"I wasn't able to agree with the #Astros on my contract so we will be going to arbitration. I still love y'all and can't wait for the season!" -- Hunter Pence on Twitter last night
On the same day that the Astros announced they were able to get a three-year deal done with Wandy Rodriguez, their other arbitration eligible player (Pence) announced that he would head to the arbitration table with the team and take his chances that the three-person panel would see his side of what amounts to a $1.75 million argument.
The Astros are offering Pence $5.15 million for his services this coming season. Hunter Pence thinks he's worth $6.9 million. Unlike last season, when the Astros and Pence were able to split the difference of their two numbers (Pence made $3.5 million in 2010), Pence is not budging from his $6.9 million annual charge for services rendered.
So come next month, the Astros and Hunter Pence will sit down before a three-person committee. Hunter's agent will tell the panel why Hunter is so awesome, and the Astros will summarily follow that up by picking apart all of the scabs in Hunter's game. It's like marriage counseling, except instead of ending in divorce, the loser at least is guaranteed several million dollars.
As for Hunter's decision to engage the Astros in arbitration, he does so at his own risk. The Astros have won their last four arbitration cases, including last season's tussle with Rodriguez, who lost his case and then went into a two-month funk where he went 3-10 and had an ERA over 6.00.
It doesn't help the players that the Astros have Tal Smith on their side. The Astros president actually runs a side business where he consults with teams on how to attack arbitration cases. (This is in addition to his other business of recommending ridiculous, career-threatening obstacles to be placed in outfields of new stadiums. Drayton McLane is his only customer for that business.)
So understanding that, thanks to Smith, going against the Astros in arbitration's a little like challenging George Lucas to a Star Wars trivia contest, here are the arguments I would make if I were Hunter Pence seeking $6.9 million:
1. Michael Bourn made a little over $2 million last season, and while he was named the Astros All-Star representative, he ended up going backwards in nearly every statistical category. He was, at best, the same player he was in 2009. The Astros practically doubled his salary for 2011, giving him $4.4 million. Hunter put up virtually the same numbers in 2010 as he did in 2009, so double what he made in 2010 would seem logical.
2. Carlos Lee is a fat piece of shit. He comes to camp out of shape, he can barely run out to left field without sweating Crisco and he seems to be quite comfortable with losing and underperforming. Hunter Pence is the first one to the ball park every day, works maniacally and is the center of your team's marketing efforts. He is consistent, you know what you're getting, this is a safe $6.9 million.
3. Jayson Werth got $18 million per year for the next seven years this offseason. For the record, Jayson Werth is an above-average corner outfielder with decent power numbers. Like Hunter Pence. Werth put up those numbers embedded in a lineup that included Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins. Hunter Pence had Jeff Keppinger, Brett Wallace, Michael Bourn and the People's Republic of Carlos. Is Hunter worth $18 million? Of course not. But Werth's deal has got to mean he's worth more than $5.15 million. A lot more.
As long as I'm helping out Camp Pence, never let it be said that I can't see both sides of an argument. So just to be fair, if I were the Astros, here's how I would present my case to the arbitration committee:
1. I would show a video feed of Hunter running to first base, running in the outfield, running to the water cooler. Anything with Hunter running. Chances are the judges will see his "arms straight down at his side" running style and not even believe he's a real baseball player.
2. Speaking of running, I would mention that at spring training a couple seasons ago, Hunter was so giddy to get into the hot tub that he plowed through a sliding glass door at his townhouse like the Kool-Aid guy smashing through a brick wall. (Counterpoint for Camp Pence: You have to be one tough motherfucker to smash through a sliding glass door, judge!)
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3. Finally, I would present Hunter Pence's Twitter feed from this past summer, where he was tweeting about the game that particular night against the Cardinals. There was only one problem -- the Astros were playing the Brewers.
Taking all of that information in, arguments for both sides submitted, my judgment would be in favor of Hunter on the grounds that if your name is attached to one of the most stupid fucking baseball field fixtures in the history of stadiums (Tal's Hill), then you don't deserve to win a game of Candy Land, much less a multimillion-dollar arbitration case.
Case closed. Pay that man his money, Drayton.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from noon to 3 p.m. weekdays and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.