MLB Arbitration: Teams, Players Ready for Hearings

Price-TigersArbitration is a word that I don’t really think anyone in the game of baseball likes.  Arbitration is a mechanism that the powers in Major League Baseball came up with that keeps the game from turning on itself after years of an uneven playing field.  For years the owners in baseball ruled with an iron fist and dispensed money to their players as they saw fit.  With the reserve clause no matter how great a player you are, you take what they give you and if you don’t like it too bad.  The New York Yankees Babe Ruth, The San Francisco Giants Willie Mays, and the Boston Red Sox Ted Williams all had to take it or leave it.  The Yankee Clipper Joe DiMaggio once tried to fight and lost and so did the Los Angeles Dodger great Sandy Kofax and Don Drysdale tried as well to no avail.  They didn’t have the muscle that the LA Angels of Anaheim’s Mike Trout or the Detroit Tigers’ David Price has today.  For the San Francisco Giants Brandon Crawford, or the Kansas City Royals Kelvin Herrera congrats on going to the 2014 World Series, now the real reward comes your way, you are arbitration eligible my friend.

Teams have kept players that are ready for the big leagues down in Triple A to keep their clocks from beginning their countdown not only to their eventual free agency, but to keep them from reaching arbitration eligibility for an extra year.  By keeping a top flight prospect in the PCL (Pacific Coast League)  until the end of May of last season, he won’t be eligible for arbitration until 2019 (unless he is a stud and becomes a Super 2).

By doing that, the team saves millions of dollars by getting him for three plus seasons at team control instead of him being able to file for it in 2018.  Fans hate it but it keeps your younger players for a partial extra year at your control and keeps them from walking via free agency until 2021.  In essence having him for almost seven seasons by holding him back instead of losing them at the end of the 2020 season.

No one likes going to the arbitration hearing which will be held in St Petersburg this year (the hearing goes back and forth between Florida and Arizona every other spring).  For players, you have to stand there with your agent and convince someone that you really are worth the money you seek.  For the team, it means you have to beat up your own player up to convince that same person your player isn’t really that good and doesn’t deserve the money he is asking for.  Both sides submit a figure and the judge has to pick one or the other.  He can’t split in the middle, it’s either the player’s number or the team’s number he can pick and that is his only choice.

If a team picks a number so low that its insulting, the player might win because the team’s number is so low.  If a player asks for something so ridiculous he is  going to lose because there is no way you he is worth that kind of dough.  Both sides have to be realistic.  But sometimes no matter how close you are, it’s going to be a battle.  Imagine being the player and having your club tell you that you aren’t that good and point out everything you do horribly wrong.

Then you have to go back to your team and now that same club that was ripping you in the hearing is telling you sorry no hard feelings you are still our guy, yeah right buddy what ever dude I know what you said in there about me.  I have had players over the years tell me how tough it is to hear your own ball club rip you apart in these hearings. That is why most teams go out of their way to avoid arbitration hearings as much as they can.

For players though it gives them a chance to reap some of the rewards for their talents prior to hitting the free agent market and getting a chance to get paid closer to what they are worth. Take the  LA Angels Mike Trout, he was one of the best players in baseball in 2013 coming in second in the MVP voting and made only $500,000.

In 2014 he was the AL MVP and made $1 million bucks.  Because he was arbitration eligible the Halos had to pony up before he could offer his services to the highest bidder and signed him to a six year $144.5 million dollar deal that buys out his arbitration years and his first years of free agency. Imagine what he could have asked for in arbitration.  If it weren’t for the arbitration process, the Angels would pay him what ever they saw fit to slot him at above the major league minuum and there would be nothing he could do about it.

Take a look at the World Series last year.  Kelvin Herrera was a big part of the reason why the Royals got there, yet he was one of the lowest paid players on the team making just over a half million dollars compared to the rest of the big three, Wade Davis and Greg Holland who made $4.8 million and $4.6 million each.  Why, because he was not arbitration eligible yet.  Same with Brandon Crawford, he made $560,000 last season and is heading to his first year of arbitration eligibility while Alcides Escobar made $3 million as he was going into his 5 year of service time.  How much of a raise do you think Herrera and Crawford are going to make this season?

Smart teams will do what the Angels did with Mike Trout or what the Rays did with Evan Longoria when they signed them to long term deals before they had to.  The team pays them the big bucks before the have to and the player gets some financial success early along with security.  The team locks up that player for longer than the first six years they would have him before he hits the free agent market and eliminates the hassle of an arbitration hearing.

The team also bets that the player continues to get better and better and if he does he might actually be a bargain by the end of the deal compared to what they would cost on the open market.  Some players are willing to take a chance that once they get passed their 6 years of service time and hit agent market, thinking they will break the bank, but if they get hurt or don’t put up video game like numbers they might never hit the big payday they seek.

By signing the long term deal before they hit free agency, maybe they leave some money on the table at the end of the deal, but they will have financial security no matter what.  Either way it’s got to be better than hearing your own GM tell everyone that you are slow, fat and stupid and don’t deserve a raise.