ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays' deadline to settle their arbitration cases by Tuesday's midday exchange of salary figures worked for the most part, as they scrambled to strike one-year deals with Jason Bartlett, Matt Garza and J.P. Howell.
But the failure to agree with centerfielder B.J. Upton left them headed to a potentially contentious hearing over a relatively small difference — $300,000 — and the airing of some interesting charges.
First, Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman shared his "nickel theory" that the players union "put a lot more pressure" on agents to be tougher this year in dealing with teams such as the Rays with the policy of ending talks and going to a hearing once the numbers are filed. "I think it's something that the union does not want more teams migrating toward, and had them in turn put more pressure on those teams," he said.
Then union chief Michael Weiner not only denied that claim but said the Rays' strategy "stands the purpose of salary arbitration on its head" and their refusal to negotiate after figures are exchanged "is not consistent with the way the system was designed to operate."
The three settlements all came down to the final hour, and a couple even into a previously undisclosed extra hour or two of what Friedman called buffer time.
Bartlett basically doubled his salary after a career year with a raise to $4 million and was "relieved and happy" to provide security for his family, but also disappointed the Rays didn't offer a long-term deal. "That was my ultimate goal," the shortstop said. "I was all for it, but they didn't want to discuss it."
Garza, in his first year of arbitration eligibility, got a hefty raise after going 8-12 with a 3.95 ERA, from $433,300 to $3.35 million. The right-hander's deal was the last done but was so close at the deadline that both sides agreed to file the settling figure so they could work out final details. Howell went from $433,700 to $1.8 million plus incentives. The reliever joked that not only was he glad to be focused again "on playing rather than money" but that his new wife was happy, too.
Upton, also a first-timer, appeared headed to the $3 million range, and though they got close, the sides couldn't agree. The figures exchanged later Tuesday showed just how close: the Rays offered $3 million, Upton filed for $3.3 million. An arbitration panel will pick one of the numbers after a February hearing.
Agent Larry Reynolds also disputed Friedman's union pressure theory — "that certainly was not the case with me" — and said the lack of agreement was simply a product of the process: "As per their club policy, there's no further room for negotiation. In fairness to the team, we knew all this in advance. We just simply ran out of time."
Friedman said they were "obviously disappointed" not to reach a deal with Upton and would now regroup (their policy does allow talks to continue on a multiyear deal).
"I'm a believer in this process that when you go to a hearing, both sides lose," Friedman said. "And I think both sides are culpable. It doesn't do any good to point fingers one way, or vice versa. The process is in place for a reason. When there's a philosophical difference with the comparable players and how things fall, this is what the system offers."
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.