In the MLB, a franchise controls any given player for their first six full seasons (defined as 172 or more days on the 25 man roster) of major league service time before qualifying for free agency. A player can be paid at the league minimum, about $507,500 in 2016, for their first three seasons. After that, players qualify for arbitration for the next three seasons, where they can exchange salary figures with their clubs and negotiate their final pay. If the player and club cannot agree on a salary, then each side files their desired salary and presents their case to an arbitration panel. Cases are generally predicated on the "baseball card" statistics that we don't use much anymore for analyzing players, but things like home runs, runs batted in, pitcher wins, and saves can skew a player's salary higher. After hearing both sides, the panel decides what the player's salary will be for that season.
An exception to this rule is if a player qualifies for "Super Two" status. This is achieved by players with between two and three years of service time who rank in the top 22% of service time among their class. According to Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors, this year’s projected cut-off is between 2 years, 127 days of service and 2 years, 131 days of service, written as 2.127 to 2.131.
With the Brewers emphasizing the need for controllable talent, almost the entire roster falls between zero and six years of service time. That includes a eight arbitration eligible players, which ranks them about at the middle of the pack in comparison to the rest of the 30 MLB teams. Those players (with salary projections from MLB Trade Rumors) are:
1B Chris Carter (4.159 years of service)
Milwaukee signed Carter to a $3 mil deal (after incentives) last winter after he was non-tendered by the Astros. He set career-highs in home runs (41), runs batted in (94), and plate appearances (644), number that are important in arbitration calculations. Carter appeared in 160 games and posting an .821 OPS, both also career-bests. His high strikeout totals and middling defense shouldn’t hurt his earning capacity here. Despite MLB Trade Rumors’ musings that he could be a non-tender candidate, the club has intimated otherwise and it’s probably a safe bet that we’ll see CC manning first base again in 2017.
2017 projected salary: $8.1 mil (+$5.1 mil)
C Martin Maldonado (4.156)
Maldy has spent his entire big league career with the Brewers and spent the second half of last season as the club’s primary catcher following the Jonathan Lucroy trade. He wasn’t ‘great’ in that role, however, posting a .683 OPS with eight home runs and 21 RBI total this season in 253 plate appearances. It’s worth noting that Maldonado’s 82 OPS+ is only slightly below what the league average catcher produced in 2016 and he did throw out 40% of attempted base runners, a career high. However with two younger, cheaper, MLB-ready catchers present on the roster in Andrew Susac and Manny Pina, Maldonado strikes me as a potential trade or non-tender candidate.
2017 projected salary: $1.6 mil (+$475K)
RHP Carlos Torres (4.114)
The Brewers signed Torres just days before the season began and he would go on to become one of the most valuable members of Craig Counsell’s bullpen. He appeared in 72 games and tossed 82.1 innings, posting a 2.73 ERA with 8.5 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9. Torres prevented 16 runs along the way, second on the team behind Junior Guerra. A FIP of 3.75 looks a bit less favorably on his work, but Torres is still a safe bet to reprise his role as a setup man in 2017.
2017 projected salary: $2 mil (+$1.05 mil)
RHP Wily Peralta (3.160)
It was a tale of two halves for Milwaukee’s Opening Day starter, who posted a 6.68 ERA in 13 starts before getting demoted to Colorado Springs in June. Peralta was recalled in August (which allowed the Brewers to gain an addition year of service time) and made 10 starts before the end of the season, posting a 2.92 ERA. For the year, he threw 127.2 innings with a 4.86 ERA, 6.6 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, and -8 runs prevented. That worked to a 4.71 FIP, generally supporting his work this season. Peralta looked like a sure non-tender candidate when he was demoted, but his flourish to finish the season likely saved him from that fate and ensured a spot in the rotation to begin next season.
2017 projected salary: $4.4 mil (+$1.6 mil)
OF Kirk Nieuwenhuis (3.112)
The Brewers claimed Captain Kirk off waivers last winter from the Mets. He made the team as a reserve outfielder in spring training but wound up earning career-highs for games played (125) and plate appearances (392) while putting up a .709 OPS. Nieuwenhuis struck out a ton, but he also provided some pop and a bit of speed with 13 home runs and eight steals along with solid defense at all three outfield spots. Kirk’s not a bad guy to have around as a left-handed hitting fourth outfielder and Counsell sure seems to like him, but his 40 man roster spot might be needed to protect a more valuable asset within the organization. I’d say it’s about 50/50 that he’s back next season.
2017 projected salary: $1.6 mil (+$1.086 mil)
2B Scooter Gennett (3.071)
Scooter is a home grown Brewer who was drafted in the 16th round in 2009 and successfully developed into a league-average starting second baseman. After a tough season in 2015, Gennett bounced back nicely this year to post a .728 OPS and crossed the double-digit threshold in home runs (14) for the first time as a big leaguer. He was improved defensively at second base, walked at a career-best rate, and even managed to drop a few hits against left-handed pitchers, which had always been his Achilles heel. Tendering Scooter to a contract is a no-brainer for Milwaukee, but given the depth at the middle infield it wouldn’t be surprising to see him traded before next season begins.
2017 projected salary: $3 mil (+$2.4819 mil)
RHP Tyler Thornburg (3.057)
Another drafted and developed Brewer, Thornburg emerged as one of the most dominant relievers in the game this year after dealing with injuries and constant role changes during his first four partial seasons in the majors. Milwaukee finally committed to Thornburg in relief, and the righty thrived in 67 appearances, tossing 67.0 innings with a 2.15 ERA. That comes out to an outstanding 199 ERA+ and translated to 15 runs prevented. His fastball velocity was much improved over last season which, along with his outstanding changeup and curveball, allowed him to punch out 12.1 opposing batters per nine innings. Thornburg also took over as closer following the trade of Jeremy Jeffress and racked up 13 saves to give his arbitration platform a bit of a boost heading into his first winter of eligibility. Unless he’s traded, I’d expect Thornburg to open 2017 as Milwaukee’s ninth inning man (should Counsell continue to employ a classis bullpen dynamic).
2017 projected salary: $2.2 mil (+$1.6861 mil)
RHP Chase Anderson (2.146)
Milwaukee’s only Super Two eligible player, Anderson came over from Arizona as a part of the Jean Segura deal last winter. He was available to take the ball every fifth day all season, making 30 starts (and one relief appearance) while working 151.2 innings. Chase got off to a slow start but finished the season well in September, bringing his ERA down to 4.39, which is right in line with his career totals. He had some issues with the long ball, but overall you couldn’t ask for much more out of a fifth starter than the 150+ roughly league average (97 ERA+) innings that Anderson provided this year. Similar to Scooter’s situation, tendering Chase a contract for next season will be an easy decision for the organization, however he could be a trade candidate this winter given the amount of pitching depth.
2017 projected salary: $3.1 mil (+$2.5798 mil)
2017 Arbitration Salary Projections: $26 mil (+$16,058,800)
Statistics and contract information courtesy of Baseball-Reference