about an extension – if they have not already. Meanwhile, Andrew Friedman recently said that a contract extension not only has to make sense for the organization, but the player be open to a deal as well. Because of the potential dollars gained by winning this award, Hellickson’s price tag for an extension may have increased, knowing he can use the success the 2011 season in a possible arbitration battle if an extension is not reached.

Another unfortunate reality of being a Rays’ fan is projecting how much a player’s value to this team measures against his value to another. Without an extension – or even with one – there will be a time where Hellickson’s value to Tampa Bay will be evaluated much like Matt Garza, James Shields – and perhaps soon – David Price. With pitching being the continued focus of the organization, there will be a time where a younger, cheaper, and more controllable player is ready to take Hellickson’s spot; similar to how he was ready to step in for Garza in 2011.

In addition to future earnings, awards also change perception and impact trade value as well. Prior to the 2008 season, the Rays received an attractive package for Delmon Young based on the perception that he was still a top prospect more than his production to date. In 2009, the team received three prospects in exchange for two-time, all-star Scott Kazmir whose career was in a downward spiral. If Hellickson progresses as expected, the title of 2011 rookie of the year only helps Tampa Bay in negotiations.

When anybody in the Rays’ organization is rewarded for a job well done we should take the time to recognize their accomplishment. At the same time, when it comes to performance-based awards, we should also recognize the financial implications; especially for players. For now, we congratulate Jeremy Hellickson on his award-winning season; however, we must wonder what impact it has on the future.