At spring training each year, players under team control who haven’t already had their salary set and agreed to have to talk with the team to figure out how much the player will be paid. The Brewers have come to one decision with Devin Williams, but it was not a mutual one.
It was announced on Saturday that the Brewers “renewed” Devin Williams’ contract for the 2022 season, meaning the two sides did not come to a mutual agreement on salary, and the Brewers simply renewed the contract for what they offered.
Devin Williams is still pre-arbitration, meaning that he has pretty much no control over his salary for the season. There were a number of changes in the new CBA, but this was one area that wasn’t changed.
What does a contract renewal mean in baseball contracts and how does this impact the Brewers and Devin Williams?
First, let’s break down what is going on here.
For players with 0-3 years of service time, or pre-arbitration players, the team has the unilateral ability to set the player’s salary. Teams have formulas and algorithms to determine how much they feel a player should be paid. Typically these are modest raises above the league minimum salary, but rarely come close to what a player is actually worth, especially a player who has had incredible success in a short time.
Players have almost no recourse if they’re offered a salary they find insufficient. It’s less a negotiation and more of a ‘this is what we’re going to pay you and you’re going to like it’. Players can either accept the salary, which most do, or decline to accept it, forcing the team to “renew” it for the salary they choose, which is going to be the salary the team was offering anyways.
Williams forcing a renewal doesn’t change anything with his salary, but is symbolic of his disagreement.
The new league minimum salary is $700k, and the Brewers likely offered him something decently above that mark, how much, we do not yet know. Williams has been excellent over the last two seasons, and is deserving of a salary solidly above the league minimum. But Williams and the Brewers disagree on just how much above the minimum he deserves.
Last season, Williams had a $681.1K salary, well above the then-$570,500 league minimum.
Once a player reaches arbitration, if there’s a disagreement on salary, they can go in front of an arbitration panel and have them decide what the player is worth. For now, he can disagree, but there’s nothing he can meaningfully do about it.
The Brewers had a contract renewal like this a couple years ago with another reliever, Josh Hader, prior to when he reached arbitration. Hader went on to take the Brewers to an arbitration hearing the following season, which he lost.
Could the Brewers be heading towards a bitter arbitration hearing next winter with Williams? Potentially. However Williams may face the same issues Hader had in his hearing; a lack of saves. Williams will want to be paid like an elite reliever, because he is one, but arbitration doesn’t value 8th inning setup guys as highly as it does 9th inning closers who get saves. Is that fair? Not really, but that’s the system in place.
Did the wall punching incident have an impact here? It’s impossible to say for sure because we weren’t in the room when this contract conversation took place, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the Brewers offered a somewhat lower salary after that injury. That could be the source of Williams’ displeasure with the salary offered him.
This renewal doesn’t change anything in terms of the Brewers’ contractual control over Williams. He’s still in his final year of pre-arbitration, he’ll have at least three more years under team control through arbitration and is on track to reach free agency after the 2025 season.
Williams just disagrees with what the Brewers offered him for a salary this season and his only course of action was to take a symbolic “renewal”.
The bigger money issues facing the Brewers in the coming days is the March 22nd arbitration filing deadline, where the Brewers will be looking to come to agreements with several arbitration eligible players like Corbin Burnes, Willy Adames, and Brandon Woodruff. Those players have a little more leverage and will be making a lot more money than Williams and the pre-arb guys.