The Twins have won their arbitration hearing against right-hander Jose Berrios, tweets MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. He’d filed for a $4.4MM salary but will now be paid at the $4.025MM figure submitted by Minnesota.
Berrios, 25, just wrapped up his first 200-inning season and turned in his third consecutive sub-4.00 ERA season, working to a career-best 3.68 ERA with 8.8 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 and 1.2 HR/9. The former No. 32 overall pick has emerged as Minnesota’s most effective starter since cementing himself as a big league regular, pitching to a combined 3.80 ERA with a strikeout per frame through 538 1/3 innings and earning a pair of All-Star bids along the way.
Berrios’ relatively affordable salary for the upcoming season only serves to underscore the difficulty that first-time-arbitration-eligible starters have had in moving the needle forward. Dallas Keuchel is still the only first-time-eligible starting pitcher to topple the $4.35MM benchmark set by Dontrelle Willis way back in 2006, and it took Keuchel winning a Cy Young Award to do so. Others starters who have been in position to best that mark (e.g. Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, Aaron Nola) have instead opted for multi-year deals.
That there’s only one example of a pitcher besting Willis’ mark — and that it took extraordinary circumstances — emphatically drives home the reason that teams are willing to go to hearings over what appear to be such trivial sums. The Twins, like other clubs that have drawn a hard line in comparable situations, surely care less about immediate cost savings than they do about preserving the standards that allow arbitration salaries to remain so manageable.
If the Twins (and every other club) simply conceded and met the player in the middle, those contractual agreements would be used as data points in future arbitration negotiations. Were it not for teams continually drawing a hard line, the Twins and Berrios would’ve been arguing over figures much greater than the ones discussed in today’s hearing. That’s not to suggest that teams are in the right or wrong to take such firm stances — even against their best players — but rather to point out that their motivation for doing so is rather obvious when considering the full breadth of the arbitration mechanism.
As for Berrios, he doesn’t hold any hard feelings toward the Twins organization, Darren Wolfson of SKOR North Radio tweets. Berrios has made it clear in the past that he’s keenly aware of the business side of the equation. He said as much when revealing last spring that he turned down an extension overture from the Twins, and it’s surely no coincidence that the number he filed would’ve bested the aforementioned Willis benchmark — even if only by a narrow margin of $50,000. Again, every slight step forward would factor into future negotiations for other first-time-eligible pitchers.
The Twins and Berrios can, of course, continue to discuss a long-term deal. Minnesota controls him through the 2022 season, leaving plenty of time to broker a deal. Given his previous quotes about the financial side of the game — “I have to manage my business, too. … We’re waiting for the best for both sides,” Berrios told Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune last spring — it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll be signing on for a team-friendly discount.