A.J. Ellis endured over eight years in the minor leagues, and didn't get to the major leagues without plenty of hard work. So it's only natural that his agents are as diligent as Ellis, in preparation of the catcher's first experience with the salary arbitration process.
"This is my first time going through this, so I'm kind of sitting back and following my agents' leads," Ellis said on Wednesday. "It's something I'm not stressed about. I'm just going to use the advice and counsel of my agents, and make an informed decision."
Informed decisions are what Ellis makes on a daily basis both behind and at the plate, after hours of watching video and hitting in the batting cages or in batting practice. Coaches marvel at his work ethic, which produced results in 2012, his first full year as a starter.
Ellis hit .270/.373/.414 with 13 home runs in 133 games last year, and is line for quite a raise from the $490,000 he earned in 2012. As a Super Two player, among the top 22% of major league players in service time with at least two years but not yet three years of service, Ellis is eligible for salary arbitration for the first time.
Ellis was one of 133 major league players to file for arbitration on Tuesday, which is more of a technicality than anything. The real work comes when salary figures are exchanged on Friday, a day both sides have prepared for for quite some time.
"It should be a pretty quick resolution. One of the nice things about this process, given all the years it's been going on, pretty much everyone has an idea of where they are slotted and where they fit in," Ellis said. "There are no real big surprises on either side. Both sides are very well educated and do their homework and their research, and get to a pretty consistent number."
Back in December, I guessed that Ellis would earn $3 million in 2013. Matt Swartz at MLB Trade Rumors predicted a salary $1.7 million for Ellis.
Ellis first discussed arbitration with his agents, the New York-based ACES, in June when the Dodgers were in Philadelphia to play the Phillies. They met again in July in New York when the Dodgers played the Mets, when Ellis was given a comprehensive book of stats and comparable players, giving him a better idea of what he stood to make in arbitration.
They presented Ellis with updated comparables in September in Washington D.C. when the Dodgers were in town to play the Nationals. Ellis and his agent will meet again in Milwaukee, where Ellis lives, on Thursday, to discuss their options before Friday's exchange of salary figures.
If that weren't enough, the Major League Baseball Players Association provides data during the season to the players as a third party, making sure their electorate are an informed bunch.
"The union does a great job so a rival agent doesn't swoop in and say, 'I can get you this much more money than with your current agent'," Ellis said.
This barrage of information gives Ellis a good idea of what he will earn in 2013, but this is still his first time through the arbitration process. However, at 31 Ellis is older than most first-time arbitration-eligible players and tends to view things through a slightly different perspective.
"It helps, seeing the business side of baseball being in this game as long as I have," Ellis said. "This is all gravy for me. I never really had expectations of being a major league baseball player, let alone be a major league player at a point in their career who is arbitration eligible and looking at possibly lifestyle-altering money. It's something I don't take lightly, but knowing what's important has kept me grounded and helped me in this process."
Ellis, who had surgery on Oct. 5 to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, said he is fully recovered from the procedure and currently has no limitations. He has spent the bulk of his last month getting ready for spring training, including watching video of new pitchers Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu.
Pitchers and catchers report to Dodgers camp at Camelback Ranch in less than four weeks, on Feb. 12.
Ellis, who could have as many as four trips through the salary arbitration process, expects to sign a one-year deal. But the catcher would be open to a multi-year contract.
"It's something I would be interested in. I don't want to play for anybody else. This is the team I was drafted by, and the one I came up with. At the same time I understand that there is probably a desire to see if I can replicate my season," Ellis said. "I'm not anticipating that conversation, but if it happens, I'm more than excited to have it."
Though Ellis will likely make more money in this contract than he has in all of his years in baseball combined, he doesn't view the raise as some sort of validation or reward.
"The validation came last year when Donnie (manager Don Mattingly) and (general manager) Ned (Colletti) decided to make me starting catcher. It sounds silly, but I've never been someone who valued money or wanted to make absurd amounts of money," Ellis said. "It's about the experience of playing baseball, playing the game I love, and being a part of a championship team. My number one goal and all I care about right now is winning a World Series. That's what it's all about. Just being a part of the Dodgers and being entrusted with handling this pitching staff that keeps getting better and better by the week. That's the reward for all the years of hard work."