Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Arbitration Annoyances

The whole arbitration process in baseball baffles me. I understand the basic concepts. After a player has reached a certain amount of service time, he’s not quite at the mercy of the team when it comes to contract figures. If the two sides can’t reach an agreement, they bring their case to an arbitrator. The team and the player submit salary numbers they think is fair, they argue their case, and the arbitrator picks one. That about right? Naturally, neither side really wants to get to that point. It can be ugly. After all, the whole point is to make the other side look like a worthless liar. That’s not always easy to do.

Take the case of the Giants and Tim Lincecum. He’s been in the league for two full seasons. In those two seasons, he’s won two Cy Young awards. What exactly is the Giants argument? “Um…yeah. He’s been voted the best pitcher in the league every year he’s been with us. But, um…he’s still pretty young.” That’s it. The whole argument is that he’s not old enough to make that much money. When you compare him to other pitchers with two years of experience, he should make less. So, even though CC Sabathia makes over $20 million a year without winning a Cy Young, Lincecum loses out because he’s young? He’s not worth half that? Weird. Otherwise the Giants need to find every fault they can to tear him down. He’s small. He may get hurt. He doesn’t shower. Whatever they can find. It’s mudslinging at its worst.

Of course, the Red Sox counterpart to Lincecum is Jonathan Papelbon. Papelbon has decided that he needs to make as much money as he can. He assumes that the best way to do that is by signing a series of one-year deals. No long-term discounts for him. He’s assuming that he won’t get hurt, and won’t fall back in his performance. He’s certainly entitled to make as much money as he can, even if I think he’s going about it the wrong way. The Red Sox avoided the actual arbitration hearing, as Theo always does, by signing him to a deal beforehand. It was a record for a reliever with his experience, and about $9.5 million. This is remarkable for a couple reasons. Again, that whole experience thing comes in. Sure, he’s an all-star closer, but he doesn’t get to make what other all-star closers make. He gets to make what other young closers make. Just odd.

The other amazing thing is that Theo Epstein and the Red Sox gave a closer $9.5 million for a year. Isn’t this the group who said you didn’t need a closer? Isn’t this the group that tried a closer by committee? And they just gave a closer almost $10 million? Wow! I think this might be a case where the process actually hurt the team. I’m guessing that the Sox didn’t want to pay him anywhere near that kind of money. But, if they go to arbitration, it’s out of their hands. They can submit the $5 million they’d like to spend, but if the arbitrator picks Pap’s number, that’s it. If they want him on the team, they need to cower to his demands.

Imagine if they used that money for Jason Bay instead.

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