Updated: Aug 4
Introduction to Austin Meadows:
The Tampa Bay Rays season has officially ended and the organization’s focus has now shifted to preparing for the 2022 season, which includes dealing with impending free agents and arbitration eligible players. One of the Rays’ key hitters, outfielder Austin Meadows, surpassed the service time threshold in 2021 and will hit arbitration for the first time this winter. In 2019, Meadows was one of the best outfielders in the American League, earning all-star recognition for the first time. However, Meadows has struggled in the postseason each year with the Rays, and had a down-year in the abbreviated 2020 season before bouncing back in 2021. With all this in mind, I took a deeper dive into Meadows’ arbitration profile from both the Player-side and the Team-side to figure out what his case may look like should it go to trial this winter. Figures 1-3 are appended below.
Player Representative Summary of Arbitration Profile:
Meadows' reps are going to focus on three major themes when they build their case.
First, plenty of time will be spent on Meadows’ elite 2019 season, where he finished in the top 20 in the AL in (i) HR, (ii) AVG, (iii) fWAR, and recieved down-ballot MVP votes. He was one of only 7 AL hitters to finish in the top 20 in each of those categories, along with Mike Trout, Alex Bregman, Xander Bogaerts, George Springer, Rafael Devers, and Nelson Cruz. Second, Meadows' reps will point to his role on the Rays as one of the key run-producers since his first full season in Tampa in 2019. Meadows ranks in the top 2 on the Rays in GP, R, H, HR, RBI, SLG, and fWAR since 2019, leading the team in most of those categories. Lastly, Meadows’ reps will focus on his strong platform season performance, especially his RBI total (106) which ranked in the top 10 in MLB. Meadows has consistently driven in runs and hit for power, and the 2021 season showed his ability to produce when on the field - Meadows ranked at or near the top of the Rays leaderboard in almost all substantial offensive categories. This could be a result of Meadows’ clutch hitting - his career batting average increases from .251 with the bases empty, to .273 with runners on base, and .284 with runners in scoring position.
Team Summary of Arbitration Profile:
There are several key themes the Rays will touch upon in their profile of Meadows.
The Rays will concede that Meadows had a strong, all-star quality season in 2019 but also bring up that he was not able to repeat that performance in 2020 or 2021. In Meadows’ all-star season he batted .294 and got on base at a rate of .364. Yet, in 2020 his slash dipped to .205/.296/.458 and in 2021 it was .234/.315/.458. A MLB average slash line in 2020 was .245/.322/.418 and in 2021 it was .244/.317/.411, so Meadows was below league average (except for slugging) in both seasons at the plate. Aside from RBIs, Meadows did not rank in the top 30 in MLB in any category in 2021. Secondly, the Rays will argue that Meadows’ value is capped by his poor defensive play. Meadows’ career DRS and UZR are both negative, indicating that Meadows’ defense has been below average. Out of Meadows’ 142 games played in his platform season, he made 79 appearances in the outfield and 60 at DH, which limited his value to only his offensive performance. Lastly, the Rays will highlight Meadows’ prolonged slump in the postseason. Meadows is a career 12 for 83 in the playoffs with a paltry slash of .145/.193/.289. In the Rays 2020 playoff run, Meadows went 2 for 13 in the ALDS, 2 for 22 in the ALCS, and 3 for 16 in the World Series.
The MLB CBA dictates that “comparative baseball salaries” be one of the critical factors taken into account to determine a Player’s arbitration award. Figure 1 identifies my projected market range for Meadows based on platform season and career performance, with player-side comps in green and team-side comps in red. Based on Meadows’ profile and the market for comparable players, the following are projected ranges of filing numbers:
Player Filing Range: $4.6M - $4.8M
Team Filing Range: $3.8M - $4.0M
Midpoint Range: $4.2M - $4.4M
Meadows Representatives’ Comparisons:
Mark Trumbo - $4,800,000
Trey Mancini - $4,750,000
Travis Shaw - $4,650,000
In arguing that Meadows should be valued above the $4.2M - $4.4M midpoint, Meadows’ representatives will make the argument that he is more like the green group of hitters, particularly Trey Mancini, than the red group (Fig. 1). It’s clear that Meadows had a stronger platform season, so the key to this line of argument will be overcoming Meadows’ inferior career numbers. Meadows trails the green group of hitters in quantitative career stats, a large result of playing less games than the others, but his strong platform season makes up for that (Fig. 2-3). However, only Trumbo and Conforto had ever earned an all-star appearance, something that Meadows accomplished in 2019. Additionally, Meadows is the only person in Figure 1 who ever received any MVP votes.
Michael Conforto - $4,025,000
Eugenio Suarez - $3,750,000
Nomar Mazara - $3,300,000
The Rays have a relatively straightforward argument: prove that Meadows and Michael Conforto have had nearly identical production (“statistical twins''). Conforto earned $4.025M after his first time through arbitration, which is likely to be below the midpoint (Fig. 1). If the Rays can convince the panel of arbiters that Meadows is more similar to Conforto than to any of the green group of players, they will win this case. Meadows and Conforto had very similar platform seasons - Meadows with a slight advantage in RBIs and in defensive metrics, Conforto with better qualitative stats and higher WARs (Fig. 2-3). Eugenio Suarez is also very comparable to Meadows both in the platform season and in their careers, and Suarez’s salary ($3.75M) is way below the midpoint (Fig. 1-3). The Rays can also distinguish Meadows from the green group of players by looking at career games played - each of the three players above Meadows were consistently available for their teams while Meadows struggled with injuries and sometimes platoons. Further, unlike Meadows, both Shaw and Trumbo were strong defensive players when they hit arbitration for the first time. Mancini never hit below .242 whereas Meadows has only hit above .242 once.
Dean Rosenberg is a 2L student at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City. He can be found on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/dean-rosenberg-4a1507a1/ and on Twitter @deanrosen7.
Figure 1: 1 TE Market
Figure 2: 1TE Market Platform Season Statistics
Figure 3: 1 TE Market Career Statistics
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