We know the Marlins have made an offer to Albert Pujols. And we know that the Cardinals, obviously, are continuing to talk to him. Both Tim Brown of Yahoo! and Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch say, however, that at least three teams are “actively jockeying” for El Hombre.
No one knows the third team, however, so it’s … the Mystery Team.
Just want to go on record how mad I still am over the fact that Heyman ended up being right about the Mystery Team being interested in Cliff Lee last year. Was way more fun when the Mystery Team didn’t exist outside of agents’ weird leverage-creation scenarios. But now we know they do. And it can be anyone. And now they’re talking to Albert Pujols.
Hard to say who it could be. The Rangers and Dodgers have said they’re out. Maybe the Orioles have delusions of grandeur. Maybe the Cubs are going to get in on that. Hard to say. It all probably doesn’t matter. There have been reports — shot down by others, but reports all the same — that the Cardinals and Pujols are close to a deal and it will be announced tomorrow.
But that’s what we all thought about Cliff Lee too. Before we were overtaken by mystery.
There’s something interesting deep in Ken Rosenthal’s latest notes column. It’s about arbitration, with Rosenthal reporting that the players union believes that all 30 teams will take a “file-and-trial” approach to arbitration this winter.
If you’re unfamiliar with this, it breaks down thusly:
- In mid-January, teams and players who are eligible for arbitration will exchange proposed salary figures. The player says what he thinks he’s worth based on comparable players of his quality and service time and the team will propose a lower counter-figure;
- Generally, the parties then use these proposals as negotiable figures and eventually reach a compromise deal, usually near the midpoint between the two figures, avoiding arbitration;
- If a deal cannot be reached, they go to an arbitration hearing and arbitrators pick one of the numbers. They CANNOT give a compromise award. It’s either the higher player’s number or the lower team number.
In the past, a handful of teams — most typically the Blue Jays, Braves, Marlins, Rays, and White Sox — employed a “file- and-trial” approach, meaning that they treated the figure exchange date as a hard deadline after which they refused to negotiate and stood content to go to a hearing. As more teams have adopted this approach, there have been more arbitration hearings. As Rosenthal notes, last year there were more hearings than in any offseason for the past 25 years. Now, the union thinks, every team will do this. If they do, obviously, there will be even more hearings.
There is certainly an advantage to file-and-trial for a team. It makes the player and the agent work harder and earlier in order to be prepared to negotiate with the club before the file deadline. It also makes them work a lot harder to come up with a defensible filing number given that, rather than merely being an opening salvo in an extended negotiation, it’s something that they will certainly have to defend in open court. It’s also simple hardball. Teams have greater resources than the players and the agents and it’s less painful for them to pay for lawyers and hearing prep and to conduct the actual hearing. There’s risk to the team, of course — they might lose and pay more than a settlement would’ve cost — but teams are obviously concluding that the risk is worth it.
The only question I have is, if the union is right and all 30 teams will now proceed this way, how was that decided? Everyone suddenly, after several decades of arbitration, simply decided to take the same approach? Or was there, I dunno, a meeting in which the strategy was coordinated? Inquiring minds want to know!