This is an intriguing concept to me.
The Orioles have always been great in arbitration hearings since attorney Peter Angelos became majority owner of the team in 1993 – losing just once in 11 attempts (way back in 1995). But the Orioles have never really flaunted that legal muscle. They’ve actually been pretty conservative when it comes to taking players to arbitration hearings.
Former club president Andy MacPhail hated the arbitration-hearing concept. He despised the idea of telling a player, right before spring training, what’s wrong with him. And then, when the decision is rendered by a three-person panel, having to pat that same player on the back and say, “Go get them.”
Current executive vice president Dan Duquette has had a slightly different view of arbitration hearings. Duquette is very matter-of-fact when it comes to baseball as a business. And he’s always seen the arbitration process – and hearings – as part of that process. He doesn’t want to go to hearings with his players. But he’s not worried that there will be psychological damage if it happens. It is what it is for Duquette.
And that brings us to this year. Between Thursday and Friday, the Orioles shrunk their arbitration-eligible list from nine players to three. Among those who settled were Manny Machado, Zach Britton and Chris Tillman – basically the team’s best offensive/defensive player, its best starter and its best reliever.
The three that did not agree to terms certainly will play important roles for the Orioles next year. Kevin Gausman is the No. 2 starter, Brad Brach was the Orioles’ second-best reliever in 2016 and Caleb Joseph has caught plenty of games for the team since 2014. So, let’s not dismiss their contributions. However, they don’t hold the same status as the other trio I mentioned.
Plus, none of the three is going to get paid an extraordinary amount – in baseball terms anyway. Gausman has filed for $3.55 million while the Orioles filed at $3.15 million. Brach submitted $3.05 million, the Orioles $2.525 million. And Joseph asked for $1 million with the Orioles at $700,000. Even if the arbitration panel would choose all three players’ filings, the total would be $7.6 million, significantly less than what, say, Machado agreed to ($11.5 million).
There’s not a huge gap between any of these filings, and that actually makes it more likely for a hearing. Because neither side has much financially to lose. Consider Gausman: He and the Orioles are $400,000 apart. The midpoint would be a $200,000 compromise. So, it’s a $200,000 gamble to go to a hearing for Gausman and for the Orioles. A lot for you and me. But a drop in the baseball bucket.
That’s why there is some credence to a couple reports that said the Orioles expect to employ the “file and trial” philosophy this year. That since they couldn’t reach an agreement and had to file a number, they are no longer going to negotiate and will just leave it up to the panel’s decision.
It’s kind of a hardball tact – and completely an acceptable one.
But, right now, I’m not buying it. I just don’t see the Orioles taking three separate players to hearings. That’s like a decade worth of arbitration hearings for this franchise. One? Sure. Two? Maybe. Three? Not buying it.
Ultimately, I put the over-under bar for hearings at one before Thursday’s settlements began, and I am sticking with it. I just think settling is an easier, smoother process, even if this is part of the baseball business.
No one wants to be told how average or below average he is. Imagine Joseph, who had no homers and no runs driven in last year, sitting in a hearing and listening to his employer replay that nightmare again. Does Brach need to hear about his struggles in the second half or Gausman have to think about what didn’t go right in his solid, first full year in the rotation?
For a few hundred thousand, I wouldn’t think so.
Now, I’ve been wrong before. We all know that. And, again, these aren’t delicate flowers. These are baseball players, who, at times, have failed at their jobs on national TV. If criticism sends you spiraling into failure, then this isn’t the occupation for you.
Certainly, there is merit to washing your hands of negotiations, saying you tried and then handing the decision over to someone else. But the Orioles haven’t worked that way in the past. And, so I just don’t see three hearings for the club this February.