A couple of weeks ago, we discussed what the process would look like should the Colorado Rockies and All-Star second baseman DJ LeMahieu go to arbitration.
Now, they're doing just that.
LeMahieu has filed at $3.3 million, $500,000 more than the Rockies' submitted figure of $2.8 million. While a half-million dollars may not seem like a significant amount of money for the two to argue over, this is far from the case, opting to let a panel of three arbitrators decide how much LeMahieu is worth.
This amount of money is nothing to scoff at. The league minimum salary is close to the amount in dispute. Also, this contract affects LeMahieu's next two arbitration years. The more the Rockies give him now, the more they will likely have to pay him in future pre-free agency seasons. Additionally, $500,000 is just what it is: $500,000. This is a lot of money for any organization, no matter the size. If the Rockies truly believe they are correct in LeMahieu's value, they have every right to try to keep the cash.
Perhaps most importantly, this represents a changing of the guard within the Rockies' front office.
The Rockies are going into arbitration for the second year in a row. Last year they won their case against Wilin Rosario, in which he coincidentally had the exact same filing numbers as LeMahieu. This is just the fifth time in Rockies history they have headed into arbitration, where they have a 3-1 record. And the club went to hearing just three times during Dan O'Dowd's 15-year general manager tenure. It is clear that new GM Jeff Bridich -- as well as assistant GM Zack Rosenthal, who runs much of the arbitration process from the club's perspective -- are not messing around.
Personally, I like this approach from the Rockies. While the obvious downside is having to sit in a room and explain to LeMahieu's agent, LeMahieu himself, and the arbitrators why a reigning All-Star isn't worth the money he requested, it demonstrates a more aggressive attitude than we have seen from the Rockies in the past. The plan for the Rockies has become clear: playing the best defense possible while building a strong strike-throwing bullpen, stockpiling young pitching, and saving money where they believe they can in order to spend it to achieve their other goals. LeMahieu fits within this plan, but only at the right price, and determining what that should be is obviously worth the risk in the Rockies' opinion.
I have no doubt the Rockies and LeMahieu have made every attempt to find common ground and settle this case. This is how the process generally works, with the vast majority of cases settling. While a settlement could still occur sometime this morning, it now appears unlikely. As mentioned in the article from a couple of weeks ago, I predicted LeMahieu would likely win his hearing based on his comparable players and defensive capabilities. The Rockies will probably try to place some emphasis on his season being a bit of an anomaly, which may be true.
Anomaly or not, LeMahieu did produce, and it seems to me to be an uphill climb for the Rockies to convince the arbitration panel otherwise. Moreover, the club may try to point to a lack of power to justify the lower salary. The aggressiveness and risk-taking should be appreciated. This new Rockies regime is different; everything we've seen points to the front office willing to take risks and try something new. Bridich, Rosenthal and the group started the transition last year and it appears this will be a theme for the organization.
Once the hearing has ended, the arbitrators will have 24 hours to make a decision. By Thursday evening, we should know if the Rockies saved $500,000. This is a case where the player bashing won't be incredibly severe as the difference is not too large, so the risk/reward seems to be worth it.
With the Talking Stick Casino nearby, the organization seems to feel its odds are better served facing the panel and DJ LeMahieu. Good decision.