With the new year comes a new focus, and while the Dodgers remain involved on the free agent and trading front, the offseason will shortly become consumed with salary arbitration.
The Dodgers have six players eligible for salary arbitration this winter — catcher Yasmani Grandal, first baseman and outfielder Darin Ruf, and pitchers Alex Wood, Josh Fields, Luis Avilan and Vidal Nuño. The club already came to terms with fellow arbitration-eligible players Chris Hatcher and Scott Van Slyke, signing both to one-year deals on Dec. 1, one day before the deadline to tender contracts for 2017.
CORRECTION (Jan. 4): Upon further review, Ruf fell two weeks shy of qualifying for Super Two status, and is not eligible for arbitration this offseason.
Arbitration season gets underway on Tuesday, Jan. 10, the filing date. This is more procedural than anything, just making official that if the player and team can’t agree on terms, they will have an arbitration hearing with a three-person panel picking one side or the other.
The date to watch is the exchange date of Friday, Jan. 13, when each side submits a single salary number to the Players Association or MLB Labor Relations Department by 10 a.m. PT.
This isn’t a hard deadline by any means, but the exchange date usually serves as an impetus for both sides to reach a deal. Last year the Dodgers had six players file for arbitration on Jan. 12, and all six signed deals by the Jan. 15 exchange date. In 2015, the Dodgers similarly signed one player (Chris Heisey) on the day before the exchange date, then inked the other three arbitration-eligible players on the exchange date itself.
If the team and player can’t reach agreement, a salary arbitration hearing will be scheduled for some time between Jan. 30 and Feb. 17 in Phoenix. Both sides are allowed, and encouraged, to continue to negotiate, trying to reach a deal.
With everyone signing by the exchange date, we haven’t yet seen whether the Dodgers use a “file and trial” strategy, which was used by Andrew Friedman with the Rays. This strategy, employed by a few teams in MLB, involves no further negotiations after the exchange date. If the two sides can’t come to an agreement by the exchange date, they will go to a hearing.
With Tampa Bay, Friedman went to five arbitration hearings in nine years as general manager, and won all five cases. The last was in 2012.
The Dodgers haven’t had an arbitration hearing since beating relief pitcher Joe Beimel in 2007. There have been some close calls — in 2014 Kenley Jansen signed a new deal one week before his scheduled hearing, and in 2009 Andre Ethier and the club agreed to terms moments before his hearing was to begin — but those were under the previous regime, with Ned Colletti as GM.
We will preview each of the individual salary arbitration cases this week and next.