Friday, January 10 is the official deadline for Major League Baseball teams and arbitration-eligible players to exchange salary figures for the 2020 season. After coming to terms with Michael Fulmer on a contract for $2.8 million for the 2020 season, the Detroit Tigers have four more players eligible for arbitration this winter. Each side will present a salary figure unless the two sides reach an agreement by Friday’s deadline.
Pitchers Matthew Boyd, Daniel Norris, and Michael Fulmer were eligible for the second time in their careers, while Buck Farmer and JaCoby Jones are eligible for the first time. The Tigers cut their list of arbitration-eligible players down from 11 by letting go of Blaine Hardy, Daniel Stumpf, Drew VerHagen, and John Hicks, who were released earlier in the offseason. Mikie Mahtook was outrighted during the season, allowing him to opt for free agency this winter.
Detroit slashed about $5.2 million from the projected payroll by letting six arbitration-eligible players go, less the cost of players to replace those released. The Tigers also traded Shane Greene in July, cutting payroll by an estimated $6.5 million, which is his projected salary with the Atlanta Braves for 2020. Last season, the club released James McCann and Alex Wilson.
If no agreement is reached between the remaining eligible players and the team, a hearing will be scheduled in Phoenix, Ariz., between February 3 and February 21, 2020. Hearings take place before a panel of three arbitrators who award either the player’s proposal or the team’s salary figure for a one-year contract. The arbitrators may not select a “compromise” figure, and the salary awarded is always for one season.
Matt Swartz provides an annual arbitration forecast, which is published every year by MLB Trade Rumors. His projections have been very accurate, and are the ones most often cited when making payroll estimates. Here are the arbitration projections for the Tigers.
2020 Detroit Tigers arbitration-eligible players
The five arbitration eligible players, including Fulmer, stand to net a combined $14.6 million in estimated salary, or increases totaling $6.787 million. With the additions of Jonathan Schoop, C.J. Cron, and Austin Romine, the Tigers’ Opening Day payroll is projected to come in just under $92 million, or about $23 million lower than the Opening Day payroll in 2019. That includes one final payment of $6 million to the Texas Rangers for Prince Fielder.
Players are eligible for arbitration based on major league service time. A player with at least three but fewer than six years of service time is eligible for arbitration unless he has a previously signed contract. A player with two years and 115 days on the major league roster (including time on the disabled list) is also eligible as a “Super Two” player.
Jones and Farmer qualified as Super Two eligible players this year. For the first two seasons in the major leagues, most players earn near the minimum salary of $555,000 per season.
The vast majority of players who are eligible for arbitration reach a settlement with their clubs prior to the case going for a hearing. Recently, more clubs have been taking an “offer and fight” approach, not bothering to negotiate after submitting their offers. The Tigers ended their string of 15 seasons of avoiding arbitration hearings last winter, when a hearing was necessary for Michael Fulmer. The Tigers came to terms with Fulmer this Monday for the same $2.8 million salary that he earned in 2019.
The primary factors considered by an arbitration panel are the player’s 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 is also considered. Boyd’s All-Star selection and Fulmer’s injury in 2019 are major factors to be considered.
A club can still release a player if they settle on a non-guaranteed (arbitration) 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.