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Players Reflect On Arbitration Hearings Rumors
Braves second baseman Dan Uggla went to arbitration with the Florida Marlins in 2009 after hitting 90 home runs and accumulating 270 RBI during his first three seasons in the big leagues. The Marlins filed at $4.4MM while Uggla requested $5.35MM. Uggla won his case, earning one of the biggest salary jumps ever for a player going through the arbitration process for the first time. Uggla, now a Gaylord Sports Management client, was a Beverly Hills Sports Council client at the time he won his arbitration hearing. He spent a few minutes reflecting on his case with B.J. Rains for MLB Trade Rumors:
“Obviously it’s a very long process. Negotiations are usually never quick. We negotiated all the way up until the time we had to give each other the numbers. My case was a little bit different because with the Marlins, once you submit your number, there’s no more negotiations. Usually in arbitration you can submit your numbers and still come to an agreement but with the Marlins, if you don’t come to an agreement before that then you're going into the room and going to the hearing, so mine was different.
“It made sense for me to go ahead and take that chance and go into the room because there was such a big difference and we were so far apart. I didn’t know it until they put their number in, but they put in $4.4MM and they were offering me $4.5MM or something like that, that was their highest offer, so it made sense for me to go into the room. Plus I believed that I was supposed to earn what I put in for.
“When I was as confident as I was in my case, it was worth every penny to go into the hearing. Say if I thought I was worth $5.35MM and they were coming in offering me $5.1MM, then you have to start weighing your options. If they are offering you $5.1MM and then they drop it down and put their number at $4.4MM, you have to weigh your options and say, ‘Hey, I don’t know if $200K is worth the chance of losing a million,’ but we were never close. We were never close. I had a chance to lose $100K from where they offered me because we never got within $800K or $900K.
“Inside the room, it’s not them truly trying to put you down. It’s a business thing. My side is business and their side is business. They are trying to get me for a certain price and I’m trying to get my salary to a certain price. It’s not necessarily them telling you how bad you are, they are just trying to present a case to where they believe you should earn X instead of Y. I knew that going in. It didn’t bother me at all. It’s just a process, the business side of it. A lot of people would say, ‘Man, I didn’t know I was that bad’ or ‘I can’t believe they would say that about me,’ but you better prepare yourself to hear it because they will say it. It’s not to demise your character or not to put you down in any way, it’s just for them to present a case to win their case, just like we’re presenting a case to say I’m a little better than I actually am.
“I talked to my agents and they’ve been in many cases before and they prepared me the best they could. They have booklets and stuff and I had a book real thick of comparisons and charts and stuff. My agents did a great job of going over everything. Anything and everything you could find it was documented.
“It’s a crapshoot. There’s no guarantee. You can present the best case you can and still get beat. I still have a great relationship with the front office of the Marlins to this day. You have to understand as a player, they aren’t trying to personally attack you. They are trying to get their payroll at a certain point and that’s one of the ways they are trying to do it. It’s the business side of baseball.”
In a day and age where sabermetric stats like wins above replacement have become more and more popular, it can be easy to overlook basic numbers.
In the arbitration case involving catcher Jeff Mathis and Angels in 2010, a difference of $600K was decided in large part because of one simple stat: games started.
Mathis and the Angels couldn’t agree to a contract for 2010, leaving them no choice but to go to arbitration. The club filed at $700K while Mathis countered with a request of $1.3MM.
“If there was any chance to work it out for us to get what we thought was fair, we would have done it,” Mathis said. “We wouldn’t have chanced to go in there and go through all of that.
“It’s not something that any player wants to go through or deal with. It’s a rough process, especially if you go all the way to the hearing like I did. There’s stuff that goes on in that room that I wouldn’t suggest anybody experience or be a part of. … You don’t want to be a part of anything like that.”
The case turned out to be one of the more fascinating arbitration hearings in recent memory. The Angels centered their case around Mathis’ poor offensive numbers. They pointed out that his career .200 batting average was among the worst in arbitration case history. His on-base percentage, slugging percentage and strikeout totals weren’t much better.
“They were really centered in on what the offensive numbers were,” said Mathis’ longtime agent BB Abbott. “That was their entire case, what Jeff had done offensively for the team.”
