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Arbitration Wrap up for 2017 season


Arbitration cases are already touchy enough; why did the Yankees president go out of his way to attack one of his best relievers? Photo via

Arbitration cases are already touchy enough; why did the Yankees president go out of his way to attack one of his best relievers? Photo via

We’ve finished off the Arbitration case season for 2017, and it finished with some fireworks.

After a relatively quiet pre-2016 season (just 4 cases), there were 15 cases that went to “trial” this spring.  Clubs “won” 8 of the cases and Players won 7 cases, so it was a pretty even season.

The “fireworks” of course were the result of the final case to be argued, that of Dellin Betances with the Yankees.  He asked for $5M, the team offered $3M, and after the team won Yankees president Randy Levine took it upon himself to trash Betances and his representation for the audacity of even asking for the amount of money he asked for.  I suspect that Betances’ representation pushed the envelope on his case to explore the rapidly changing valuation of relievers; despite not being the Yankees primary closer over the last few years Betances has delivered significant value to the Yankees (3.7 bWAR in 2014 and 2015 before dropping back to just 1.1 bWAR in 2016).  And I get it: who was a more valuable reliever to the Cleveland Indians during their WS run: Andrew Miller or their closer Cody Allen?  The inexplicable part wasn’t Betances’ salary ask; it was the team’s reaction afterwards.

Was Betances’ $5M ask excessive?  Maybe, maybe not: If Betances is work $5M in his first Arbitration year, then that projects to roughly a $12.5M open-market salary (using the 40%/60%/80% rule of thumb where your first arbitration salary should be roughly 40% of your open market price).   If he’s only work $3M, that projects out to a $7.5M annual salary.  The best “comparable” is Miller as a non-closer multi-inning reliever and he’s signed to a 4yr/$36M deal worth $9M a year.  So if that’s the benchmark for elite non-closer multi-inning relievers then Betances is right there.  $5M was too high but a $3.5-$4M first year arb salary was right in line with what he probably “should” have been paid.

Here’s a list of the 15 players who argued.  Here’s a direct link to my master Arbitration case XLS in Google docs.

YearTeamPlayerPlayer FigureClub FigureDeltaWinner
2017MilwaukeeChase Anderson28500002450000400000club
2017BostonFernando Abad27000002000000700000club
2017New York YankeesDellin Betances500000030000002000000club
2017BaltimoreBrad Brach30500002525000525000player
2017OaklandKris Davis50000004650000350000player
2017New York MetsWilmer Flores22000001800000400000player
2017BaltimoreCaleb Joseph1000000700000300000club
2017HoustonCollin McHugh38500003350000500000player
2017ArizonaShelby Miller51000004700000400000club
2017Tampa BayJake Odorizzi41000003825000275000player
2017MiamiDavid Phelps46000004325000275000player
2017TorontoMarcus Stroman34000003100000300000player
2017St. LouisMichael Wacha32000002775000425000club
2017ArizonaTaijuan Walker26000002250000350000club
2017PittsburghTony Watson60000005600000400000club

And now here’s some fun stats on the 81 total cases that have been argued since 2005:

  • Records since 2005: Clubs are 47/81 (58%), players are 34/81 (42%)
  • Washington and Miami are the leading “arguing” club with 9 cases each.  Though we seem to have learned our lesson lately; we had one in 2015, one in 2012 and the rest were prior to that.
  • 45% of all cases since 2005 by just 5 clubs (Miami, Washington, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Houston).
  • 4 of 30 clubs in the game havn’t had an arb argument since 2005 (Detroit, Chicago White Sox, Texas, San Francisco)
  • 2 of the 8 clubs with just one case since 2005 just had it this off-season: Boston, St. Louis
  • Smallest amount argued over: $125k by Miami in 2007 and San Diego in 2014.  Washington close with $150K by Wash in 2010 w/ Burnett and $200k with Blevins in 2015
  • Largest amount argued over: $3M by Philadelphia w/ Ryan Howard (player won)
  • Biggest player demand: Francisco Rodriguez $12,500,000 (player lost)
  • Biggest club offer ($10M twice; both club wins)
  • 30 of the 66 players who argued w/ their clubs (prior to 2017) were traded or released THAT same season
  • Just 5 of 66 players who have argued arb cases remain with their teams as of the end of 2016 and/or signed longer term deals post-arguments

Its these last two points that stick with me, and should stick with any player/GM who decides to go through this process.  By all accounts, its horrible.  The Player is forced to sit there while the team that has just offered them millions of dollars but doesn’t want to pay a few hundred thousand more explains how awful the player is, focusing entirely on faults and deficiencies.  Meanwhile. by all accounts the whole system is based on precedents and “old school” statistics that we know are deeply flawed (batting average, RBIs, wins and saves).  So there’s little surprise that the player-management trust is broken, and nearly half the players who argue with their teams are summarily gone from that team before the season is even done.

But this is the system they’ve come up with.  I guess its better than restricted free agency, or franchise tags, or whatever other salary structure is out there for professional sports.

Post-publishing update: Dave Cameron at Fangraphs had a follow-up to the Betances situation worth reading.