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A look at the owner’s proposed change to arbitration

Colorado Rockies news and links for Monday, December 13, 2021

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The lockout is approaching its third week. Early December on the baseball calendar is usually relatively slow, highlighted by the Winter Meetings and Major League Rule 5 draft, both of which have now been passed by. A December without these events seems bleaker than usual, especially considering the lack of potential agreement on the horizon and the frenzy of hot stove action that occurred up to the last minute.

One of the bigger sticking points for the MLBPA in negotiating the new CBA has been player compensation. The unions proposals included shortening the time a player needs to reach free agency from six years to five, increasing a players minimum salary, and obviously have not included any mention of a salary cap. With both sides losing out on significant revenue due to the shortened 2020 season, neither are looking to make concessions.

The owner’s proposals, to date, have obviously not met enough of the players’ demands and we find ourselves in the lockout. The proposals have included some interesting concessions, namely the proposal to calculate the arbitration salaries of eligible players via FanGraphs’ WAR totals. If you can call that a concession.

For the uninitiated, a player becomes eligible for salary arbitration after they’ve reached three years of MLB service time or attained Super Two status. Players who are eligible for arbitration negotiate with their teams on what their salaries should be every offseason, and if they are unable to reach an agreement by January, they exchange final offers to each other and attend a hearing with a third party in February. In the hearing, the third party panel hears arguments from each side on why their salary is the correct one. The panel then decides whether the player or team is correct, then that sets the players salary for an upcoming season.

Hearing why your employer thinks you’re bad at your job and deserve to make less money is never a fun thing to do, and arbitration hearings have the reputation of causing lasting impacts on player’s relationships with teams. MLB’s proposal would do away with these hearings, rather assigning arbitration salaries based on the players WAR value, and doing away with any negotiation. While doing away with the hearings and their hard feelings, and assigning salaries based on actual production apparently seems like a concession to the owners, it does a better job of illustrating how far the two sides are apart.

It’s never enjoyable to have your employer disparage you, but in the case of salary arbitration hearings this will end up hurting the team more than the player in the long run. The team stands to gain a nominal amount in salary savings if they win, but potentially lose future opportunities with the player. The player gains a (relatively larger) amount of salary, and also the knowledge that maybe he doesn’t fit with his team’s vision for the future, but can take solace that he is at most three years away from having 29 other suitors at the bidding table.

The folks over at FanGraphs do amazing work, and MLB using their version of WAR in this proposal is a testament to that. But determining a player’s compensation from one all-encompassing metric bears flaws. WAR values different traits in players, and determining the salaries based on WAR opens the door for intentional manipulation of a players WAR - reducing playing time, playing different positions - by a team. If you thought service time manipulation had already gone too far…

This proposal has already been shot down by the players, for good reason. While it is hopefully unlikely to come back, it’s still interesting to see how this would have affected the Rockies current crop of arbitration eligible players. All arbitration salaries are from MLB Trade Rumors latest projections. Some of these players have already avoided arbitration via short term deals, but their numbers are included for comparison sake.

Rockies Eligible for Arbitration, 2021

Player Projected Salary ($ millions) 2021 WAR Career WAR
Player Projected Salary ($ millions) 2021 WAR Career WAR
Daniel Bard 4.8 0.5 3.6
Elias Díaz 2.6 1.6 0.4
Carlos Estévez 3.2 0.6 1.7
Kyle Freeland 7 1.5 8.7
Robert Stephenson 1.1 0.5 1
Raimel Tapia 3.9 0.4 0.2
Ryan McMahon 5.5 2.5 3.4
Rio Ruiz 1.1 -0.4 -0.2
Garrett Hampson 1.8 0.5 0.6
Tyler Kinley 1 0.2 0.2
Yency Almonte 0.7 -0.5 0.2
Peter Lambert 0.6 -0.1 -0.1
MLB Trade Rumors, FanGraphs

Some numbers line up, some don’t. These are just projected numbers, but they historically tend to be somewhat accurate. Raimel Tapia’s salary to WAR comparison is particularly notable.

From a labor perspective, the silver lining of hearing what bad things your employer has to say about you is that you get to say why they’re wrong and advocate for yourself. Without this in the game, MLB teams are provided with just another avenue of restricting players earnings for the owner’s benefit. The owners thinking that this was indeed a concession continues to point towards this lockout ending no time soon.

Is this Colorado Rockies outfielder the one that got away from the SF Giants? | Around the Foghorn

The Rockies have had their fair share of misses on free agent signings, draft picks, and the like over the years. Every team has. While the misses don’t make the overall on-field product too pretty, they do make it that much sweeter when an acquisition is a success. So far, this seems to be the case with Connor Joe. Joe had bounced around the league before signing with the Rockies, going back and forth between the Dodgers and Giants as a returned Rule 5 pick. He made his mark on the Rockies this year, ranking seventh on the team in rWAR, and surely higher in fan favorite polls. The Giants have won plenty in the last year - games, transactions, the like - so good on the Rockies for finding a potential gem that was missed before.