The Milwaukee Brewers had three arbitration eligible players coming into Friday. They couldn’t reach agreements with two of them.
It was a relatively uneventful arbitration filing deadline for the Milwaukee Brewers. Three players still needed contracts for the 2020 season. Catcher Omar Narvaez agreed to a deal earlier in the day, signing for $2.725MM next season.
How Does Arbitration Work?
Both players will have to exchange salary figures with the team and file their desired salary with the league. This will then go to an independent arbitrator in late January-early February for a hearing, and the arbitrator will decide if the player shall receive the salary that they put in for, or the one the team put in for. There is no middle ground. It’s one or the other.
However, both sides could still come to an agreement before it gets to a trial. Some teams prefer not to negotiate after the filing deadline and will simply wait for the hearing, that is called a “file-and-trial” approach, which is the one the industry widely expects the Brewers to be using. GM David Stearns hasn’t said that that is indeed his approach, but it’s a likely outcome.
The Brewers couldn’t agree with arbitration-eligible pitchers Josh Hader and Brent Suter, and will exchange figures. Stearns won’t say it, but the industry sense is that the Brewers are a “file and trial” team, so it looks like those salaries will be decided in a hearing room.
— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) January 10, 2020
In an arbitration trial, both player and team will put forth their arguments to an arbitrator as to why they deserve the salary they put in for, and it’s been known to get ugly in that room. Teams will sling a whole bunch of dirt about their player, why they don’t deserve a higher salary, and the player is there to hear all of it. It’s very easy for feelings to be hurt.
What Are The Projections?
Brent Suter was projected to earn a $900k salary in arbitration, while Josh Hader came in at $4.6MM, per MLB Trade Rumors. As of this writing, it’s unknown what both players and the team filed for.
UPDATE: Jon Heyman reports that Josh Hader has filed at $6.4MM and the Brewers filed at $4.1MM. This is clearly a huge discrepancy and explains why they couldn’t reach a settlement. For Suter, Heyman reports that Suter filed at $1.25MM and the Brewers filed at $825k.
Hader is obviously the higher profile case. An elite reliever, few have ever been used the way Hader has to this point in his career. That will make finding comparable arbitration cases difficult. He has plenty of ammo for his argument. Hader has won NL Reliever of the Year twice in a row, he pitches multiple innings, he’s a closer, and the Brewers have even said themselves he’s the best reliever in baseball.
The Brewers, meanwhile, will point to his underlying stats. The spike in home run rate, the struggles, the walk issues, and his lack of a second pitch. They will use all of that to try to turn the argument to their side.
With Brent Suter, the Brewers could point to his Tommy John surgery and struggles to go deep into games as a starting pitcher. Suter could point to the dominance of his return last September.
What Does It All Mean?
If the Brewers indeed follow a “file-and-trial” approach, we will have to wait until early February to hear word of Hader’s and Suter’s salaries in 2020. There’s a very good chance the Brewers will lose both cases and have to pay them more than what they wanted to. Lately, players have been winning arbitration cases more often than teams over the past few years.
With momentum in favor of the players, perhaps the Brewers would be wise to try again to reach settlements with both players. However, the players would also be wise to wait and not agree to a settlement.
With Josh Hader also potentially on the trade block, this could complicate trade talks. With other teams not knowing his salary and potentially heading for an arbitration hearing, they might not want to make a deal until they know how much he’s getting paid and don’t have to worry about negotiating that with him.
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The arbitration cases for both players are very interesting, and it will have big implications for the Brewers.