ST. PETERSBURG — Baseball’s arbitration process can be tricky enough in normal times. Coming off the pandemic-shortened 2020 season makes it even more convoluted this year.
Teams and agents typically determine independently what they think eligible players should be paid, based on recent stats and historical comparisons. They then share their thoughts with the other side, either negotiating toward a settlement or deciding to gamble in a hearing, where a panel determines the final figure.
Now add in the complication of figuring out how to best value stats from the 60-game season. And include performance bias, as players who did well want their stats extrapolated over a full 162 games for sake of comparison, and those who struggled will push for their numbers to be discounted. Teams, meanwhile, will have their own methodologies.
“It’s clearly different, and there is some gray area with that,” said Rays general manager Erik Neander, adding that the “overarching goal remains the same,” to work with the agents to get to “a number that is fair and appropriate” for both sides.
The Rays have been talking this week with agents for their six arbitration eligible players: pitchers Yonny Chirinos, Tyler Glasnow, Ryan Yarbrough; infielders Ji-Man Choi, Joey Wendle; outfielder Manuel Margot.
By 1 p.m. Friday, the league-wide deadline to file for arbitration, they will either reach agreement on a 2021 salary, or exchange figures and head to hearing next month. Negotiations can continue up until the hearing, but the Rays are one of a growing number of teams that employ a “file and trial” policy of cutting off talks at the deadline.
That strategy usually leads to settlements, as the Rays have gone to hearings only 11 times in their 23-season history, losing their last five (since 2016) after a 6-0 start.
There is speculation around the game that settlements may be tougher this year because of vast differences in opinions on valuing the 2020 stats and how they relate to the historical comparisons that arbitration cases typically are based on.
“There’s greater uncertainty in terms of the appropriate method to go about this, so it leads for more space to have honest differences in the interpretation of what’s best,” Neander said. “But at the same time, I think both parties recognize that and are going to do everything that they can to find common ground.”
The highest salaries among the Rays’ six will go to Glasnow and Margot, since this is their second time eligible. The mlbtraderumors.com website, which annually projects arbitration salaries with reasonable accuracy, adjusted its modeling to account for three different methods of factoring in the 2020 season.
For Glasnow, who was to make $2.05 million last year before salaries were prorated for the reduced schedule, the site offers a wide range: $2.8 million using his actual 2020 stats (5-1, 4.08 with 91 strikeouts in 57 1/3 innings over 11 starts) to $5.1 million by extrapolating his stats over a full season (roughly 14-3, 4.08, 248 strikeouts in 155 innings over 30 starts). The third method, which is in the middle, figures a projected raise and discounts it based on the short season.
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Margot, who was to make $2.475 million in 2020, has a narrower projection spread, from $2.8 to $3.6 million.
The more interesting cases may involve first-time eligibles Yarbrough and Chirinos, who spent much of their first three seasons pitching bulk innings behind openers. How the two sides frame that workload will be a new element in arbitration since there aren’t standard comps.
Will the agents seek to have them paid as if they were full-time starters? On the other extreme, will the Rays seek to treat them as middle relievers? If they don’t find common ground to settle and end up in a hearing, how will the panel view their usage?
The mlbtraderumors.com projections are $2.2 million to $3.6 million for Yarbrough, and $1.6 million to $1.8 million for Chirinos, whose situation is further complicated since he likely will miss all of 2021 due to Tommy John surgery.
The projections for Wendle are $1.6 million to $2.7 million, and for Choi $1.6 million to $2.1 million.
Rays to add top international talent
The international signing period, delayed from July 2 due to the pandemic, opens Friday. The Rays are projected to sign at least two of the top 20 prospects per Baseball America’s rankings: Carlos Colmenarez, a 17-year-old lefty-hitting shortstop from Venezuela, for around $3 million, and outfielder Jhonny Piron, a 16-year-old outfielder from the Dominican Republic, for $1.6 million to $2 million.