The arbitration process in baseball is democracy in action – almost. It’s too complicated to explain here (full lawyer like language here) but basically players who have not yet reached free agency, but who have a minimum of three years of service with a team can enter a process in which they propose a salary figure for the next season while management does the same. An arbiter decides and it’s winner take all. What a fun way to encourage team building and unity, right?
Imagine yourself sitting there while your team tells you all of the reasons why you aren’t the hot stuff you think you are. Think there might not be some hard feelings there, especially if you lose the case?But, that’s the system as it is. But actually, it was the Players Association and Marvin Miller who championed the cause in 1974. Today, as we look back and ahead the old adage rings true…….be careful what you wish for………because…….
In 2015, nearly 200 players filed for arbitration. We can expect a similar number to file tomorrow this year as well. Interestingly though, only 14 cases went all the way to an arbiter. The rest were settled through the normal contract negotiation process prior to the hearing date. It’s also interesting that the owners won eight of those hearings and the players only six. And if you go all the way back to the start date, the winning percentage in favor of the owners is about the same – 58 to 42%. Perhaps this is also why the number of hearings has steadily declined over the years. Players are simply not ready to take that gamble, especially since there is often millions left on the table if they lose.
Remember too that free agency was in its infancy in the mid 1970’s. In 1975, according to Baseball Reference the minimum salary was a mere $16,000. Ball players were a lot hungrier than they are now – and for good reason. Today, in the beginning of their career they have to skimp by on a half million dollars ($507,000) for a while knowing that if they make the grade to free agency they can be set for life if they have any financial brain at all.
So that’s why we’ll see a bunch of filings but very little in the way of actual hearings. Some big names like Josh Donaldson, Jake Arrieta, Matt Harvey, and Dallas Kutchel will be in the mix. Dollar amounts will be exchanged, agents will update their graphs and charts, the “temperature” will be taken daily as agreements are announced, players will wonder – should I hold ’em or fold ’em? It’ll be interesting and entertaining as we countdown the number of days till Spring (69 in case you were wondering)………..you can keep score here and watch how it all plays out too…………