There’s a 1:00 ET deadline today for players and teams to exchange arbitration figures, meaning over the next few hours, there will be a landslide of settlements on one-year deals to avoid an arb hearing. Mookie Betts’ $27MM agreement from last winter is the highest arb salary ever, and no one in this year’s class figures to topple that record. Kris Bryant and Francisco Lindor are this year’s two highest-profile cases. A few reminders:
- Players are typically arbitration-eligible three times. Three years of Major League service time is the standard entry point for the arbitration process; a player remains arbitration-eligible until he either signs a multi-year deal buying out his arbitration seasons or until he accrues six years of MLB service time, thus qualifying him for free agency. Typically, players are given raises based on their prior year’s work. The arbitration process tends to focus on fairly basic stats: e.g. plate appearances, batting average, home runs and RBIs for hitters, as well as innings pitched, wins, ERA, saves, holds and strikeouts for pitchers.
- In this year’s shortened schedule, service time was prorated in the same manner as salary. A full year is typically considered to be 172 days of a season’s 186 days on the Major League roster. Essentially, every day of service time in 2020 was equivalent to 2.77 days of actual Major League service.
- The top 22 percent of players (in terms of total service time) with between two and three years of service are also eligible as “Super Two” players. These players are eligible for arbitration four times. Brewers reliever Josh Hader, for instance, became arbitration-eligible in this manner last winter.
- Players who are non-tendered before reaching six years of service time can reenter the arbitration system. Last year, for example, the Dodgers non-tendered right-hander Yimi Garcia when he had four-plus years of service. He signed a one-year free-agent deal with the Marlins, accrued a full year of service in 2020, and is currently arb-eligible as a player with between five and six years of service.
- It’s become fairly standard for teams throughout the league to adopt a “file and trial” approach, meaning they’ll cease negotiating on one-year deals once salary figures are exchanged. Clubs that exchange figures with a player will sometimes continue working toward a multi-year deal, but it’s become increasingly rare for teams and players to negotiate one-year deals following the exchange deadline. Arbitration hearings typically begin in early February, although with so many hearings expected this year, the precise timeline could be subject to change. Negotiations can continue right up until the point of a hearing. It’s also unclear if some clubs will relax their file-and-trial approach in 2021 due to the expected deluge of hearings.
- Arbitration contracts, unless specifically negotiated otherwise, are non-guaranteed. Teams can cut any player who agrees to a standard arb deal and owe him only 30 days’ termination pay (roughly one-sixth the salary) up until halfway through Spring Training. Cutting him in the second half of Spring Training but before Opening Day entitles the player to 45 days of termination pay. Arbitration contracts are guaranteed come Opening Day. There are a few fully guaranteed arb deals every year, and because of the uncertainty associated with this offseason, we saw more of those than usual in the run-up to the non-tender deadline back in early December.
As is the case every offseason, MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz has projected arbitration salaries for all of the eligible players, but the unprecedented nature of the pandemic-shortened platform season for this year’s arbitration class has complicated the projection process even more so than usual. (Matt discussed that fact this week in an interview with The Athletic’s Chad Jennings.) As such, Matt provided three projection numbers based on various manners in which teams and agencies could argue based on the shortened season.
Broadly speaking, Matt’s projections are the result of a blanket, algorithm-based approach that doesn’t factor in context of unique or atypical cases. On the whole, the model has generally been an accurate barometer. For some higher-profile and/or atypical cases, Matt has gone into detail on why the model may or may not be at risk of missing; you can read these in his Arbitration Breakdown series.
Also, as we do every year, we’re providing an Arbitration Tracker to follow along with settlements and, for those that reach the point of exchange, proposed salary figures. You can bookmark MLBTR’s 2021 Arbitration Tracker as a means of keeping up, and we’ll also be tracking today’s arb agreements and filing figures in separate posts later today.