- First time: Ryan Howard – $10MM (2008).
- Second time: Miguel Cabrera – $11.3MM (2007).
- Third time: Prince Fielder – $15.5MM (2011). Preceded by two-year deal. Otherwise Alfonso Soriano at $10MM in 2006.
Howard won a hearing against the Phillies in February of '08, as his $10MM submission was chosen over the team's surprisingly low $7MM figure. Howard had a chance to continue smashing arbitration records, but a year later he signed a three-year extension after submitting $18MM against the team's $14MM.
Had he gone to arbitration this year, I don't think Joey Votto would have set a new first-time record. However, he could have come close and then set a second-time record for '12. Instead, Votto signed a deal paying $38MM for his three arbitration years. Howard's record might stand for a while – it's been over three years, but he came into that hearing with 129 home runs, 353 RBIs, a Rookie of the Year award, an MVP, and a fifth-place MVP finish.
Cabrera's second-time record isn't much higher than Howard's first-time salary. Still, only a superstar player can get to that level in his second arbitration year. Cabrera signed an eight-year deal a couple of months after agreeing at $11.3MM for '08, but that salary remained unchanged.
If you exclude Fielder and Mark Teixeira from the third-year group because they did not go year-to-year, Soriano's $10MM third-time mark seems especially fragile. The Astros' Hunter Pence, who won a $6.9MM second-year salary in a hearing this year, has a shot at Soriano for '12. Shin-Soo Choo, a Scott Boras client with a nice first-time salary of $3.975MM, could also keep going year-to-year and exceed $10MM for his third time.