It’s that time of the year again. With the arrival of Tuesday’s filing deadline, we’ve finally reached that month-long lull where everyone is so baseball-starved they feign interest in what their team’s fourth outfielder might end up earning in salary arbitration, and whether he’s really worth that extra $500k for which he’s asking. In other words, we’ve reached the nadir of the baseball offseason. The silver lining? Only five and a half weeks until pitchers and catchers report!
The Angels had five players file for arbitration in 2013, and another four last winter. This year, there are eight who are arb-eligible: Drew Butera, Collin Cowgill, David Freese, Matt Joyce, Cesar Ramos, Garrett Richards, Fernando Salas, and Hector Santiago. Of the eight, only Freese and Joyce are in their third and
most expensive final year of team control. Overall, the Halos are expected to dole out about $22 million in arb salaries over the next month, plus the $1.15 million already agreed to with Vinnie Pestano.
Here’s a not-so-quick refresher on the ins and outs of arbitration:
Adopted in 1974 by MLB owners attempting to curb contract holdouts and ultimately prevent free agency from happening—lol good job, good effort—salary arbitration is an offseason process that allows eligible team-controlled players to negotiate a pay raise with their respective teams. All players heading into their fourth, fifth, and sixth years of MLB service time are eligible for arbitration, as are a small percentage of players (Super Twos) who are between their second and third year.
Service time is allotted based on days on a team’s 25-man roster, including time spent on the disabled list. Tyler Skaggs, for instance, will earn a full year of service time next season even though he’ll spend all of it on the sidelines, putting him a year closer to arbitration when he does eventually return in 2016. If a player has multiple partial seasons under his belt, his days on the roster are summed. If/when he reaches 172 days, he’s accredited a year of service time.
Once a player officially files for arbitration—not sure why this isn’t just automatic—he and his respective team have a four-day window to exchange salary figures. This is where each party submits the dollar amount they think the player deserves for the upcoming season, based on performance and precedent. (This year, the deadline for exchanging figures is this coming Friday, Jan. 16.) Sometimes the gap between the player’s figure and the team’s is large, sometimes it isn’t. No matter the discrepancy, the two sides can agree to a compromise at any time if they see so fit.
If they can’t come to terms before their pre-scheduled arbitration hearing, which will take place sometime between Feb. 1-21, then both sides must argue their case in front of arbitrators for each side plus a neutral third party, who ultimately chooses one salary figure or the other. Hearings used to be a somewhat common occurrence, but they almost never happen anymore: only three cases went to a hearing last winter (of 146 possible), and none (of 133) the year before that. Arbitrators are notorious for favoring traditional stats in their weighing of cases, so it’s possible we’re at a point now where their valuations have become antiquated for both teams and agents.
In any event, the last Halos player to make it all the way to a hearing was Jered Weaver in 2011. He somehow lost his case, saving the Angels a whopping $1.435 million. Many like to speculate that hearings can become contentious and lead to bad blood between a player and his team, that obviously wasn’t the case with Weaver: He signed his five-year contract extension just a few months after his hearing. Sadly, his signing bonus was only a cool $1 million, and not exactly $1.435 million.
The last Angels player to win a hearing was, believe it or not, Jeff Mathis. The Halos highlighted the catcher’s anemic offensive output as the reason he was worth only $700k in 2010, while Mathis and his crew focused on defense and the fact that he’d started 13 more games than Mike Napoli in 2008 and 2009. *world’s deepest sigh* In the end, the amount of labor mattered more to the arbitrator than performance, and Mathis got $1.3 million. The money is whatever, but I find the overall decision-making process involved pretty fascinating. For more details on that particular case, check out B.J. Rains’ write-up over at MLB Trade Rumors.
The Angels settled with all their arb-eligible players by Jan. 31 last year and Jan. 30 the year before that. So unless there’s a massive divide in salary figures for a particular player for some reason, expect everything to be wrapped up by the end of the month. No matter what, when all is said and done the team’s payroll for 2015 (non-luxury-tax variety) should come in at about $150 million.