The Detroit Tigers are on a collision course with shortstop Jose Iglesias, heading for an arbitration hearing in February unless the two sides can bridge a $1.2 million gap between their salary proposals. When the parties exchanged figures on January 12, Iglesias demanded a salary of $6.8 million while the club offered him $5.6 million for the 2018 season.
Arbitration hearings will be scheduled between February 1- February 20, so the parties have a few weeks to hammer out a deal to avoid a hearing. The Tigers have a 16 year streak without an arbitration hearing, which can be an uncomfortable process for both sides. That streak is now in jeopardy.
Iglesias, who earned $4.1 million for the 2017 season, is in his final season of arbitration eligibility, and will become a free agent after this season. Tigers’ general manager Al Avila has made no secret of the fact that Iglesias does not figure into the team’s plans, and they wouldn’t mind trading him. Detroit would like to keep his contract affordable.
Arbitration hearings are held in either Los Angeles, Orlando, or Phoenix. Each side has one hour to make an initial presentation, and one half-hour for rebuttal. This does not include time to examine witnesses, and the panel can grant more time if warranted.
Hearings are argued before a panel of three arbitrators, who will choose one number or the other. There is no middle ground. The ruling is announced within 24 hours after the hearing, without opinion. The salary is then written into a uniform players’ contract.
The criteria to be used by an arbitration panel, under the terms of baseball’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) include:
- The amount of major league service time
- The player’s salary history
- The length and consistency of the player’s on field performance
- “Particular attention” to salaries for players with similar service time
- Any special qualities of leadership or public appeal
- Any physical or mental limitations
- The recent performance of the club in standings and attendance
For players with less than five years of service time, the salaries of players with no more than one additional year of service time may be considered. This does not apply to Iglesias, as those with six years service are eligible for free agency, and not for arbitration.
The panel may not consider any of the following:
- The financial position of the Player and the Club;
- Comments made in the media, other than recognized awards
- Offers made prior to the hearing from either side
- The cost of litigation or attorneys’ fees
- Salaries in other sports or occupations
- Any talk of luxury taxes is prohibited
Only statistics kept by publicly available websites such as Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference, or ESPN may be used. Statistics generated by performance technology such as MLB’s own Statcast advanced metrics may not be used.
First, we examine recent salaries for shortstops with comparable service time before looking at any statistics.
Of 30 starting MLB shortstos, six have six years’ service time and are signed to multi-year contracts. The salaries of players such as Troy Tulowitzki, Brandon Crawford, or Elvis Andrus are irrelevant here.
Likewise, players not yet eligible for free agency under multi-year contracts are not considered. Andrelton Simmons and Jean Segura have five-plus years of service time, but their contracts are moot. All eight shortstops under multi-year contracts earn at least $9 million annually.
Half of all starting shortstops are not yet eligible for arbitration and will earn near the major league minimum, or one tenth of Iglesias’ salary. Cross them off the list also.
This leaves seven starting shortstops eligible for arbitration without multi-year contracts. Five who were eligible for the first time last season are less relevant. The two shortstops in Iglesias’s class are Adeiny Hechavarria of the Tampa Bay Rays, and Freddy Galvis of the San Diego Padres, who played with Philadelphia last season.
Galvis settled for a salary of $6.825 million. That’s good news for Iglesias. Hechavarria did not settle his case. He asked for $5.9 million, while the Rays offered $5.35 million. He was injured last season, logging just 348 plate appearances.
Zack Cozart recently signed a three-year, $38 million contract with the Angels. While his free agent contract is not germane, his 2017 salary of $5.325 million with Cincinnati is a good comp. Score one for the Tigers.
Here is a look at some statistics for these comparable shortstops:
Jose Iglesias Arbitration Comps
Offensively, Iglesias compares well with Galvis and Hechavarria over his career. He has a higher overall fWAR despite missing a season and logging fewer plate appearances. Cozart ranks higher over the same time frame.
In 2017, Iglesias fell 13 plate appearances shy of qualifying for the batting title, but still posted a comparable or better WAR. Cozart has easily the best numbers of this group.
Iglesias will stress his career numbers and the importance of defense at shortstop. He was much better offensively in his first three seasons. He batted .300 in consecutive seasons, then hit .255 each of the past two years. Iglesias finished second in rookie of the year voting and was an All-Star in 2015. He was injured the entire 2014 season, but earned a year of service time regardless.
Other comparable players:
The arbitration panel must give “particular attention” to players in the same service class, but they must consider “the salaries of all comparable players.” Either side may argue the relevance of statistics for players outside the same service class.
Here are a few players who play a different position or are not quite in the service class of third-year arbitration eligible players:
Lonnie Chisenhall, Cleveland Indians OF, 5.158 years, 8.8 career rWAR, signed $5.857M
D.J. LeMahieu, Rockies 2B, 5.128 years, 14.4 career rWAR, signed $8.5M
Didi Gregorious, NY Yankees SS, 4.159 years, 11.9 rWAR, signed $8.25M
Scooter Gennett, Cincinnati Reds 2B, 4.071 years, 7.4 career rWAR, 5.7M/ 5.1M
Avisail Garcia, Chicago White Sox outfielder, was swapped for Iglesias in a 2013 Detroit- Boston-Chicago trade. 4.167 years service, 4.6 career rWAR, requested $6.7M, offered $5.85M
These players are either in the same service class or within one year of total time if not in the same class. Each is comparable in some ways and distinguished in others.
There is enough risk of losing the hearing to motivate both sides to settle this matter. Perhaps a base salary around the $6.05 million given to Nick Castellanos, with incentives for plate appearances, a Gold Glove nomination, or an All-Star selection would be enough to keep the Tigers’ streak alive.