Tuesday, January 12 is the deadline for arbitration-eligible players to file their salary requests for the 2016 season. The Detroit Tigers have four players eligible for arbitration this winter: J.D. Martinez, Jose Iglesias, Andrew Romine, and newly acquired left-handed reliever Justin Wilson. Martinez is eligible for the second time, while the others are eligible for the first time in their careers. Salary figures will be exchanged by Friday, January 15, and contracts are often signed quickly thereafter.
If no agreement is reached between the player and his team, 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, and the salary awarded is always for one season. Iglesias and Romine are represented by super agent Scott Boras. The club shortened the list of players eligible when they released infielder Josh Wilson in October, and non tendered relief pitchers Neftali Feliz and Al Alburquerque in December.
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 and 122 days on the major league roster, including time on the disabled list, is eligible for arbitration unless he has a contract. The Tigers have no players eligible as "super two" players this year. For the first two seasons in the major leagues, most players earn near the minimum salary of $507,500 per season. Iglesias was paid more because of a signing bonus paid over his first few seasons.
How much do the Tigers' arbitration eligible players stand to make? Matt Swartz provides an annual arbitration forecast, which is published by MLB Trade Rumors. His projections have been very accurate and are the ones most often cited when making payroll estimates. Here are his arbitration projections for the Tigers.
|J.D. Martinez||$3.0 million||$7.8 million|
|Jose Iglesias||$1.44 million||$1.5 million|
|Justin Wilson||$556,000||$1.3 million|
|Total||$5.52 million||$11.3 million|
Martinez figures to more than double his salary, having been one of the top offensive producers in the league over the past two seasons. The Tigers have expressed an interest in extending him past the end of the 2017 season, when he will be eligible for free agency, but it may prove beneficial to first resolve his contract for 2016 because of luxury tax considerations. Iglesias is likely to see a higher bump in salary than projected; Swartz's model likely does not factor in the oddity in Iglesias' contract.
Each of the Tigers' players eligible this season will again be eligible next year, unless they are signed to a contract extension first. For the 2017 season, they will be joined by Nick Castellanos, Anthony Gose, and possibly Bruce Rondon, provided these players remain in the major leagues during 2016.
The primary factors considered by an arbitration panel are the players' salary history, 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, a gold glove, or silver slugger award is also considered.
A club can still release a player despite settling on a non-guaranteed contract, prior to the season. 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 within 15 days of Opening Day, he must be paid one quarter of his annual salary.
The vast majority of players who are eligible for arbitration reach a settlement with their clubs prior to the case going for a hearing. Only a few cases each year actually go to 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. Tigers' former general manager Dave Dombrowski settled every potential arbitration case with eligible players prior to a hearing being required. Often, the players came out ahead of the projected salary.