A quick overview might be worthwhile, for those who haven’t been paying attention in previous years. I’m going to keep it simple, so there will be broad generalizations in what follows. Teams control players for six years of service time. For the first three years, they’re only obliged to pay them league minimum. For years 4-6 though, the player has a bit more leverage. If he doesn’t like the club’s offer, he can counter with a price for that year of his own. Negotiation follows. If agreement is not reached, the club and player go to arbitration. The club tells the arbitrator why they should pay $X; the player makes his case for $Y. The arbitratror will pick $X or $Y. There’s no splitting the difference.
It can be a bit fraught, because the arbitration hearing is basically the club telling the player why they are not as valuable as they think. It can hurt the relationship, in terms of signing a contract extension. But most players realize it’s just business, not personal, and it’s common for them to come to an agreement directly, without a hearing. As a player goes through his three years, they will typically get more money, and it can be a LOT more. Shohei Ohtani got $30 million from the Angels. This season, the D-backs have six players eligible: first-timers are Kevin Ginkel, Joe Mantiply and Ryan Thompson. Zac Gallen is in his second year, while Paul Sewald and Christian Walker are in their final go-around.
Tonight is a significant date in the process, because if players and clubs don’t reach agreement by this evening, they have to swap their $X and $Y figures (though negotiation can continue up to the literal door of the arbitration hearing). This deadline tends to lead to a rush of agreements, and that’s the case today, with both the pair of third-year arbitration eligible players both coming to terms with Arizona. Paul Sewald will get $7.35 million for his services in 2024 - that’s very close to the expected figure from MLB Trade Rumors. But Christian Walker came in well below the projected $12.7 million figure, signing for this year at a price of $10.9 million.
As @DbacksStatsInfo noted on Twitter, Christian’s total earnings over the eight MLB seasons to this point is $10.8 million. So he’s going to make more this year, than he had over all his time since Walker made his debut, back in September 2014. Of course, it’s significant that over the first five of those seasons (2014-2018), he had a total of less than a hundred plate-appearances. Consequently 2022 was his first season of arbitration. It just took him that long to reach the necessary three years of service-time, being blocked as he was - not just here by Goldy, but in Cincinnati where Votto stood in the way. Walker certainly deserves to get paid, having been worth 12.6 bWAR so far, most of it in the last couple of years.
That he came in under budget is helpful, especially if the team is looking to sign a DH-type for the season. It potentially frees up close to a couple of million dollars more to that end. Is that the difference between a good designated hitter, and a good enough one? Hard to say, but it certainly can’t do any harm. It also reminds me that this is the last year of Walker being under team control. Should we be thinking about a contract extensions for him? Or should we instead look to fill it from within, with someone like Ivan Melendez, a.k.a. the “Hispanic Titanic”? That’s probably a topic for a full article another day...
[Update] Kevin Ginkel has now also agreed, coming to terms with Arizona at a price reported to be $1.225 million. That’s marginally below the MLBTR expectation of $1.4 million, and if he repeats last year’s performance, will certainly be excellent value for money. No word on the other three, so it looks like Mantiply, Thompson and Gallen will be exchanging figures and moving to the next stage in the process. Also, Juan Soto has set a new record for an arbitration eligible player: he’ll get $31 million from the Yankees this year.
[Update #2] Add Zac Gallen to the list.
Zac Gallen and the D-backs settle at $10.011 million, per source, avoiding arbitration.— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) January 12, 2024
The projection was $10.9 million, so thats also a little under estimate, giving Mike Hazen a little more to play with.
- [Update #3] The team just announced that Mantiply and Thomson also agreed, completing the set. Ryan Thompson gets $1.35 million, fractionally above the $1.3 million estimate, but that's countered by Joe Mantiply's $925K, slightly under the $1 million projected.