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Eight Tigers will test MLB’s new arbitration system

The lure of guaranteed contracts could inspire players to settle for less

Detroit Tigers v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Victor Reyes is projected to receive a one year contract valued at $1.25 to $1.3 million for the 2022 season, depending which forecast you’re looking at. But that money wouldn’t have been guaranteed unless he made the opening day roster- until this year.

Under the terms of major league baseball’s recently expired collective bargaining agreement, players who headed down the path to arbitration were given non guaranteed one year contracts that became guaranteed on opening day, once they were safely on the team’s 26 man major league roster. But this year, there’s a twist to the rules that makes their salaries guaranteed if they agree to take the team’s offer without going to a hearing.

When an arbitration eligible player is signed to a non guaranteed contract, he can be released and would receive only a pro rated portion of his agreed upon salary.

Players cut on or before the 16th day of Spring Training are owed 30 days’ termination pay (based on the prorated version of his agreed-upon salary). A player released between the 16th day and the end of Spring Training is owed 45 days’ termination pay, or one quarter of his annual salary.

New Rule

Under the terms of the 2022-2026 collective bargaining agreement, arbitration-eligible players who settle with their teams on a salary for the upcoming season without going to a hearing will be eligible to receive full season termination pay, even if they are released prior to the start of the season. Previously, the salary only became guaranteed if the player was on the Major League roster (or injured list) on opening day.

At first glance the new rule may seem like a win for players, but that may not always be the case. If a guaranteed contract is viewed as valuable, teams may reduce their salary figures just a bit, offsetting that added value. This could result in more players accepting clubs’ offers, or more players going to arbitration, believing they’re not going to be low- balled into accepting a salary that is less than what they feel they have earned.

For a player like Reyes, who has competition for his roster spot, the guarantee might be something of real value. For a player like Michael Fulmer, who has over five years of major league service and a secure spot in the Detroit bullpen, the guarantee may not be as valuable.

The Squeeze Play?

Exactly what effect the new rule will have on the offers being made to players is not yet clear, but we’re about to find out. The deadline for players and teams to present their salary figures for arbitration has been moved from January 10 to March 22, due to the owners’ lockout of the players which froze all transactions. Don’t be surprised if at least some clubs take the opportunity to pinch a few more pennies by reducing the amount of their now guaranteed offers.

In recent years, more teams adopted a policy of take it or leave it, meaning that they would not negotiate any further with the player’s agent after making their arbitration offer. No splitting the difference. Fulmer learned how that worked when he became the first Tiger to have an arbitration hearing in 16 years, prior to the 2019 season. The arbitrator sided with the Tigers’ offer, rather than Fulmer’s request.

An arbitration panel will choose either the player’s request or the team’s offer if the matter does go to a hearing.

The primary factors used by an arbitration panel in choosing a salary are the players’ salary history and service time. Playing time is an indication of how a team values the players’ performance. Major awards also carry some value.

Here are the Tigers’ players who are eligible for arbitration in 2022:

Detroit Tigers’ 2022 Arbitration Players

Player Service Time Arb Status 2021 Salary 2022 Projected
Player Service Time Arb Status 2021 Salary 2022 Projected
Jeimer Candelario 4.038 Arb 2 of 3 $2.85M $5.9M
Michael Fulmer 5.157 Arb 4 of 4 $3.1M $5.1M
Jose Cisnero 4.021 Arb 2 of 3 $987K $1.9M
Joe Jimenez 4.061 Arb 2 of 3 $1.5M $1.8M
Spencer Turnbull 3.021 Arb 1 of 3 $587K $1.8M
Dustin Garneau 3.015 Arb 1 of 3 $600K $1.6M
Harold Castro 2.141 Arb 1 of 4 $582K $1.5M
Victor Reyes 3.075 Arb 1 of 3 $587K $1.3M
Subtotal 8 players $10.8M $20.9M

Salary information is from Cot’s contracts, and projections from MLBTR’s Matt Swartz

Michael Fulmer: A conversion to a late inning relief role went very well for the oft injured former starter. He made four starts and 48 appearances in relief, totaling 69.2 innings with a 2.97 ERA and led all Tigers’ pitchers with 1.6 fWAR in 2021. All the peripherals are sound, with 9.43 K/9, 2.58 BB/9, and 0.9 HR/9 ratios. He notched 14 saves along the way. After earning $3.1M in 2021, he is projected to get $5.1 million in his final season of arbitration.

