Arbitration: Courtroom Showdowns that Should Never Happen (Part 1 of ???)

The purpose of this post originally came about this offseason with a simple question.  If a team takes one of its players to an arbitration hearing, is that player more likely to leave in free agency once given the chance?  The question seemed simple enough.  And since the Orioles lead the league with 15 players eligible for arbitration this year, I thought it was worth investigating.

There have been 505 arbitration hearings since they began in 1974, and they aren’t always friendly (from what I have read, players aren’t required to attend their own hearings, but usually do).  Think about it, if you were forced to defend your value as an employee, you probably wouldn’t appreciate your boss coming into a courtroom to argue why you don’t deserve the salary you think you do.  Once I got the list of every player that has ever gone to a hearing, I quickly realized that finding a relevant answer to this question would probably take a lot longer than the one week deadline I was giving myself.  I’m not making excuses (although I guess technically I am), but as you can imagine, there are a lot of names.  Add in the fact that not all players who go to arbitration reach free agency (therefore not even getting the option to leave), as well as the number of potential changes in the MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement occurring over the years, and almost instantly, my very first post of substance suddenly turned into a multi-part series.  So this first installment will give a brief description of the arbitration process and discuss the Orioles arbitration eligible players.

Once a player is placed on the active major league roster, he is essentially the team’s property for his first 6 years of service time (unless released). During the first 3 years, the team can pay him basically whatever they want, provided it is greater than or equal to the league minimum.  Player’s with more than 3 years, but less than 6 years of service are eligible to file for salary arbitration (a select group of players with less than 3 years of service time, called “super-two’s” are also eligible).  Once a player files for arbitration, both he and his team will submit figures based on what they believe the player’s salary should be for the upcoming season.  If they can’t come to an agreement, they will argue their cases in front of a three-person panel of independent arbitrators, who ultimately decide which salary is more representative of the player’s value in the upcoming season.  In case that last sentence was vague, the arbitrators choose either the player’s requested salary or the teams…nothing in between.  Arbitrators generally base their decisions on how the player performed in the prior year, but also take into account what they have accomplished throughout their career as well.  In presenting their cases, players and teams will compare the player in question to salaries earned by past players who had similar statistics and service time, and reach a decision as to why the player should (or shouldn’t) be paid a certain amount.

That last paragraph was extremely boring to write, so if you actually read the whole thing, give yourself a pat on the back.  You’re either a baseball nerd (like myself), or are a friend who is afraid I’ll ask you questions about whether you read my website.  If you still can’t fill your insatiable need for information on the arbitration process, head over to the Fangraphs glossary for more.  Additionally, if you’re curious on how an arbitration hearing plays out in real life, Baseball Prospectus ran a series of mock arbitration hearings this offseason for 10 different players, including the Orioles Jason Hammel and Jim Johnson (BP subscription required).

As for the Orioles, as I mentioned above they led the league in arbitration eligible players with a whopping 15, including a few that would have had some interesting arguments (form both sides) in an arbitration hearing

  • Nolan Reimold – effective when healthy, but frequently hurt (has already missed 163 games in his short career)
  • Brian Matusz – brief success as a reliever, not so much as a starter (career 5.51 ERA as a starter, 1.35 ERA as a reliever)
  • Tommy Hunter – see Matusz, Brian (career 4.88 ERA as a starter, 3.44 ERA as a reliever)
  • Jim Johnson – closer with only one good year, but a REALLY good year (51 saves in 2012, only 10 career saves prior to 2012)
  • Jason Hammel – one really good year, but also injured (career 4.78 ERA vs. a 3.43 ERA in 2012, but in only 118 innings pitched)

Fortunately for the team and players (and unfortunately for this topic), the Orioles came to agreements with all of their arbitration eligible players prior to going to a hearing (or did not tender a contract, making certain players free agents).  In fact, for the first time since 1974, there were no arbitration hearings for anyone…in the entire league.

So in conclusion, this was a really long post that didn’t do anything to answer the primary question.  Next time, we’ll get a little closer to an answer, fully realizing that it may not be significant.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: