Dozens of arbitration-eligible players still have to get their salaries figured out for the 2022 season, and now that the lockout is over, March 22 is the new deadline for teams and players to submit numbers, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reports (Twitter link). Since a good number of these arbitration cases won’t be settled by March 22, this means arb hearings will stretch into the actual regular season, which is now set to begin on April 7.
As usual, teams will reduce their list of arbitration-eligibles via contract agreements prior to March 22, or perhaps even by trading or releasing some eligible players. Though the official non-tender deadline still took place just prior to the lockout, it could be that some clubs have simply changed their minds on some players, or have new priorities in terms of cutting or adding to payroll. With this in mind, the likelihood of even more players becoming available will only add to what already be an absolute frenzy of a free agent and trade market in the aftermath of the lockout.
The sheer amount of front office business could see a shift in how teams or players address these arbitration cases. While obviously both sides have a specific price in mind and aren’t going to agree to a major discount, there could be a little bit more sway on one side or the other just in the same of getting a deal done. The sooner an agreement is reached, the sooner the player can fully concentrate on getting ready for the season, and the team can check one item off a lengthy to-do list.
In recent years, clubs have been more apt to deploy the “file and trial” strategy of not negotiating (apart from discussing multi-year extensions) after the figure-exchange deadline for arb-eligible players. The strategy is to exert a bit of pressure on players to accept an arb-avoiding contract in advance of the deadline, so both sides can sidestep the uncertainty that often goes into an arbitration hearing. It remains to be seen if teams may be more willing to bend on talks post-deadline just in the name of getting a one-year settled pre-hearing, or if teams may perhaps be even more prone to “file and trial” tactics if they feel they have added leverage on particular players.
However, since hearings won’t take place until after Opening Day, some players will begin the season not knowing that they’ll exactly be earning, thus creating a very unusual situation and adding another wrinkle to a process that already lends itself to awkwardness. It isn’t uncommon for some hard feelings to develop from these hearings, and now a situation has been created where a team can openly criticize a player during a morning arbitration hearing, and then rely on that same player to be in the starting lineup of that evening’s game. While an arbiter will only be considering 2021 statistics in determining a 2022 salary, it is possible that some on-field events early in 2022 (a particularly hot or cold start by the player, or an injury) could impact how either side approaches presenting their case to the arbiter.
Of note, the 2021-22 arbitration-eligible players are all still subject to the rules of the previous collective bargaining agreement. That said, there also weren’t many big changes made to the arb process under the new CBA, as the league refused to even discuss the standards relating to the amount of service time required to gain salary arbitration, or even to the player’s desire for a large increase in the number of Super Two-eligible players. However, pre-arbitration players will now enter their arb years on higher base salaries, thanks to the new bonus pool system for pre-arbitration players and the increase in the minimum salary.
One interesting detail does exist, as MLBTR has learned that for players who will be arbitration-eligible for the first time next winter, their statistics from the shortened 2020 season will be extrapolated to fit what the player “would have” done had the season been a standard 162 games. A player who hit 10 home runs in 2020, for instance, would be treated as if he had hit 27 homers. This formula involving 2020’s statistics will be used for all future arbitration hearings going forward. However, no such formula exists regarding the 2020 season for this year’s arb class, so teams and players can make whatever arguments they wish in hearings given the lack of a uniform standard for how 2020 statistics should be addressed.
MLB Trade Rumors has used Matt Swartz’s model for projecting arbitration salaries for the last 11 years, and here are the projections for both the remaining arb-eligible players, as well as the numbers for the players who agreed to deals prior to the non-tender deadline.