Because the numbers were poor, it was an easy and obvious area for the Angels to focus on. It seemed like the team had a good argument. And Abbott acknowledged this, saying in his case in chief that Mathis wasn’t someone who would usually impact a game with his bat.
But Abbott and his group found an area where Mathis did impact the game: defense became the focus of their case. A former catcher himself, Angels manager Mike Scioscia put heavy emphasis on the defensive side of catching. Mathis certainly fit that bill.
Mike Napoli received much of the attention in Anaheim because his offensive numbers were much better. He was seen by most as the starting catcher and Mathis was looked at as the backup. And that’s what the Angels argued.
The only problem with this analysis was that Mathis had started more games behind the plate the previous two seasons than Napoli. Mathis started 168 games at catcher during the 2008 and 2009 seasons while Napoli started 155.
“Because of Mike Scioscia and how he handles his catching tandem, they really had a couple of different starting catchers,” Abbott said. “That’s just a very rare thing. Because of Mike Napoli’s numbers and the offensive output that he had, it would be easy to slap that label as a starting catcher on him. Usually in those situations you have a starting catcher and a backup catcher.
“In Jeff’s case, the whole central theme of our case was that they had two starting catchers. They were co-starting catchers. Jeff had caught just as many games, in fact he caught more games than Mike over a two-year period. To put this guy into the salary structure of a backup catcher, in our eyes wasn’t appropriate. In the team’s eyes it was.”
To help prove their case, Abbott and his group used 12 quotes from Scioscia and other front office personnel to show how much weight the club put on a catcher and his defense. They also used a three-year comparable prior to their first time eligible arbitration years to show that Mathis had more starts behind the plate during that time.
The three arbitrators reviewing the case were Elliott Shiftman, Steven Wolf and Margaret Brogan. They took 24 hours to deliberate before deciding in Mathis’ favor, awarding him his number of $1.3MM.
“There were absolutely no hard feelings on either side,” Abbott said. “Jeff knew what was going to be presented in front of him, he was very well prepared. He knew exactly what the team's case was going to be and, like I said, the only thing we made and ultimately what won it for us was that, listen, we understand that he’s going to be at the bottom of the starting catcher salary structure but he should be in that salary structure and not at the bottom of the backup catchers' salary structure. Ultimately the arbitration panel agreed.”
The case was a big one for Mathis because of the future implications it could have had on his earnings. A player’s salary in his first year of arbitration can set the pay scale for the years to come.
“The arbitration panel is going to pick one or the other, so Jeff would have been coming off of either $700K or $1.3MM the next year,” Abbott said. “A win or loss in arbitration can continue to follow you. He was coming off $1.3MM and Jeff went to $1.7MM. If he comes off $700K, he’s going into the low $1MM figures.
“It’s either the gift that keeps on giving or the gift that keeps on taking away so that’s why going to arbitration your first year is a very tough decision and a very tough proposition because the salaries that come in subsequent years could be based on what that award is or that first year salary is and that’s something you have to consider when you are considering whether or not to take a case to a hearing.”
Mathis, now with the Marlins, broke his collarbone in the spring opener Saturday after a foul tip from Matt Holliday fractured his right clavicle. He could be out for as much as six weeks.
But reflecting back on the arbitration process and hearing, Mathis said, “When you first sign up to play this game you don’t ever think of that part of professional baseball and the more years you get into it and the stuff that starts happening with arbitration and free agency and all that. You really get to understand the business side of it.
“It stinks. It’s not something that you want to do or hear or hear from anybody else. It’s part of the game and baseball and the business side and you just deal with.”
It was probably much easier for Mathis to deal with it since he won.
An arbitration hearing is something no player, agent or team wants to go through. Kyle Lohse did it twice.
As Lohse remains on the free agent market despite spring training games starting later this week, MLB Trade Rumors spoke with the right-hander about his two arbitration cases with the Minnesota Twins in 2005 and 2006 for the first of our six-week series looking back at arbitration hearings from the player's point of view.
The dynamic of an arbitration hearing is fascinating. On one side of the long table sits the general manager, his staff, representatives from Major League Baseball, and a lawyer. On the other side sits the player, his agent, members of their staff and folks from the Players Association.
