A flurry of MLB contract agreements came today, because noon central time marked the point at which teams and arbitration eligible players exchange salary figures if they have not yet reached a deal.
According to an MLB source, five teams treat that deadline as a firm one, meaning they will go to a hearing for all players with whom they have not yet reached an agreement. These clubs, known as "file and trial" teams, are the Blue Jays, Braves, Marlins, Rays, and White Sox. All arbitration eligible players from these teams have settled with the exception of the Braves' Martin Prado, who seems headed for a February hearing.
Another four teams are considered file and trial by case: the Brewers, Pirates, Nationals, and Indians. The definition of that is somewhat vague, but suffice it to say these teams are not afraid to go to a hearing. The Nationals have had at least one hearing in each of the past seven years, aside from 2011. They currently have one unsigned arbitration eligible player in Jordan Zimmermann.
Why do teams employ the file and trial or "file-to-go" strategy? Three years ago, Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos told MLB.com's Jordan Bastian, "The thought was really it’s hopefully to encourage more dialogue in negotiations with the goal of continuing to avoid arbitration and continuing to try to get deals done and maybe bring both parties to the table a little bit sooner." In asking a few executives around the game, there is a feeling that the file and trial stance forces agents to focus on a real number to represent the player's value, rather than an artifically inflated one chosen with the midpoint in mind.
One agent told MLBTR that teams think the strategy puts more pressure on the agent, but it just makes him get ready earlier and become more resolute about his "walk away" number. Another agent agreed that the file and trial strategy didn't force his hand, but noted that hearings can be more work on the agency side since almost all teams outsource their hearings. Everyone seems to agree on one point: no one actually wants to go to a hearing.
Though 36 arbitration eligible players exchanged figures and remain unsigned at the moment, the vast majority will avoid a hearing and agree to a one-year or multiyear contract. The days of 15-30 hearings per year seem long gone, as there hasn't been more than eight in one year since 2001.