Tuesday is the deadline for players who are not yet eligible for free agency, but are eligible for arbitration, to file their claims. On Friday, clubs and players will submit their proposed salary figures for arbitration. If no agreement is reached, a hearing will be scheduled between Feb. 1-21, before a panel of three arbitrators who will award either the player's proposal or the team's salary figure for a one-year contract. The arbitrators may not award a different salary.
The Tigers have six players eligible for arbitration this winter: Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson, Rick Porcello, Alex Avila, Andy Dirks, and Al Alburquerque. For players, entering arbitration provides their first chance to start earning the real big bucks. For the first two seasons, most players earn the major league minimum salary of $500,000 per season, or slightly more. Starting players stand to make in the millions in their first season of arbitration eligibility.
A player is eligible for arbitration based strictly on major league service time. A player with three years in the major leagues, or with two years plus 122 days on the major league roster, including time on the disabled list, is eligible for arbitration unless he has a contract guaranteeing him a set salary.
One of the reasons that the Tigers have so many players eligible this season is that they have no players with fewer than the six years required for free agency who are signed to multi-year contracts. The Tigers have been burned in the past when giving multi-year contracts covering arbitration seasons, with deals such as those given to Nate Robertson, Jeremy Bonderman and Dontrelle Willis, among others. The number of eligible players as of the end of last season was actually nine, but the Tigers traded Doug Fister and signed Don Kelly and Phil Coke to a pair of one-year contracts.
Two Tigers, Dirks and Alburquerque, are eligible as "super two" players, as they have less than three years of service time, but rank in the top 22 percent of those players with more than two, but less than three years of major league service. Such players, which also includes Rick Porcello, will be eligible for arbitration four times. After six full seasons of major league service time, a player is eligible for free agency if he is not under contract.
Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski has a perfect record of avoiding arbitration, managing to settle every potential arbitration case with players who have been eligible prior to a hearing being required. In some cases, the player has come out ahead of the projected salary.
How much do the Tigers' arbitration eligible players stand to make? Matt Swartz provides an annual arbitration forecast, which is published on MLBTradeRumors.com His projections have been very accurate and are the ones most often cited when making payroll estimates. Here are Swartz's arbitration projections for the Tigers, along with their recent salary history:
|Player||Arbitration Year||2012 Salary||2013 Salary||2014 Estimate||Status|
|Max Scherzer||3 of 3||$3.75 million||$6.725 million||$13.6 million||Estimated + $6.875 million|
|Rick Porcello||3 of 4||$3.1 million||$5.1 million||$ 7.7 million||Estimated + $2.6 million|
|Doug Fister||2 of 3||$500,000||$4.0 million||$6.9 million||Traded|
|Austin Jackson||2 of 3||$500,000||$3.5 million||$5.3 million||Estimated + $1.8 million|
|Alex Avila||2 of 3||$500,000||$2.95 million||$3.7 million||Estimated + $750K|
|Andy Dirks||1 of 4||$485,000||$ 505,000||$1.7 million||Estimated + 1.2 million|
|Al Alburquerque||1 of 4||$495,000||$ 500,000||$0.7 million||Estimated + 200K|
|Don Kelly||3 of 4||$900,000||$ 900,000||$1.0 million||Signed + $100K|
|Phil Coke||3 of 3||$1.1 million||$1,850,000||$ 1.9 million||Signed + 50K|
|TOTAL||--||$11.35||$27.6 million||$42.5 million||Estimated + 9,075,000|
The above chart shows that the Tigers have managed, based on the above projections, to secure the nine roster spots where players are eligible for arbitration at a net increase of about $ 1 million per player, instead of about a $ 15 million increase. By trading Fister and replacing him with a player earning the major league minimum, the club will save $ 3.5 million from last year's payroll or about $6.5 million if they had kept him on the roster.
The primary factors that are considered by arbitrators are not the statistical data that fans typically use to measure a player's value. Rather, the main factors are the amount of service time, the number of games or innings that the player has played and comparable salaries for players at the same position with similar criteria. An award such as an All-Star selection or the Cy Young award will help to ensure that Scherzer is paid near the top of the range for a player with his experience, one season shy of free agency.
A club can still release a player despite settling on a contract, as the Tigers did with Brennan Boesch last spring. If a player is released at least 16 days prior to opening day, the club will owe the player one sixth of his salary for the season. If released prior to opening day but less than 16 days before opening day, he must be paid one quarter of his annual salary. Kelly and Coke are candidates to be Boesched this spring.
The vast majority of players who are eligible for arbitration reach a settlement with their clubs prior to the case going for a hearing. Both clubs and agents are able to estimate the salary range that the player would receive if the matter were to be submitted to an arbitration panel. For example, the range for a first year eligible full time outfielder starts at about $2 million, so Dirks stands to receive a bit less than that amount. Only a few cases each year actually go to a hearing.
2014 SPRING CALENDAR
|Jan 14, 2014||Arbitration Filing deadline|
|Jan 17, 2014||Salary figures exchanged|
|Jan 21, 2014||BBWAA Awards Banquet|
|Feb 1- 21||Arbitration Hearings|
|Feb 13, 2014||Pitchers and Catchers report!|
|Feb 18, 2014||Spring training full workouts begin|
|Feb 25, 2014||Tigers vs Florida Southern|
|March 15, 2014||Last day to release players for 1/6th salary*|
|March 22- 23, 2014||Opening series: Dodgers vs Arizona in Sydney, Australia|
|March 30, 2014||Opening night: Dodgers vs Padres|
|March 31, 2014||Opening day: Royals at Tigers|
*Players with non guaranteed contracts may be released for a portion of their salary prior to opening day