For the most part, minus a potential Andy Pettitte signing, the Yankees are done with their major dealings this winter. From here on out, it’s about tweaking what they’ve got in order to optimize their roster heading into Spring Training and eventually Opening Day. This will probably be our focus for the rest of the winter, which is just fine by me. Baseball is a nuanced game, and we’re getting into those nuances right now. First up, the arbitration process.
We’ve seen the deadline for offering your own free agents arbitration pass, so it’s time for the next group to file: three- to five-year players. You can add to this group Super Two players. Barry Bloom, in an article about arbitration cases, explains:
Currently, clubs control the contracts of almost all players with zero to three years of Major League experience, save for a small group of “Super Two” players who are eligible for arbitration early if they played in the Majors at least 86 days in the previous season and were among the top 17 percent in cumulative playing time in that group with at least two to three years of experience.
Melky Cabrera qualifies as a Super Two and is arbitration eligible this year. He joins Brian Bruney and Xavier Nady as the only Yankees who will face this process. The Yankees other eligible player, Chien-Ming Wang, agreed to a $5 million 2009 salary last week to avoid arbitration.
Most people are familiar with what happens from here on out. Eligible players file to protect themselves. Then they negotiate with their teams until February, when the hearings begin. Prior to the hearing the two sides exchange figures of what they deem a fair salary. If no agreement is reached prior to the scheduled hearing, both parties appear before a three-member panel and argue the case. The panel then determines which of the two figures better reflects the player’s value.
Hearings, though, are quite the rarity these days. Bloom notes that 110 players filed for arbitration last year. Only eight of them went to the hearing. Fewer than half, 48, even exchanged figures with their respective club. This suggests that both sides benefit from striking a deal beforehand. Maury Brown of Biz of Baseball explains:
“To place the arbitration process in perspective, there is a reason that so few clubs and players go all the way to hearing,” said Brown, who noted that the owners have beaten the players in arbitration for 12 consecutive years. “The stakes are too high. That and the clubs really lose even when they win. Whether a deal is struck before hearing, or if a club wins at hearing, the player nearly always gets a hefty raise.”
As for the Yankees specifically, the only case that might to to a hearing is Nady, who is represented by Scott Boras. Bruney and Melky figure to settle beforehand, earning raises over their 2008 salaries, but nothing ridiculous. Both faced troubles during the year — Bruney a foot injury and Melky a demotion to AAA — so they don’t have much leverage. Nady on the other hand made just $3.35 million last year, and by the numbers he far outplayed his salary. When Boras is involved in a case like this, you can’t really assume anything (but that won’t stop us from trying).
My guesses as to what each player will earn, hearing or not:
Bruney: $1.2 million
Nady: $6 million
Things will be much more interesting for other teams. Ryan Howard won a $10 million salary in arbitration last year and went on to lead the league in homers and RBI, and his shiny ring won’t hurt him in the process. Bloom predicts a 50 percent raise, meaning $15 million for the second-year arbitration eligible player. Howard’s hearing last year could play into the Brewers situation with Prince Fielder, who is arbitration eligible for the first time. He won’t get $10 million, but if he plays his cards right he could get $7 or $8, which is still a high figure for a first-year arbitration player.
Little things like this help get us through the cold months prior to Spring Training. So please: comment, dissect, analyze, etc.