Jeimer Candelario: The only starter eligible for arbitration this year, Candelario led all Tigers with 3.2 fWAR and a .344 wOBA in 2021. Plugged in as the starting third baseman, he can hit in the middle third of the lineup and provide solid defense. A raise from $2.85M to $5.9M is warranted, and he shouldn’t be low balled.

The rest of the Tigers’ arbitration crop are projected to receive salaries under $2 million. With the minimum salary now up to $700,000, there’s not a lot of juice to squeeze them much further, so they should get settled quickly if the offers are fair.

Jose Cisnero: Now a fixture at the back end of Detroit’s bullpen, Cisnero is arb- eligible for the second time after making $970,000 in 2021.

Joe Jimenez: No longer considered the closer of the future, the Tigers are hoping that Joe can command his stuff consistently enough to add another reliable arm to a pretty good looking relief corps. This will be his second season of arbitration, after making $1.5 million in 2021 when his stock was higher.

Spencer Turnbull: Arguably the ACE of the Tigers’ rotation before having season ending surgery in June, Turnbull is nevertheless due for a raise while he will start the season on the 60 day injured list. He’s expected back at some point later in the season, and could be the addition that the Tigers are looking for to make a playoff push.

Dustin Garneau: The Tigers made a key decision in November when they tendered a contract to the 34 year old Garneau while letting Grayson Greiner go. Garneau is out of options, so he will either be on the opening day roster or released. A guaranteed contract would be very attractive.

Harold Castro: Assuming that the Tigers carry three catchers and 13 pitchers on the 26man roster, that leaves just two seats on the bench for one infielder and one outfielder. Castro has some experience in both roles. He also has a pair of options left. Keeping him means sending others like Derek Hill, Victor Reyes, Zach Short, Willi Castro, and Kody Clemens to Toledo.

Victor Reyes: 2021 was a tale of two seasons for the utility outfielder. Reyes stumbled out of the gate and got himself sent down to Toledo in May, only to return and lead the club with a .350 wOBA after being recalled. He slashed .308/ .333/ .493 in 155 plate appearances in his second stint, with a team leading 122 wRC+ in that time frame. He’s in line for a job as the fourth outfielder if he keeps that going, but Derek Hill will have something to say about that.

The Dearly Departed

Matthew Boyd: After a promising start to the 2021 season, Boyd had season ending surgery last July and was not expected back until June, 2022. He was non tendered and signed a one year contract with the San Francisco Giants that will pay him $5.2 million plus up to $2.5 million in incentives. He was projected to receive a salary of $7.5 million,

The Tigers shed some salaries later in the 2021 season and into November when they let Boyd, Niko Goodrum, Buck Farmer, Jacoby Jones and Daniel Norris go. We wish them well and thank them for the $20 million plus that will be reallocated in 2022.

Seven of the eight players eligible for arbitration will be eligible again in 2023, with only Fulmer being eligible for free agency.

Six of the eight players have options remaining, with Fulmer and Candelario being the exceptions.

Notes: Arbitration eligible players must be tendered a contract worth 80 percent of their previous year’s salary, in most cases.

Arbitration salaries are not split contracts and do not contain performance bonuses unless those terms are agreed by the parties, usually some time in November. They became guaranteed as of opening day. If a team didn’t like an arbitration decision and released a player before the season, filing a grievance was very common.