Today is the deadline for teams, players to exchange arbitration figures

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Today is the day you will see a lot of “[Team] and [Player] agree to one year deal, avoiding arbitration” stories. The reason: today at noon eastern is the deadline for all arbitration-eligible players and their teams to exchange salary figures.

Here’s what that means technically:

  • By noon today, all arbitration-eligible players will say what they think they’re worth based on comparable players of their quality and service time and the team will propose a lower counter-figure;
  • Generally, and usually, in the past, the parties would then use these proposals as negotiable figures and eventually reach a compromise deal, usually near the midpoint between the two figures, avoiding arbitration. This process often takes a few weeks;
  • If a deal cannot be reached, the player and the team 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, and that will be the player’s salary for the upcoming season.

Got it so far? Good. Now, here’s why things have gotten a bit different in the past few years.

In the past, a small handful of teams employed a “file- and-trial” approach to arbitration. That meant that they treated the figure exchange date — today — as a hard deadline after which they refused to negotiate with the player and stood content to go to a hearing and let the arbitrators decide. Not many teams did this, mind you. Just some. And they were viewed as hardliners. The upshot was that they were willing to risk a hearing — which players really hate — if the could save some money on an agreed deal, struck in the absence of competing offers setting a floor and a ceiling.

In the past couple of years, however, the vast majority of teams began to assume this posture, treating today’s deadline as the real arbitration-avoidance deadline. And it has worked for them. In 2018 there were 22 hearings. In 2019 there were only ten. What’s more, in the aggregate, arbitration-eligible players took a smaller percentage of their projected awards than they had in some time. It’s pretty clear what’s happening: teams are taking harder lines and players are settling to avoid the risk of a hearing, thereby taking less money. Which is to say that clubs’ file-and-trial approach is working.

Oh, and there’s another thing some of you who follow the labor landscape closely might remember: last July when there was some union drama, with Tony Clark pushing out longtime MLBPA attorney Rick Shapiro. From what I understand that was all tied up in vision/strategy for the MLBPA vis-a-vis CBA negotiations. There are at least two sides to every story and I’ve heard at least three in this one, so just know it was kind of a mess.

Whatever it really was, though, one thing is clear: Rick Shapiro was THE GUY at the union who coordinated arbitration cases for the players. There are many capable union lawyers there who work with arbitration, but Shapiro was, without question, the guy who quarterbacked all of it. Him not being around for arbitration season for the first time in years and years cannot be great for the players, the agents and the attorneys who all work together on these things. It would not shock me if his absence has a major impact on this year’s arbitration season, almost certainly in a way that benefits the clubs as opposed to the players.

But that’s something we won’t know for sure for a while. For today, just know that a ton of players and teams will either agree to a deal avoiding arbitration or, in some cases, agree to a long-term extension buying out arbitration and free agency years.

The deadline rules all.

 

RHP Fairbanks, Rays agree to 3-year, $12 million contract

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Reliever Pete Fairbanks and the Tampa Bay Rays avoided arbitration when they agreed Friday to a three-year, $12 million contract that could be worth up to $24.6 million over four seasons.

The deal includes salaries of $3,666,666 this year and $3,666,667 in each of the next two seasons. The Rays have a $7 million option for 2026 with a $1 million buyout.

His 2024 and 2025 salaries could increase by $300,000 each based on games finished in the previous season: $150,000 each for 35 and 40.

Tampa Bay’s option price could increase by up to $6 million, including $4 million for appearances: $1 million each for 60 and 70 in 2025; $500,000 for 125 from 2023-25 and $1 million each for 135, 150 and 165 from 2023-25. The option price could increase by $2 million for games finished in 2025: $500,000 each for 25, 30, 35 and 40.

Fairbanks also has a $500,000 award bonus for winning the Hoffman/Rivera reliever of the year award and $200,000 for finishing second or third.

The 29-year-old right-hander is 11-10 with a 2.98 ERA and 15 saves in 111 appearances, with all but two of the outings coming out of the bullpen since being acquired by the Rays from the Texas Rangers in July 2019.

Fairbanks was 0-0 with a 1.13 ERA in 24 appearances last year after beginning the season on the 60-day injured list with a right lat strain.

Fairbanks made his 2022 debut on July 17 and tied for the team lead with eight saves despite being sidelined more than three months. In addition, he is 0-0 with a 3.60 ERA in 12 career postseason appearances, all with Tampa Bay.

He had asked for a raise from $714,400 to $1.9 million when proposed arbitration salaries were exchanged Jan. 13, and the Rays had offered for $1.5 million.

Fairbanks’ agreement was announced two days after left-hander Jeffrey Springs agreed to a $31 million, four-year contract with Tampa Bay that could be worth $65.75 million over five seasons.

Tampa Bay remains scheduled for hearings with right-handers Jason Adam and Ryan Thompson, left-hander Colin Poche, third baseman Yandy Diaz and outfielder Harold Ramirez.