Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Bunch of news coming out in the last few days, specifically about the Blue Jays changing their organizational approach to salary arbitration.  Alex Anthopoulos (pictured, left) has proclaimed (perhaps from a mountaintop?) that the Blue Jays organization would not negotiate with arbitration-eligible players past the salary filing deadline (yesterday, for those not in the know) and that any deals would have to be made by this time.  This is a significant departure from Anthopoulos' predecessor's policy, which has contributed to the organization's remarkable run of not letting salary negotiations go before the arbiter.

Anthopoulos seems to feel that, by giving this deadline, player agents would be encouraged to finish up negotiations prior to spring training, giving the Blue Jays more cost certainty with regards to player salary and would allow players to focus on baseball when they come to camp rather than protracted negotiations with management.  This makes a great deal of sense, at least when the deals get done (as was the case this year).  But what happens when the deals don't get done?

Seeing as it has been over a dozen years since Bill Risley and the Blue Jays faced off in front of an arbiter in 1997 it's worth reminding people what the process entails.  The player's representatives and the team submit salary expectations for the coming season at the deadline in January.  Typically, for the first year of arbitration eligibility, a player can expect about 40% of what he would command were he a free agent.  If the sides cannot come to an agreement before the arbitration hearing they are called in to face an independent arbiter, typically a lawyer-type person.  Here each side presents arguments as to why the player is worth the salary they presented, or, more to the point, argue why they are worth more than the player camp suggested or why they're worth less than the team suggested and why each side is being generous with its filing.  The arbiter takes these arguments, compares the player with his contemporaries, and selects one of the two proposed salaries.  Note that there is not compromise once it has come to the arbiter, it's one salary filed or the other.  So it's a bad idea to get too greedy with the filing because it increases the likelihood that the arbiter with side with the other salary filed.  Also note that the arbiter will never award a pay decrease and even if the player did not play at all in the previous season will at least give a pay increase in line with inflation.

It's actually not too bad a system, the team just runs the risk of alienating the player when they argue that he's not worth the salary they're offering, let alone the player agent's proposed salary.  So suppose a resident RLW (acronym: replacement-level whiner) goes to arbitration court and AA crushes his little spirits.  So what loyalty does this purely hypothetical player have toward the organization (which he hypothetically has already spoken out against and already hypothetically asked to not be tendered a contract in a buyer's market saturated with players of similar hypothetical skills)?

Obviously said hypothetical player must have already settled with the team, as all six arbitration eligible players have now signed contracts with the Blue Jays prior to Anthopoulos' deadline.  So the system must work, right?  I wouldn't be quick to proclaim this (from atop a mountain or not), as it's very much a buyer's market and relievers (four of the five Tuesday signings) should be happy to have a job at all at this point.

I'll hold out judgment on the Blue Jays' policy for now and see how it goes in the future.  I think they have a good thing going, with the twelve consecutive seasons of not going to arbitration court, and I'd hate to see it end.  And really, outside of the Lincecums and the Howards, the organization is typically arguing about a pay difference of under a million dollars.  While a million dollars is a large amount to us lowly folks, it's a pittance in terms of total payroll - and perhaps worthwhile for keeping the players happy and the clubhouse atmosphere clean and cancer-free?  Time will tell.

No comments:

Post a Comment