Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"You Suck--Welcome Back!!"

That's basically how arbitration hearings are described by the few people who have been inside the room and talked about it afterward. The team makes it's best case that the player doesn't deserve what he's asking for, while the player sticks up for himself. It's a process that has caused lingering resentments between player and team in more than one case.

That's a big part of why arbitration hearings are so rare. Teams and players both try to avoid them and settle on a contract that's acceptable to both so they can avoid the negative fall-out of a confrontational hearing. It's just not worth the downsides of the process to save the relatively small amounts of money at stake.

Except the Nationals. The Nationals love to go to arbitration.

In fact, the Nationals are the only team in baseball to take at least on player to the hearing every year since the Nationals came to DC. Thirty-five players have gone to hearings in that time (five of these are scheduled hearings for this week that could get settled in advance). Here's the breakdown of arbitration hearings by team since 2005:
Nationals: 7 (Shawn Hill, Brian Bruney, Chad Cordero, Alfonso Soriano, John Patterson, Felipe Lopez, and Sean Burnett*)
Rays: 4
Marlins: 3
Astros: 3 (1 scheduled)
Angels: 3 (2 scheduled)
Rockies: 2
Royals: 2
Twins: 2
Cubs: 1 (scheduled)
Mets: 1
Phillies: 1
Dodgers: 1
Padres: 1
Orioles: 1
Yankees: 1
Brewers: 1
A's: 1
What jumps out at you here isn't just that the Nationals go to arbitration with so many more players than other teams. It's that the Nationals have had so many problems after those hearings. Lopez and Soriano both became major clubhouse distractions. Cordero refused to even consider coming back to the team after he was non-tendered. There were other issues in each of these cases, but the risk of fallout is anything but a theoretical concern with the Nationals.

Also, the Nationals not only go to arb more than anyone else, they do it over relatively tiny amounts of money. Of the last eight players since the '05-'06 off-season to go to a hearing over $250,000 or less between the club and player figures, three of them were Nationals (Lopez, Hill, Bruney).

Remember, usually the team and player split the difference and walk away happy. So we're really talking about going to war over around $125,000 per player. That's not even one-third of a season for a minimum wage player. The only reason you do that is to make a point or to be obstinate.

Now, I'm sure there are as many times when it's the player who's being obstinate as the team. But when you have the same team again and again going through these kinds of difficult negotiations, on top of failure to sign draft picks, etc., the circumstantial evidence would point in one direction.

We shouldn't be all that surprised, given all that talk over the years about "how the Lerners do business," fighting over the cost of a postage stamp, etc. But if Bruney or Burnett start acting up about their roles or otherwise being a clubhouse malcontent, remember, that could be part of the price of the Lerner way of doing business.


Harper said...

I like the multipurposeness of your title. It also works as Nationals fans being excited about the start of the new season.

Obviously you are crazy. The Rays are the number 2 team on the list and they are awesome!!! Nats=Rays!!!


Mr. Mustache said...

Excellent post on a Nats topic that is going uncovered by many.

Can we get an updated Most valuable Nat post (ranking by contract, talent, age, etc.)? Omitting Rookies would make this easier.

Basil said...

Interesting post. As you note, there were other issues with the guys who acted up, so I'm not sure if we're really looking at a causation issue here, but others have observed as well that the Nats are "a team that seems to enjoy going to hearings."

Joel said...

I agree with the overall theme if this post. The Nats do go to arbitration too often and over insignificant amounts of money, and that is troubling...but I don't see why you would use the Soriano or Cordero situations to make your point.

Soriano was a distraction because of trade rumors and Cordero's beef was that Bowden made his decision to non-tender him publically without bothering to let him know first... neither had anything to do with the their actual arbitration hearing.

You didn't need to misrepresent those situations to make your point.

Nate said...

Can't blame the Lerners too much for the 2005 season, since they weren't around, and I'm not sure how much input they would have had into the '06 cases. It may well be that Kasten is as much or more a driving force here.

Steven said...

Right. I went back further more to show how rare it is. The Natspos didn't have an arb case in 04-05, not to blame the Lerners for Soriano.

phil dunn said...

"Soriano was a distraction because of trade rumors."

Not so, he was a distraction because he didn't want to play left field, he wanted to play his normal position--second base. In fact, the first time in Viera that he was penciled in to play left field, he left the club house and went back to the motel where he was staying. By the way, in Soriano's arb hearing in 2006, Nats offered $10 million and Soriano was asking for $12 million, so that was a fairly wide spreadof $2 million.

Anonymous said...

just curious ... how many times did the Nats settle an arb case before the hearing? How does it compare to the rest of the league? Is this number larger than the number of times players have had hearings? What's the percentage of settling to hearing?

