The Dodgers have six players on the 40-man roster eligible for salary arbitration, and arbitration season kicked off unofficially on Tuesday with MLB Trade Rumors unveiling its 2015 salary arbitration projections, an annual tradition. As the Dodgers forge ahead with a new regime in baseball operations, it will be interesting to see how Andrew Friedman and the gang handle arbitration with the Dodgers.
Salary arbitration is available for those players with at least three years but not yet six years of major league service time, as well as the "Super Two" class, the top 22 percent in service time of those with at least two but not yet three years of service. Dee Gordon, with two years, 154 days of service time, is a Super Two this year, meaning he gets four years of arbitration instead of three.
The entire system is built around comparable players, in service time, positions played and performance. Here are the 2015 salary projections from MLB Trade Rumors for this year's arbitration-eligible Dodgers:
Kenley Jansen: $8.2 million
A.J. Ellis: $3.8 million
Dee Gordon: $2.5 million
Darwin Barney: $2.5 million
Justin Turner: $2.2 million
Drew Butera: $900,000
Add that in to the $189.5 million already committed to 15 players, the Dodgers seem locks to eclipse well over $200 million in payroll yet again in 2015.
Last year, MLB Trade Rumors predicted salaries of $4.8 million and $3.2 million for Jansen and Ellis, respectively, and they both avoided arbitration at $4.275 million and $3.55 million respectively. I plan on making my own projections later this offseason once the filing dates approach. Last year, I predicted $4.4 million for Jansen and $3.1 million for Ellis.
There are some dates to remember.
December 2 is the first important date, the deadline for tendering players contracts for 2015. For the fringe players like Barney and Butera here, for instance, if they can't come to some sort of an agreement by December 2, they could get non-tendered, making them a free agent. Last offseason, the Dodgers came to terms with Butera, Mike Baxter and Scott Elbert a few days before the tender deadline, but non-tendered Ronald Belisario, making him a free agent (that he signed almost immediately for an amount, $3.5 million, more than than he would have received in arbitration made the decision to non-tender Belisario rather than trade him - even for a warm body, Rob Rasmussen type - a poor one by Ned Colletti).
The next date to remember is January 13, the deadline for eligible players to file for salary arbitration. This is more procedural than anything, if the two sides haven't yet come to an agreement, but serves as another deadline of sorts to draw both players and terms toward a compromise. The two sides will exchange salary figures on January 16, then if the two sides still can't come to an agreement then they would eventually go to an arbitration hearing, scheduled some time between Feb. 1-21.
In even years all the hearings are in Florida, and last year the Dodgers and Jansen were prepared to fly across the country for his hearing, but the two sides agreed to a contract one week before his scheduled hearing. Teams and players are allowed, in fact are encouraged to negotiate up to the hearing itself; Andre Ethier and the team came to an agreement literally just outside the hotel room of his 2009 arbitration hearing, moments before it was to begin.
The system is designed for both players and teams to compromise and meet somewhere near the midpoint of their negotiations, with the arbitration hearing the last resort if they can't do so. The Dodgers haven't actually had an arbitration hearing since winning against relief pitcher Joe Beimel in 2007.
But Friedman with Tampa Bay took things one step further. The Rays used a strategy called "file and trial" (or sometimes "file and go"), meaning if the player and team couldn't reach agreement by the filing deadline - again, January 13 for this offseason - the team would no longer negotiate; instead, the two parties would eventually see a hearing.
The Rays aren't the only team with this policy. It is also practiced by the White Sox, Marlins, Blue Jays and Braves. Ben Reiter of Sports Illustrated wrote about the potential benefits of the strategy in February:
Most agents like to delay seriously engaging in negotiations on their clients' behalf until after arbitration figures have been submitted, thereby establishing, as in Barney's case, a formal "midpoint" -- one that is often artificially inflated by the agents' intentionally high demands, as the number has been submitted with the knowledge that a settlement is the most likely outcome. This option has been removed from the playbook of agents who are dealing with file-to-go teams, and the result is most often a settlement that has not been influenced by a midpoint of questionable provenance.
Friedman echoed that cry for rationality when he spoke with Chuck Myron of MLB Trade Rumors in April 2013 about the "file and trial policy":
"There are a lot of reasons behind the policy, but the aspect that is most beneficial is that it keeps the discussions leading up to the deadline reasonable and grounded in the overarching point of the process," he said. "At its heart, the process is meant to pay players fairly for what they’ve accomplished. No more, no less. When both sides are held to numbers that they’ve been artificially forced to swap, it adds a level of gamesmanship to the process that distracts from the real purpose of the whole exercise. Our goal is always to get to a fair settlement that rewards the player for what he’s done. Adding this extra layer only complicates that."
"Simply put, we think that our policy gives both sides the best chance of getting to a number that each of them can feel good about," Friedman said. "In essence, it adds a level of rationality to a process that, on occasion, can get emotional. It helps keep us grounded."
In Friedman's nine years in Tampa Bay, the Rays went to five salary arbitration hearings. The Rays won all five cases:
- 2006: Josh Paul (asked for $750,000; got $475,000)
- 2007: Paul (asked for $940,000; got $675,000)
- 2009: Dioner Navarro (asked for $2.5 million; got $2.1 million)
- 2010: B.J. Upton (asked for $3.3 million; got $3 million)
- 2012: Jeff Niemann (asked for $3.2 million; got $2.75 million)
Time will tell if the Dodgers adopt a "file and trial" strategy with salary arbitration, but we have six case studies to watch and find out. Given that the 2015 hearings will be in Phoenix, should the Dodgers be involved in any arbitration proceedings at least both sides won't have to travel very far.