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Astros: Breaking down arbitration projections for 2021

Oct 16, 2020; San Diego, California, USA; Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa (1) reacts after hitting an RBI single against the Tampa Bay Rays during the fifth inning during game six of the 2020 ALCS at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 16, 2020; San Diego, California, USA; Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa (1) reacts after hitting an RBI single against the Tampa Bay Rays during the fifth inning during game six of the 2020 ALCS at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Houston Astros have six players eligible for arbitration this offseason.

Now that Houston’s enjoyable playoff run is in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look ahead to what’s sure to be a busy offseason for GM James Click, who’ll be piloting this ship for the first time. While the impending free agency of George Springer and Michael Brantley will be the most pressing issue, there are also some matters to be settled for six Astros players who don’t have guaranteed salaries for 2021.

In total, the Astros have six players who are under team control for next year, have between three and six years of service time, but don’t have guaranteed salaries. The front office must first decide whether to tender each of them a contract for 2021 (i.e. make them an offer). If the Astros don’t make an offer, the player will be non-tendered and become a free agent. If the team does make an offer, the two sides will have to negotiate a deal or go to arbitration if no deal is reached.

The arbitration-eligible players are Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers, Roberto Osuna, Aledmys Diaz, Chris Devenski and Dustin Garneau. MLB Trade Rumors publishes their arbitration projections at the beginning of each offseason and have already done so for this year, so we’ll be using their numbers in evaluating each player’s case.

We should also note something that MLB Trade Rumors noted as well — we don’t know how arbitrators will account for there being only a 60-game season. The league and the players union haven’t come to an agreement on that. Do they extrapolate each player’s 2020 performance across 162 games? Do they decrease their raises by the fact that teams only played 37 percent of a full season? That’s a development to keep an eye on.

The Astros Cases

Correa is in line for the biggest salary after earning the prorated portion of $8 million in 2020. It’ll be his final time through arbitration as he’s eligible for free agency after the 2021 season. Of course we all hope he won’t make it there, and the hope is that Click will work out a long-term extension for him this offseason.

Should it go to arbitration, though, it depends on how they value the raises. If his stats are extrapolated across 162 games, the projection is a $10.2 million salary. If the raise is reduced by 37 percent, he’s projected for an $8.8 million salary. His bat wasn’t great in the regular season but his defense was, so he’s due for a raise to be sure. His postseason performance won’t play much of a part in this process.

McCullers is due for a raise as well after earning the prorated portion of $4.1 million in 2020. A strong finish to the season could net him $7 million without raises being reduced, or $5.2 million if they are reduced. He’s a candidate to be extended as well, though I would think perhaps he’s less likely to sign a long term deal.

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Osuna made the prorated portion of $10 million this year, and since he only pitched in four games due to injury, he’s not likely to earn a raise at all. The question is whether the Astros will non-tender him. His recent comments suggest he might be able to pitch in 2021, but does the front office want to take that risk? He’s a free agent after 2021 anyway, and $10 million is a lot to gamble.

Diaz isn’t likely getting a big raise considering he played in only 17 games in 2020. He made the prorated portion of $2.6 million this year and is projected to earn somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.8 million to $3.1 million. If he’s healthy, he’s worth it, so I would expect the Astros to tender him a contract.

Devenski is almost certainly a non-tender. He made the prorated portion of $2 million this year and put up a 14.73 ERA in four games and then underwent arthroscopic elbow surgery in September. He’s expected to be ready for Spring Training, but after three straight disappointing seasons, it may be time to move on. He’d earn around $2 million or $2.1 million in 2021.

The final candidate is Garneau, who made the prorated portion of $650,000 this year and appeared in 17 games, compiling -0.3 WAR. He’s only projected to make around $700,000 or $800,000, so I would think the Astros will tender him a contract considering Garrett Stubbs is the only other candidate on the roster to back up Martin Maldonado.

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