Also, since the Nats have moved to DC, how many players (compared to the rest of MLB) have the Nats had that were arb-eligible? I'd be curious to see if they've had more than most, particularly since the Nats only seem to sign players to one-year deals or bring up career minor leaguers which would increase the number of arb-eligible cases for them.

Joel said...

phil dunn- I recall the spring training incident but if memory serves me correctly it didn't spill over into the regular season.

Anonymous said...

Cordero refused to even consider coming back to the team after he was non-tendered.

Echoing what Joel said, Cordero decided not to return because Jimbo wisely said (during a radio interview, I think) that he was non-tendering Chad. Cordero was miffed because that was how he found out.

Steven said...

We all know this stuff about Cordero and Soriano, etc.

The point isn't that arbitration hearings alone caused those situations to go sour. It's that arbitration hearings are believed by many to be very adversarial. And the Nationals have had arb hearings with players who later became very unhappy with the team.

As I said in the post, there are other factors. But I doubt that the hearings were amazingly positive bonding experiences for Stan, Jim, and the players.

Something went very wrong with each of these players. I don't think that it probably was a single event--I think that several things must have contributed, but at minumum, these hearings, which are designed to make the player listen to the team trash the player, could not have helped.

Joel said...

I think we all agree with your point, which is what makes your insistence to include those players as some sort of evidence so unnecessary.

This reminds me of the when you kept trying to imply that Zimmermann's injury was somehow the fault of Riggleman... We all know/knew Riggleman has been guilty of pitcher abuse so there was no reason to try and sneak one past us.

That kind of thing is beneath the quality analysis and arguments we're used to reading from you.

Steven said...

Honestly, I think if you stop trying to guess what I'm implying, and just read what I actually wrote, we'd agree more. If I thought Riggleman was responsible for breaking Jordan Zimmermann, I'd say that. I certainly have no interest in trying to sneak anything by a stranger on the Internets.

Nate said...

On the other hand, that's exactly what you'd say if you did have an interest in trying to sneak something by a stranger on the internets. Bring on the Steve-Speak Translator!

Anonymous said...

I remember Bob Carpenter saying on a telecast a few years back that Felipe Lopez blamed his poor play with the Nats on some personal problems and not necessarily on the team. Who knows if arbitration had anything to do with that? It doesn't help that he's played well since he got released, but then again he's still unsigned for 2010 so maybe he's just a head case.

But your point is well taken, Steven. Imagine going into a job review and your boss trashes you, but you still end up getting a raise. It's bittersweet at best, and you'll remember that experience regardless of the money you got.

It's one thing in a Ryan Howard-type situation when the gap between the team and player was in the millions, but why are the Nats risking bad blood over $300K? It makes no sense, especially when they've lost many millions with the busts that were Austin Kearns, Paul LoDuca, and Dimitri Young.

I wish the Nats would spend like a big market team. It wouldn't guarantee success (just ask the Mets) but at least it would show the fans that they're trying.

Will said...

I don't understand the right track/wrong track poll on the page. Why would you say, with all of the front office and player additions to both the major league and the minor league teams (including the greatest pitching prospect of all time), with the #1 pick in this year's draft, with where this organization has been for the past few years,that this franchise is going in the "wrong direction?"

OK, maybe you could scrutinize a particular signing or roster move, but looking at the big picture, I just don't get how you can say that this isn't a team on the rise, that Rizzo hasn't improved this team, or that the team is not going in the right direction. Maybe someone could enlighten me.

Section 222 said...

Steven, I hope you'll comment on the fact that just a few hours after arriving in Viera Mark Z. scooped all the other folks who have been down there for days in reporting on the Detweiler hip surgery.

Ben said...

Just for the record:

Soriano did agree to play left field, and released many statements about wanting to just help the team any way he could...

Right after they threatened to stick him on the inactive list and therefore dash his shot at free agency and getting the hell ut of DC.

Utec said...

Bruney was interviewed on XM today and boy he sounded crushed by the arb hearing. I used quotation marks but of course these are from memory:

"It should never come to that point. If the team wants guys to be glad they're there, they shouldn't let things come to this."

"They tell you things you know about yourself but nobody ever told you before."

"They used things I've said against me. I used to be a pretty talkative guy. I don't care any more."

When asked about wanting to close, "Well, sure, who wouldn't, but after the hearing I don't care, just put me on the field wherever you put me and I'll pitch.

"I loved my time with the Yankees. But I'm a pro and a hard worker, and I'm gonna wear a Nationals jersey, and I can't wait to get out there and pitch."

Sounds like a guy who thinks he moved from a first class organization to a chickenspit organization.