At the end of the long table sits the three arbitrators. During Lohse’s first hearing in 2005, the arbitrators were Christine Knowlton, Robert Bailey and Elliott Shriftman.
“I’ve never been in a court case but it feels like that,” Lohse said. “They talk about how bad you are and why you deserve their number and everything that’s wrong with you and then your team has equal amount of time to pump you up and say everything good about you. You’re sitting there, ‘Man I stink’, and then, ‘I’m the greatest ever.’”
Coming off a season in which he went 9-13 with a 5.34 ERA in 35 games, Lohse filed at $2.4MM for 2005 season. The Twins countered at $2.15MM, a difference of $250K. When the two sides weren’t able to reach an agreement somewhere in the middle, they had no choice but to go to the hearing.
As most do during a player’s first year of arbitration, agent Scott Boras used Lohse’s career production up to that point in his argument. The right-hander was 40-39 with a 4.86 ERA but won 13 games in 2002 and 14 games in 2003.
The Twins instead focused on his down 2004 season, which included giving up 240 hits and 28 home runs in 194 innings. He also had a 1.63 WHIP.
“It’s not a pleasant thing,” Lohse said. “It’s hard to sit there and listen to the lawyer say how bad you are when the GM is sitting right there and you feel like he fed them the info to talk about how bad you are yet they still want you.
“It can get almost a little personal in there at times. I think it kind of helped me because they tried to get a little personal and they weren’t going off facts and it kind of hurt their case during one of my hearings.”
Each side has an hour to present their initial case before time is given for rebuttals and even surrebuttals. Case in chief books are exchanged before the start and some will even send representatives out of the room to spend the two hours examining the document and working on their rebuttal presentations in advance.
Multiple people usually speak for both sides, but rarely do the general managers speak. In Lohse’s case, Twins GM Terry Ryan didn’t say a word. Instead, the club’s lawyer did much of the talking. Boras handled much of the talking himself on Lohse’s behalf.
Both sides use charts and diagrams to try and help prove their case.
“It’s quite a bit of stuff,” Lohse said. “They bring in charts and are handing papers out. You’re sitting there thinking, ‘Really? Why do you guys want to keep me?’ It’s a tough thing to sit through and its part of the business. That really kind of opened my eyes up to the business side of it really.”
Lohse said the basis of any arbitration case is to find similar players with similar stats and try to compare your case to them.
“It’s all about comparables,” Lohse said. “If you can find a comparable that gets you over that midpoint, that’s where you try and pin your case to as a player and they are doing the same thing, trying to pin me to the lowest comparable they can to bring my worth down.
“It’s all about finding the numbers, whether it’s a starting pitcher, innings pitched, starts, stuff like that is real important. The first time coming through arbitration, it’s not based on your previous year really, it's based on your body of work and you just look at what you did and the numbers you have and you focus on that.”
Lohse was notified 24 hours after the hearing that he had won and his salary went from $395K in 2004 to the $2.4MM he requested for 2005.
But despite the uneasiness in the room and Lohse’s distaste for the process, the two sides were unable to come to an agreement the following year and were forced to go to another hearing.
This time Lohse requested $3.95MM while the club countered with $3.4MM. And again, Lohse won.
“It’s not a pleasant thing and that’s why you see so many people settling at or around the midpoint because it’s not something you want to go through,” Lohse said. “But in my case, neither time we could get to the midpoint and both cases I won so that basically proves I was worth the midpoint or above.
“The second time it was over such a small amount of money, it was tough to believe that we were really doing it again. You’re sitting there looking at it thinking, ‘They aren’t going to come up to there?’ They were sticking to their number and weren’t coming up so there was nothing to lose, and sometimes that’s the way it goes.”
General managers usually reach out to the players in the days following the hearing to ensure no hard feelings are left. The lines are always the same, and predictable.
“Oh yeah, definitely,” Lohse said. “They have all the quotes where it’s just a business and it doesn’t mean they didn’t want us and all that. That’s where you see the business side of it and it is part of a business and you have to deal with it and move on. “
MLB Trade Rumors will look at Marlins catcher Jeff Mathis and his 2010 arbitration case with the Anaheim Angels in next week’s installment.