MLBPA To Consider Changes To Arbitration Process

December 11th, 2011 probably seems like a long way away. Thousands more games will have been played by then and two more World Series champions will have been crowned. But as executive director of the Major League Baseball Players’ Association, Michael Weiner sees that date a little more clearly than the rest of us. That’s because the collective bargaining agreement between the MLBPA and baseball’s owners expires next December 11th.

Weiner, who took over as MLBPA leader last year after two-plus decades of work with the association, is constantly in touch with players and staff to anticipate the changes that players and owners will discuss in a year and a half. And players have already identified salary arbitration as one of the issues they want to bring up in collective bargaining. That means super twos (players who go to salary arbitration four times instead of three) may no longer exist as we know them. But the MLBPA recognizes that the super two is better than nothing.

“Do we think super two is a good thing? Yes,” Weiner told MLBTR from his Manhattan office, overlooking Rockefeller Center. “Do we think that clubs now manipulating the super two cutoff is a good thing? No.”

Weiner says the super two works, compared to what preceded it. From 1985-90, no players with less than three years’ service time were eligible for arbitration. The players, who qualified for arbitration after two years before 1985, bargained for the super two in 1990 and as a result, one-sixth of players with more than two and less than three years of service now qualify. In other words, about ten or 20 more players go to arbitration each year.

Weiner keeps in touch with players through e-mail and text messaging during the season, though much of his networking happens in spring training. And he keeps tabs on the owners, too. He’s in touch with the people running baseball clubs and suggests the MLBPA isn’t the only side that would re-consider super twos.

“I think there’s some dis-satisfaction on the management side as well,” Weiner said. “What’s happened with some of these very prominent young players and the concern [exists] that arbitration eligibility has affected their path to the major leagues.”

Twenty years into the super two era, the cutoff date has become predictable. Yes, it varies every year, but teams know they can’t call prospects up much before the beginning of June if they want to be sure that the players only go to arbitration three times. 

Whether you consider those call ups strategic or manipulative, they affect the number of times a player goes to arbitration. From a player’s perspective, years of arbitration (and multi-million dollar salaries) trump the pre-arbitration years of unilateral control, when players sometimes receive raises, but are essentially at the mercy of their teams.

The players have already told the MLBPA to address arbitration in the next round of collective bargaining. Ideally, top young stars would be called to the majors the moment they’re deemed ready to contribute, but with millions of dollars at stake, teams have shown a willingness to wait. Coincidence or not, Stephen Strasburg (2010), Pedro Alvarez (2010), Mike Stanton (2010), Matt Wieters (2009), Jay Bruce (2008), Ryan Braun (2007) and others have been called up around June 1st in recent years.

It’s not contentious to suggest that it’s in the game's best interest to have the best players at baseball’s highest level. But Weiner points out that teams can call players up strategically whether the cutoff for arbitration eligibility is two years, three years or somewhere in between.

“Unless you come up with a system that makes it very difficult to know where that line is going to fall,” Weiner cautioned, “There’s always that possibility for manipulation.”

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