Pirates Business: The Pre-Arbitration Bonus Pool

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement has given me so many great new features to learn about and cover: the Prospect Promotion Incentive, the draft lottery, and now the pre-arbitration bonus pool.

Part of the union’s desire during these most recent negotiations was to get players paid younger. They saw teams were taking their time, milking the pre-arbitration system for all it was worth. Then, they would throw those players aside once they went up the service time ladder, drying up free agency and leaving many players out in the cold as far as pay days went.

Maybe that’s changing a little, but it’s still far too early to determine, especially for the middle class of free agents.

In the meantime, the sides came up with a system that would pay players yet to hit arbitration bonuses for personal achievements, such as several league-wide awards, as well as by the measurement of a new WAR calculation agreed upon by both sides.

Reporting on the pool a few months back—an article I’ll continue to reference—The Athletic called the new metric jWAR, but I don’t think that’s actually the name and nothing official has been released to confirm it. MLB.com calls it “Joint War”.

The pool is for $50 million—the players started at $105 million, while the league was at $10 million. Both were obviously extremes, and the middle ground makes far more sense—teams split the cost via a $1.67 million Collective Balance Tax hit while the actual payments are made from the Central Fund. It was agreed to stay at $50 million for the entire length of the new agreement.

From this starting point, the pool goes down based on the following bonus payment structure:

$2.5 million – First place in MVP or Cy Young voting

$1.75 million – Second place in MVP or Cy Young voting

$1.5 million – Third place in MVP or Cy Young voting

$1 million – Fourth/Fifth place in MVP or Cy Young voting OR All-MLB First Team

$750,000 – First place in Rookie of the Year voting

$500,000 – Second place in Rookie of the Year voting OR All-MLB Second Team

If players achieve multiple benchmarks, they are only paid for the award with the higher bonus attached.

Using service time counts going into 2022 from Cots Contracts and awards voting results from MLB, I came up with the following bonuses paid for 2022:

        50,000,000 Pool
        (1,750,000) Dylan Cease (2nd-place Cy Young)
        (1,500,000) Alek Manoah (3rd-place Cy Young)
        (1,500,000) Yordan Alvarez (3rd-place MVP)
        (1,000,000) Zac Gallen (5th-place Cy Young
        (1,000,000) Yordan Alvarez (All-MLB 1st Team)***
        (1,000,000) Alek Manoah (All-MLB 1st Team)***
        (1,000,000) Emmanuel Clase (All-MLB 1st Team)
            (750,000) Michael Harris II (1st-place ROY)
            (750,000) Julio Rodríguez (1st-place ROY)
            (500,000) Spencer Strider (2nd-place ROY)
            (500,000) Adley Rutschman (2nd-place ROY)
            (500,000) Will Smith (All-MLB 2nd Team)
            (500,000) Andrés Giménez (All-MLB 2nd Team)
            (500,000) Julio Rodríguez (All-MLB 2nd Team)***
            (500,000) Kyle Tucker (All-MLB 2nd Team)
            (500,000) Dylan Cease (All-MLB 2nd Team)***
            (500,000) Ryan Helsley (All-MLB 2nd Team)
   
        35,750,000  

As stated, players who qualify for multiple bonuses only receive the higher one, so the four entries with asterisks need removed. An extra $3 million results in a remaining bonus pool of $38,750,000. This amount, and the 13 players, have been confirmed by MLB.

At this point, the top 100 pre-arbitration players in jWAR split what’s left.

The Athletic states the remainder “will be distributed on a proportionate basis”, which probably means that if the top 100 players equal 100.0 jWAR (for simplicity), a player worth 5.0 jWAR would get 5% of the pool, or $1,937,500. We obviously don’t know for sure, but that makes sense.

So, the main question for this site is how does this affect the Pirates?

According to my records, the team ended the season with 39 pre-arbitration players on the roster. This does in fact include Ke’Bryan Hayes—his contract extension does not preclude him from earning money from the bonus pool. It does not include Bryan Reynolds, however, who was Super 2 eligible for 2022, thus is not a pre-arbitration player.

The Athletic states the formula focuses on four main measurements for position players: batting (measured by wOBA), baserunning, fielding (based on Outs Above Average), and a positional adjustment.

Of course, without knowing the new jWAR totals, we’re kind of guessing as to where Pirates players rank, so our best available barometers would be fWAR and rWAR from 2022. Below are the qualified players and their WAR totals above 1.0:

FanGraphs:

Hayes: 3.0

Mitch Keller: 2.1

JT Brubaker: 1.9

Jack Suwinski: 1.8

David Bednar: 1.5

Oneil Cruz: 1.2

Baseball Reference:

Hayes: 4.3

Cruz: 2.3

Keller: 2.0

Chase De Jong: 1.6

Rodolfo Castro: 1.4

Bednar: 1.3

Roansy Contreras: 1.2

Jack Suwinski: 1.1

I can’t imagine a leaderboard of 100 would stretch below 1.0 jWAR, but we won’t know until if and when we see the list.

A few notes on the above factors into the calculation:

—Hayes was fourth in the league in OAA (18), so that’s a plus in is favor, and while it may be outdated, it seems third basemen are high on the list of positional adjustments. However, his wOBA (.294) was not very good.

—For pitchers, the calculation is based on FIP and RA9. Keller’s FIP was 3.88, but his RA9 was 4.36. I won’t pretend to know how this measures up against the league, but I’d assume he’d show up in the top 100 somewhere.

—For comparison, Contreras had a FIP of 4.38 and a RA9 of 4.26, so he’d likely fall lower than Keller.

