“Salary arbitration” is a phrase that a lot of fans see, but don’t quite understand. It’s one of the little quirks that makes baseball unique and wholesome, sort of.
There are two types of players that are eligible for arbitration. The first is a player who has had at least three full seasons of MLB service time, but less than six. Any player with six or more years of service time just becomes an outright free agent if they are not under contract for future seasons.
The second type are the “Super Two” players. The players with that designation are players who have less than three full seasons of MLB service time, but qualify in the Top 22 percent of players with more than two years of service time. This is the designation which leads to a lot of prospects being left in the minors for ages before their permanent call-up.
As you have seen with the Los Angeles Dodgers this offseason, they’ve come to an agreement with all six of their arbitration-eligible free agents prior to actually scheduling a hearing. This happens quite a bit.
When the team and player come to a salary agreement rather than going through the entire process of a hearing, both sides can move forward with an eye toward the immediate future.
If the two sides do not reach a deal prior to the scheduled hearing, then an unbiased third-party three-person panel will hear both cases made before them. The team will present why they believe the player’s salary should be the figure they submitted, and the player will present why they believe their salary should be the figure they submitted.
One of the issues with the arbitration panel is that, per FanGraphs, they are “notoriously old school” and lean towards more traditional statistics such as wins and runs batted in. They also dabble in some player comparisons to help come up with the figure they ultimately wind up at.
This year, teams must have offered their arbitration eligible players the right to arbitration by December 2. If they did not, then those players were non-tendered and released as free agents. After that, players had until January 12th to file for salary arbitration. And, lastly, January 15 was the deadline for teams and players to file salary figures for arbitration.
Salary arbitration hearing will be held from Feburary 1 through the 21st. Teams and players can still reach an agreement prior to their hearing date, but once it goes to the actual hearing then the three-person panel will hear each side’s case and pick either the salary the player filed or the salary the team filed. But they must pick one.
There is no middle ground. It’s basically a comment section figuring out a player’s worth.
So, by this point,1` you’re wondering what this actually has to do with the Dodgers, right? Well, this is a pretty big deal for them. Why? They have not had a single arbitration hearing since 2007, which is when the team defeated Joe Beimel and ultimately paid him $912,500 for the ensuing season rather than the $1,250,000 he was seeking.
Thanks to the great work by Eric Stephen (@ericstephen) at True Blue LA, we were able to see just how many cases the Dodgers have settled without an actual hearing since that Beimel case in 2007. The number? 31, which does include the six this season. In fact, that hearing with Beimel represents the team’s only arbitration hearing with a player since 2005.
Why does all of this matter? Because arbitration is always a weird thing to go through. When the Dodgers and Beimel went through it in 2007, the team brought up the incident where Beimel cut his left hand on a glass while drinking in a bar just prior to the team’s playoff opener. That incident left Beimel unable to pitch in a series loss to the New York Mets – a team that had left-handed hitters such as Carlos Delgado, Cliff Floyd, and Shawn Green.
There was no animosity from either side, as Beimel and team representatives shook hands both prior to and after the hearing. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t some underlying tone there. It’s tough to go through and hear how you don’t deserve to make what you think you should make without feeling at least partially disrespected.
This is why the Dodgers’ long-standing tradition of coming to an agreement before ever even getting remotely close to a hearing becomes such a properly-prioritized issue. It limits the sting of a team or player feeling wronged. At the end of the day, they both walk out of the entire ordeal feeling better about how everything transpired.
This year, the Los Angeles Dodgers brought back all of their arbitration eligible players, much like they have in years past. It builds a comradery, a rapport, between team and player. That’s always a positive. It makes life just a little bit easier, and anything that makes life easier is almost always the right thing to do.
Combine that with the flexibility to make further moves as the front office is that much less worried about the effects they might have on an unresolved salary figure and the move disputed over in these cases appears all the more petty, for lack of a better word.