View Full Version : An inside look into the arbitration process

02-08-2006, 11:00 PM

The Kansas City Star

The morgue is a conference room at the Renaissance Vinoy hotel in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Salary arbitration hearings take place there. Agents come equipped with a mound of data trying to convince a three-person panel that their client deserves a certain salary. Teams go in armed with high-priced lawyers who spend 90 minutes nitpicking everything short of the player’s cologne.

Contrary to popular belief, no one in the room wields a scalpel.

“I remember an arbitration case in Texas with Lee Stevens,” Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said. “At the end, he said, ‘It was like having an autopsy done while you’re still alive.’ ”

February means it’s arbitration season, when players entering their fourth, fifth and sixth years are given the right to argue for higher salaries — and the Royals found themselves in the middle of another case Tuesday. In fact, outfielder Emil Brown might be the most interesting of the players who haven’t signed contracts and will defer the size of their paycheck this season to the panel’s decision.

On one hand, Brown had a breakout offensive season last year, hitting .286 with 17 home runs and a team-high 86 RBIs. On the other hand, he led major-league outfielders with 12 errors. His offense makes him well worth the $1.775 million he requested. His defense makes the $1.4 million the Royals countered with seem like a fortune. Either way, he’ll get a big raise from his $355,000 last year. He should learn the verdict today.

Above all is the question that separates Brown’s case from others: What matters most, productivity or consistency? Because before 2005, Brown had toiled in the minor leagues for three seasons, a fact the Royals not only pointed out but probably belabored. And one countered by the Brown camp with a logical argument: Why dwell on the past when you’ve got this player for the future?

So goes arbitration, where only $200,000 can separate a deal — as was the case with Colorado’s Sunny Kim — that is sure to bring some amount of contempt.

“If you told somebody for $500,000 they would have to get dissected for three hours, most people would say, ‘OK,’ ” Royals general manager Allard Baird said. “But when you go through this, and it’s presented in a very businesslike, corporate setting, it’s tough. No one can prepare the player for this experience. Because no matter how bad you think it is, you’ve never had it done to you.”

A long, rectangular table greets the participants when they walk in for a salary arbitration hearing. The player and his agent go to one side. The team and its attorney go to another. In the middle sits the panel that will decide the player’s salary for the year.

For the first hour, the agent stumps for the player. In the second hour, the team counters with its argument — which has, in past cases, included a team pointing out low attendance and correlating it to the player. The agent gets a 30-minute rebuttal before the team finishes with its 30-minute conclusion.

“There are seldom any players who go in there and it doesn’t affect them in some way,” Baird said. “Some positive. Some negative. Some where they question their abilities. The one thing I remember about Carlos Beltran was as soon as he came to spring training, he said to me, ‘These are the things I’m going to be better at this season.’ They were all the things we discussed in arbitration.

“Now, they know that kind of stuff. But the way it’s presented in an arbitration hearing, you have no choice but hearing it. Because it’s not said nicely. It’s not said with much tact. It’s highlighted with colors and reiterated with facts.

“It’s dissected to the degree that you’re surprised you’re even allowed to wear a glove.”

Generally, two types of players risk arbitration: established stars looking to set new standards (like Alfonso Soriano and his $12 million request this season) and lightning-in-a-bottle players who want to cash in.

In 1999, Derek Jeter and the Yankees went to arbitration. The team had won two World Series in his three seasons at shortstop. He was a model citizen with a smile that sold. And when the Yankees offered $3.2 million in response to the record-setting $5 million Jeter asked for, he balked.

“There’s not a whole lot to slam,” said Casey Close, Jeter’s agent. “The ’98 Yankees had come off of the best record in history. You had the best player who’d had his best year. All those factors played favorably.”

Jeter won. The next season he earned $10 million. And the year after that, he cashed in with a 10-year, $189 million deal.

Then there’s Will Ohman. He’s a left-handed specialist who has pitched 58 1/3 innings in his career, nearly 75 percent of them last year, when he earned $320,000. He was arbitration-eligible this year because he accrued nearly two years of service time on the disabled list. The Cubs offered him $500,000. He wanted $775,000. Players with extended time on the DL who try to double their salary don’t often endear themselves to management.

Before his hearing, Ohman settled for $610,000 and signed a one-year contract.

Brown, also with just one good year on his resume, didn’t. And the Royals were ready to fight.

“I can see that,” one agent said. “If you’re the GM, you’ve watched every inning of every pitch of every game. When you watch your guy, you may not fall in love with him. You see so many faults. You say, ‘I know he’s supposed to be paid this, but he’s not that good.’ There’s a tendency for them to interpret personal feelings and scouting and biases, but that doesn’t matter to the arbitrators.”

No, they’re trained to be machines, impartial and fair at every turn. Though it must be noted that since arbitration started in 1973, the teams have won nearly 60 percent of the cases. And in recent years, the percentage has grown even higher, leaving agents cool on the idea of stepping into the morgue.

“All the homework you do in trying to put together why your guy is worth what he’s worth usually can prevent that,” agent Joe Bick said. “Not always. Sometimes, there are just honest differences of opinion on what a guy’s worth.”

02-09-2006, 12:55 AM
I will give DanO credit when it came to arbitration, he did his best to keep good relations with the players he had. The sad part is of course who cares if your pitching sucks.

02-09-2006, 12:57 AM
Thanks for sharing