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Salary Arbitration – hearings pending?

by Matt Smith

Teams and players exchanged salary arbitration figures on Tuesday as the signing deadline passed.  Many of these cases will be resolved without the need for a ruling by an arbitration panel, but some look destined to end up creating headlines and news stories in the weeks ahead. 

Ryan Howard’s request for $18m was the standout figure from all those submitted, just as his request for $10m was last year.  He went to arbitration and won in 2008 and his agent’s case this time is an easy one to put forward.  Howard led the Majors in home runs and RBIs and helped the Phillies to a World Series victory.  It’s an impressive list of achievements that could lead to a massive pay day.

The Phillies can’t downplay Howard’s contribution too much, but they can argue that their offer to raise his salary by $4m is an adequate reward for his efforts.  In doing so, they can point to statistics that actually reveal a downturn in their slugger’s performance compared to 2007.  For example, his on-base percentage dropped by .053 to .339 and his slugging percentage by .041 to .543. 

The Phillies could even refer to Baseball Prospectus’s popular VORP stat, which calculates a player’s Value Over a Replacement Player.  His 2007 performance was worth 53.6 runs more than a replacement player at his position.  In contrast his 2008 performance was worth 36.4, putting him 47th in the Majors, one place behind Pittsburgh’s catcher Ryan Doumit.

Last year the Phillies’ offer of $7m was deemed to be too low and, as per the arbitration rules, the panel had to select the $10m request instead.  This time, the Phillies offer looks more reasonable and Howard’s claim for an $8m pay rise may be a couple of million too much.  Still, ‘losing’ and ending up with $14m isn’t the toughest position to be in.

Some other players are due for a big rise on account of this being their first time they have been eligible for arbitration. 

Dan Uggla had to wait until he was twenty-six before being given a chance to play in the Majors and he has repaid the Marlins’ faith in him handsomely with three very productive seasons.  The ever-improving FanGraph’s website states that his performances have been worth a combined total of $47.2m.  However, Uggla earned just $1.1m during that time as he was only eligible for the Major League minimum salary.  He will now receive a big increase even if he loses his case: the Marlins are offering $4.4m while Uggla wants $5.35m.

Uggla clearly deserves the leap in salary that arbitration will bring, but Jeff Francoeur’s case is harder to support.  He will receive a $2.34m increase even if the Braves’ offer wins out, despite having a poor season in 2008.  His request for $3.95m appears to have little chance of being successful and the Braves may be keener to go to an arbitration hearing than teams normally are.

The message coming out of most Front Offices is that the submission of arbitration figures is just part of the process.  They hope to be able to negotiate a deal before a hearing takes place and this is often the best way to settle the matter.  However in some cases the team and/or player will be determined to stick to their figure and will attempt to convince the arbitration panel of its validity.  Expect plenty of interesting quotes and stories along the way.

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