—To avoid going through the whole list, we’ll end with Cruz. He would get a good bump in positional adjustment—shortstops are second—but his OAA (-9) would be a big drag on his total. An average wOBA of .320 and presumably solid baserunning would help, but I don’t see Cruz topping the charts at all.

Of the current 27 known players to receive a share, none are Pirates. Hopefully we’ll get to see the final list soon so we know how the Pirates fared (and I can see how on my calculations were). Until then, hopefully this was a good explanation and primer for a new, much needed mechanism to provide young, well performing players with a much-deserved bump in pay.

Rule 5 Results

The Rule 5 Draft finally happened on Wednesday, and I had a lot to say after it ended up being an active one for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Luckily, I had the opportunity to vent in a mini-article in this past week’s Roundtable, so I already had a platform to cover all that.

Offseason Calendar Update

—The payments for the bonus pools, as described above, will be going out soon. Reportedly, the payments need to be made by December 15th. Recent reports indicate the date is actually December 23rd, different from reports right after the CBA was announced.

The league is supposed to release a report indicating all the players final rankings, which hasn’t happened yet.

Pirates Payroll Updates

—The team agreed to a deal with left-handed reliever Jarlín García on a one-year, $2.5 million deal, with a $3.25 million option for 2024. There is no buyout on the option.

I count García at 5.116 years of service, meaning this would have been his last year of team control without the option. He was nontendered by the San Francisco Giants in his last year of arbitration eligibility, and MLB Trade Rumors projected him at $2.4 million, so this deal is right along those lines.

He has no options remaining, but not that it matters, as he is a player with over 5.000 years of service, meaning he would have to consent to an optional assignment anyway.

To make room in my roster projection, I optioned Zach Thompson, and payroll went up $2,117,500 as a result. No official move has been announced.

—The Pirates made another move over the winter meetings, agreeing with swingman Vince Velasquez on a one-year, $3.15 million deal.

Velasquez is at 7.086 years of service, so he will again be a free agent after the season. He has two options remaining, so while the team could have advance consent on him, in theory, I see it unlikely that a player would agree to such a thing this early in the offseason. That means it’s unlikely he can use those options in 2023.

As far as fitting him on the roster, the bullpen is getting awfully crowded. I optioned Yerry De Los Santos because I wasn’t sure what else to do, as I think they already would have gotten rid of someone like Robert Stephenson or Duane Underwood Jr. if they were going to.

After these moves, payroll went up $2,686,538.

—Finally, with the third pick in the Rule 5 Draft, the Pirates selected left-handed pitcher Jose Hernandez from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

As I said, the bullpen was getting crowded, so I moved Velasquez into the rotation—a move I didn’t like, but one the team made sound like a possibility—then outrighted Bryse Wilson. The outright keeps Wilson on the ledger, and with Hernandez at a league minimum salary as a player with no service time, payroll went up $254,089.

Since the two free agent signings aren’t official, the roster currently stands at 39 after the selection of Hernandez. That means that a spot will need cleared when pen hits paper for García and Velasquez.

—For 2023, the payroll estimate stands at $56,660,384 for the Labor Relations Department, while it’s $73,077,051 for CBT purposes.

A longtime Pirates Prospects reader, Ethan has been covering payroll, transactions, and rules in-depth since 2018 and dabbling in these topics for as long as he can remember. He started writing about the Pirates at The Point of Pittsburgh before moving over to Pirates Prospects at the start of the 2019 season.

Always a lover of numbers and finding an answer, Ethan much prefers diving into these topics over what’s actually happening on the field. These under and often incorrectly covered topics are truly his passion, and he does his best to educate fans on subjects they may not always understand, but are important nonetheless.

When he’s not updating his beloved spreadsheets, Ethan works full-time as an accountant, while being a dad to two young daughters and watching too many movies and TV shows at night.

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b mcferren

there are still moves to be made

seems peculiar that Cantina signed with the Mets the day after Reynolds requested a trade

we are going to get a big time starting pitcher back in return for Reynolds

leefieux

It’s Quintana not Cantina😋😋

RAS TN

Wasting your time…

RAS TN

No…

jeffw3000

I would DFA either Yohan Ramirez or preferably Ryan Vilade to open up a roster spot. If it was Wilson, I do not see him making it through waivers.

Wilbur Miller

I would dfa Vilade just for something to do.

bianco599

I would DFA Vilade and see if he would resign for less. Then if he did do it again. I know he was waiver wire but I’m sure they could save a few dollars. And that way we will know he is playing for the love of the Pirates and not for the money.

Wilbur Miller

I don’t care if he’s there on a MiL deal. This is a defensively weak corner OF who was easily the worst hitter on his AAA team last year. They probably have 15 OFs who have more business on a 40-man roster than him.

Y2JGQ2

Or is it MAYBE possible he had a bad year and a chance of scenery will help him get back to where he was in 2019/2020

Wilbur Miller

He didn’t play in 2020, so I’m pretty sure he could get back to that level. He was below average in 2021. And, again, this is a corner OF who’s not good defensively.

bianco599

Totally agree. Googled him and quite the glamour shots picture popped up. Wonder if Deb from Napoleon Dynamite took it.

leefieux

Tbh Ethan, I don’t like moving Velasquez ANYWHERE. My feeling is this will end in a Heath Embreesque release. I never understood signing him either.

skliesen

My only hope is all the negative chatter about the Velasquez signing will become a reverse jinx. I mean it’s not like we liked it when they signed Tyler Anderson or Quintana either.

jeffw3000

I did not like the signing either, though I would not say it is quite as bad as the Hembree signing. My fear is they will give Velasquez a chance to start, and we will have to endure several bad starts, before they give up on him in the rotation. If my choice was between Velasquez or someone internally like Wilson, Thomposn, Oviedo, or maybe even Bolton, I would probably take the internal option.

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