In another segment of dollars and sense, we discuss the arbitration decision deadline that is approaching at 8 pm ET on Wednesday, December 2nd. This occurs on the first business day of the month of December after December 1st. That is the time when teams will either tender a contract to an arbitration-eligible player or non-tender a player which means no contract is extended to the player who then is removed from the team’s 40-man roster and could become a free agent. If a player is tendered, the team then agrees to follow the arbitration route which is either a negotiated salary for the 2021 season or a decision to go to an arbitration hearing to determine the salary.
Players are eligible for salary arbitration if they have played in more than three seasons but less than six years in the majors and don’t have a set contract for the next season. Every year you have a special case called “Super-Two” which typically occurs for players with service time around two years and 130 days. It gives a player with less than three full seasons of service time a chance to get paid above the minimum MLB salary and four full years of arbitration eligibility like Trea Turner. This year it is Juan Soto and Wander Suero who hover near that line of demarcation and with Soto — there is a TON of money riding on it.
Keep in mind, the team, and the arb-eligible player, after arbitration is chosen does not mean there will be an arbitration hearing. The two sides can settle any time before a hearing starts. Players who do not choose a contract by the second week of January will submit their figure for arbitration and the team will submit their number. If it goes to a hearing, the three-person arbitration panel can only choose the player’s number or the team’s number — nothing else.
The Nationals rarely go the arbitration hearing route. There was the time that reliever Jerry Blevins thought it would be cool (true story) to go to an arb hearing and a month later general manager Mike Rizzo traded Blevins to the New York Mets for Matt den Dekker. Before the 2019 season, Rizzo went to arb hearings with both reliever Kyle Barraclough and Michael A. Taylor which the Nationals side won.
Recently, the non-tender route was how the Nats went with Taylor and Roenis Elias when they made the early decision to non-tender them in mid-October. So yes, teams can decide a players’ fate before that early December “tender” deadline.
Some say if you take a team to an arbitration hearing, it creates friction. It seems that players that do that with Rizzo do not get many favors going forward — or like Blevins, do not stay around to see Opening Day. The same happened back in 2012 with John Lannan. He had his arbitration hearing before Spring Training camp opened and was supposed to be the fifth starter on that squad that boasted Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, and Edwin Jackson. The manager of that team, Davey Johnson, named Lannan as his fifth starter and days later, Lannan was sent to Triple-A Syracuse as Rizzo went with Ross Detwiler as the team’s fifth starter. Maybe that arb hearing had nothing to do with it — but maybe it did.
The Nationals have Turner and Joe Ross as arb-eligibles now with Soto and Suero waiting for their Super-Two determination. While the Nats seem certain to go forward with these players, even if a player gets a contract, the team can cut the player before Opening Day and not have to honor the arbitration contract, rather they would only have to pay a fractional severance fee. The Nats did that to Sammy Solis before the 2019 season and before this past season, the Nats released Hunter Strickland before Opening Day. Technically, here is how that works: players on arbitration contracts who are cut on or before the 16th day of Spring Training are owed 30 days’ termination pay (based on the prorated version of his agreed-upon arbitration salary) which is approximately 16% (1/6th) of their pay. A player cut between the 16th day and the end of Spring Training is owed 45 days’ termination pay (based on the prorated version of his agreed-upon arbitration salary) is approximately 24% of their pay. The arbitration salary becomes fully guaranteed if the player is on the 25-man roster when the season begins.
With a tight baseball economy, MLBTR just compiled a list of possible non-tender players from a list of over 200 arbitration-eligible players around Major League Baseball. While none of the Nats are on that list, there are some big names on their list including Kris Bryant, Cubs ($18.6MM), Johan Camargo, Braves ($1.9MM), Pedro Severino, Orioles ($1.4MM),Tommy Pham, Padres ($8.0MM), Eddie Rosario, Twins ($9.6MM), Kyle Schwarber, Cubs ($7.9MM), Albert Almora, Cubs ($1.575MM), Brian Goodwin, Reds ($2.7MM), Hunter Renfroe, Rays ($3.7MM), Danny Santana, Rangers ($3.6MM), and too many pitchers to name.
Of course teams are trying to trade arb-eligibles like Francisco Lindor before they have to tender them a deal. Expect trades to happen up until the deadline.