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Arbitrating the Diamondbacks

Four players exchanged their arbitration figures with the Diamondbacks this week, the first step in a process which could - but probably won't - lead to an arbitration hearing, at which they and the team will each put their case before an impartial panel of arbitrators, who will set the salary for the year. After the jump, we'll explain the process, and let you play arbitrator by deciding which of the four men in question most deserves what they're asking for.

Who's eligible?
Players with at least 3 but less than 6 years of major-league service time form the bulk of the players eligible for arbitration. Typically a player has three years of arbitration, following on from three years when the team unilaterally sets their salary. At the end of those three seasons of arbitration, a player normally becomes a free-agent and can sign wherever they want, for however much they can get. Of players with 2-3 years of service time, the top 22% also qualify. Known as "Super Twos", they don't reach free-agency any quicker, but instead will typically have four years of arbitration, rather than three. Ryan Roberts is a Super Two, Gerardo Parra just missed out, literally by days.

Swapping numbers
Teams first need to decide who they are going to keep. Players don't have to be tendered a contract: Joe Saunders was an example of an arbitration-eligible player the team opted not to pursue. Assuming that doesn't happen, the team and player will then exchange their desired salary. The team is somewhat limited, in that it can not offer less than 80% of a player's salary the preceding year, or below 70% of the figure from two years ago. However, most cases will see both sides submit a value higher than the previous season.

The amounts involved and what's at stake can be very significant, especially in he later years of arbitration, and when the player in question is a big star. In February 2010, Tim Lincecum asked for $13 million in his first year of arbitration, but eventually signed a deal - literally, at the door of the arbitration hearing - with the Giants which bought out that year and the next for $23 million. This year, he is wanting $21.5 million, while the club is offering $17 million. The all-time record is Roger Clemens, who asked for $22 million in 2005, after the Astros offered him arbitration - however, that was as a free-agent, a somewhat different scenario.

Making your case
As mentioned, the two sides are free to keep negotiating right up until the moment of the hearing, and usually, an agreement is reached. The MLB Players' Association estimate 90% of arbitration cases are settled without a hearing. However, last year, the figure was even higher: 119 players filed for arbitration, but only three cases were heard - the players won two of those. Thus, the odds are good that none of the four Diamondbacks will end up putting forward their case - Arizona hasn't had anyone go through the entire arbitration process since Damian Miller, more than a decade ago in 2001.

There are, however, very specific rules concerning what can and can not be brought up in the hearing. These are detailed in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. I haven't seen a copy of the one which was recently agreed, but there does not appear to have been any reports of changes to the arbitration process.

The criteria will be the quality of the Player’s contribution to his Club during the past season (including but not limited to his overall performance, special qualities of leadership and public appeal), the length and consistency of his career contribution, the record of the Player’s past compensation, comparative baseball salaries, the existence of any physical or mental defects on the part of the Player, and the recent performance record of the Club including but not limited to its League standing and attendance as an indication of public acceptance (subject to the exclusion stated in subparagraph (b)(i) below).

Any evidence may be submitted which is relevant to the above criteria, and the arbitration panel shall assign such weight to the evidence as shall appear appropriate under the circumstances. The arbitration panel shall, except for a Player with five or more years of Major League service, give particular attention, for comparative salary purposes, to the contracts of Players with Major League service not exceeding one annual service group above the Player’s annual service group. This shall not limit the ability of a Player or his representative, because of special accomplishment, to argue the equal relevance of salaries of Players without regard to service, and the arbitration panel shall give whatever weight to such argument as is deemed appropriate.

Evidence of the following shall not be admissible:
(i) The financial position of the Player and the Club;
(ii) Press comments, testimonials or similar material bearing on the performance of either the Player or the Club, except that recognized annual Player awards for playing excellence shall not be excluded;
(iii) Offers made by either Player or Club prior to arbitration;
(iv) The cost to the parties of their representatives, attorneys, etc.;
(v) Salaries in other sports or occupations.

Having weighed all that, the three-person panel then makes their decision, and they are only allowed to pick the salary submitted by the player, or the one submitted by the team - there's no "splitting the difference". This helps guarantee that neither side will submit an outrageous claim, low or high, e.g. "one billion dollars!", hoping to benefit from dragging the mid-point in their direction. Whatever figure the panel decides, the player receives a one-year contract at the appropriate level.

The process described above is, obviously, adversarial. That's why most teams would rather come to an agreement with the player, rather than spending an afternoon explaining in front of him, why they think he's not worth as much money as he does - a task that is unlikely to improve the relationship. Of course, you can always do like Jerry Colangelo did with catcher Jorge Fabregas. The two went through arbitration, the D-backs offering $875K, Fabregas wanting $1.5 million. The tam won - but Colangelo turned around and gave Fabregas a two-year $2.9 million deal.

Raising (salaries in) Arizona
So, here are the four players who have not yet been signed by the Diamondbacks, and who have exchanged contract numbers with the team. The first number, being the lower one, is the team's figure.

  • Miguel Montero: $5.4 million or $6.8 million
  • Ryan Roberts: $1.65 million or $2.275 million
  • Brad Ziegler: $1.46 million or $1.945 million
  • Craig Breslow: $1.5 million or $2.1 million

That's a fair chunk of change, totaling about $3 million in difference, If you were the arbitrator, which way would you decide, based on the criteria above [and I stress that, because I know we all love Miggy, RyRo, etc. and would be more than happy to write them a fat check with someone else's money!]. In fact, let's make this simple. If you could only award one of the men above the amount they asked for, which one would it be? Here's a poll, and there's a comment section below for your explanation...