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Baseball 101 - The More You Know About MLB Arbitration, The More You'll Hate Your Cheap Owner

Arbitration season in MLB can easily get glossed over and rightfully so because it's boring and judicial and technical and a bunch of nuanced specific bullshit. It's not a traditional negotiation setting by any means, and there's 33 of these hearings on the horizon amongst 19 clubs. 

The 19 stands out because it also means 11 clubs won't have a hearing. They'll settle all arb-contracts the way God and public policy enthusiasts intended: without requiring a costly, formal resolution process. 

Others simply can't help themselves. The Blue Jays formally offered $5M to Bo Bichette - wayyyy behind his $7.5M filing. They've had a long time to settle between themselves, but to no avail. So they "go to arbitration" which means a hearing (legal meeting) in front of a veteran judge/lawyer/mediator (the arbiter) who, by-preference, generally possesses little experience/knowledge/practice in baseball. A true neutral & objective presence, some would say. 

Others would say it's bullshit. I explain both sides on the show today which you can find here. 

Meanwhile, Bo Bichette (and his agent) will have to convince the arbiter that he's worth $7.5M while the Blue Jays debate the opposite. They have to persuade the arbiter that Bo Bichette is worth two-thirds of his opinion. Imagine asking for 60k to manage the McDonalds and they only give you 40k.  

Now you're probably thinking that Bo Bichette is worth a butt load more than both amounts. And if so, you are correct. But this is salary arbitration and you can never make more than your service time allows. These fuckin rules I tell ya. There's a whole bunch that I'll illustrate with Bo because he's a fantastic example of how it all works. 

In Bo's case, he's got a shade over 3 years of service time, measured as # of days on the 26-man roster divided by 172. He's like 3.05 since debuting in 2019. That's from two full seasons in 2021 & 2022 and then another year combined from 2019 into 2020. Ergo he's out of the league minimum bracket with 3+ years and into the arbitration process. 

This next part's critical. You can only compare Bo to what other 3-year guys got paid in their 1st round of arbitration. Nobody cares that Dansby Swanson just got a truck load of money from the Cubs. An arbiter would be much more interested to know Dansby got $3.15M in his 1st year of Arbitration with nearly the exact same days of service with significantly worse numbers offensively. That would be the relevant comparison and I say that knowing it's not a relevant comparison for Bo. It's part of a bigger analogy to tell you guys that the free agent contracts of recent weeks have zero influence on the arbitration news that's coming this week and beyond. 

You can only make what your service time allows. Bo's ceiling is Cody Bellinger's $11.5M from 2020 that followed his MVP award. 

Meanwhile his projection is around $6.1M, so it's kinda ballsy to come in at $7.5M. And maybe so insulting that the Blue Jays are confident in $5M? Big enough to really hurt a young man's feelings. And certainly bad timing - because no matter what I tell you about the arbiter - good luck convincing Bo Bichette that these free agent contracts don't matter to his value. He's the one out there playing 159 games back-to-back seasons with a 124 OPS+. 

Just a long winded example to get you fluid on how this kinda works. At least enough to now enjoy the following: 

Tampa is going to arbitration hearings with SEVEN players. Just a preposterous amount of arbitration hearings. In one case, lefty reliever Colin Poche is forced to the arbitration table to defend his $1.3M filing. The Rays are countering with $1.175M for a total difference of $125,000 - otherwise known as 2 Aaron Judge plate appearances in 2023. 

The broader point is that the Rays are willing to wage a legal fight with a guy they'll end up relying upon in late-innings to win games this season. But first they need to convince some retired circuit court judge exactly why he sucks. It's such a beautiful dichotomy. 

The Rays are going to do this to six other players and I love every second of it. The club has nearly twice as much front office fire power as any other club (The Dodgers #2) and this is when they flex it. Then the Rays take the $1.2M savings and use it on some unknown foreign-league veteran that hits 23 homers from a platoon role amongst 4 different positions. 

Point is there's plenty of approaches to this part of the baseball calendar. I completely fucked up talking about the Braves on the show this week in saying they won't be in arbitration with anyone because they've all been extended. That's not true. Max Fried is under the microscope yet again for $15M vs. the Braves $13.5M. They pulled the same card with him last year over a couple hundred grand and lost, so I'll call it surprising they're doing it again this year. 

Revenues are certainly up. We'll see how much the arbiters care. 

In the meantime, go check out the Matt Olson interview from last week. Nice move on my part after Braves fans dumped on me for suggesting Austin Reilly is eating too much cheesecake now that he's been paid. Or something like that. Braves fans talked a fair amount of shit so I responded in kind with an olive branch of peace that you can find here. 

I always come in peace. 

More good stuff coming. Click the box below to subscribe on whatever platform you use most. We touch them all 

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