END IN SIGHT?

Here’s some important clarity, comps regarding a possible Kyle Tucker resolution with Astros

Here’s some important clarity, comps regarding a possible Kyle Tucker resolution with Astros
Kyle Tucker will make $5 million this season. Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images.

How crazy is this? I’m feeling sorry for someone who will be paid $5 million for playing a children’s game this year.

That’s how much Kyle Tucker will make for batting sixth and patrolling right field for the Astros in 2023.

Only $5 million. That’s right … only.

Tucker lost his arbitration case against the Astros this month. Tucker thought his salary should be $7.5 million. The Astros countered by offering $5 million. A three-person panel ruled in favor of the Astros. So that’s what Tucker will make.

Only $5 million.

There are two ways to look at this. First, baseball’s arbitration process is insane and cruel. If the two sides (player and team) can’t come to terms on a contract, it goes to arbitration where a three-person panel hears both sides, one at a time for an hour each, plus a 30-minute rebuttal. Then the panel decides in favor of the player or the owner. There’s no negotiating, no compromising, no Mr. In Between.

One side wins, the other side loses.

Here’s the cruel part. After the player or his agent argues why the player deserves to be paid his asking price, a representative for the team argues why the team’s lower salary offer is more appropriate. According to the rules of arbitration, the player must be in the room when the two sides present their case. In other words, the player sits there and listens to the team say, “you ain’t that good and here’s proof.”

Who wants to hear that from someone you work for? Imagine you’re up for your yearly review. You’re sitting in the executive conference room with the company president and v.p. of human resources. You’re hoping for a nice fat raise because you had a heck of a good year.

Then in walks your middle management supervisor and rattles off reasons why you don’t deserve a raise. You messed up on this. You failed at that.

He does this right to your face. That’s baseball arbitration. It gets personal.

The three-person panel has certain criteria to consider in making its decision: the player’s on-field performance, the team’s success, attendance, the player’s special accolades and what other players with similar experience are earning.

And that’s why I’m shedding a metaphoric tear for Tucker.

The player’s on-field performance: Tucker crushed 30 home runs last year (for the second year in a row), drove in 107 runs, stole 25 bases (caught stealing only four times) and is one of the best fielding right fielders in baseball.

Team’s success: the Astros won the World Series for crying out loud!

Team’s attendance: the Astros averaged 33,197 fans at Minute Maid Park in 2022, an increase of nearly 8,000 fans per game over 2021.

Special accolades: Tucker made the American League All-Star team and won his first Gold Glove. He also smacked two home runs in the World Series and caught the final fly ball that started the victory celebration.

Here’s the clincher. How did Tucker’s asking price compare to other right fielders with similar experience?

As we noted, Tucker played 150 games, hit 30 dingers, drove in107 runs, stole 25 bags and is one of the best fielders in MLB. He was asking for $7.5 million for this season. OK, his salary was $764,200 in 2022, but what does that have to do with anything? He’s 26 years old, durable, entering his prime years, and already one of the top best players in the game.

Let’s compare Tucker to other right fielders with similar, or close to similar experience.

Mike Yastrzemski played 148 games and hit .214 with 17 homers and 57 RBI for the Giants last year. His career batting average is .242. Yastrzemski will make $6.1 million this season. The only place where Yastrzemski is more valuable than Tucker is on a Scrabble board.

Randal Grichuk hit .259 with 19 homers and 73 RBI for the Rockies last season. His career batting average is .247. He will make $10.3 million this year.

Hunter Renfroe hit .255 with 29 homers and 72 RBI for the Brewers last year. That’s impressive – almost Tucker’s numbers. Renfroe will make $11.9 million this year, more than twice Tucker’s pay.

Max Kepler hit .227 with nine home runs for the Twins last year. He is a career .232 batter. He will make $8.5 million this year.

Tucker didn’t hide his disappointment while talking with the media at spring training this week.

“It’s a little tough,” he told reporters. “We’ll see where it goes from here. The outcome wasn’t really what we were hoping for and I don’t think it was the right one. I wanted to fight for what my value was.”

Kyle Tucker is one of the Astros most important players now and a key to coming years. Although he’s not pleased how his arbitration case was decided, he will play, and play hard this season. He made it clear that he still loves the Astros, his teammates and playing in Houston.

Of course, the Astros can make his hurt feelings go away by offering a long-term contract with a big fat raise. Which I’m predicting they will do. With lots of zeroes and commas in the number. The Astros are smart. They know what’s good for them.

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