If you’ve been following baseball for the last little while you’ll know the Toronto Blue Jays completed their arbitration case with young star Marcus Stroman. The arbiter ruled in Toronto’s favor, awarding Stroman a $6.5 million contract for 2018 when he filed at $6.9 million. Not nice for Stroman.
Stroman, who finished eighth in last year’s Cy Young Award voting, didn’t take the loss well. After deciding to attend the hearing in person, rather than simply send his agent alone, Stroman was subjected to the case against him, and seemed to disagree with the case’s particulars. His now-deleted tweet after the hearing looked like this:
Marcus later tried to walk his comments back, with a followup tweet and taking questions in a scrum at the Jays’ spring training facility:
Just being real. Not mad at all. I’m aware of the business. Just opens your eyes going through the arbitration process. Second time going through it. Still love my team and the entire country of Canada. More upset that I had to fly to AZ and miss my Monday workout. Lol— Marcus Stroman (@MStrooo6) February 15, 2018
In the scrum, Stroman made the case that he wants to be in Toronto long-term, but also wants to feel valued by the organization, and inferred that the case made in the arb proceeding against him make him feel as though the Blue Jays did not give him due credit. We’ll see what, if any, effect the hostility between player and team leads to, but it should spark memories in the minds of Yankee fans.
Animosity after the arbitration process is nothing new. The process itself is designed to be confrontational, where the player’s representation makes the case he’s worth an increase in pay based on previous performance and the team petitions that the player is not nearly as good as the figures say. The team’s penchant for negative commentary is why most players choose to not attend the hearing at all.
Yankee fans are familiar with the hostility of arbitration, with Dellin Betances’ case from 2017 still fresh in many minds. After winning the case, Yankees brass immediately inserted both feet into their mouths with Randy Levine disparaging Betances on a conference call with reporters, making the case that Dellin wasn’t worth his filing number since he doesn’t pitch in the ninth inning anymore. It was dumb, distracting, and only Betances knows how much damage was done in the relationship between player and management.
This wasn’t the first time the Yankees have messed around with Betances, either. In 2016, his last year of pre-arb status, the Yankees simply renewed Dellin’s contract at $507,500, despite the reliever posting a 37 (!!) ERA- in 2015 en route to a playoff berth with the team. Refusing to give such a talented player a raise of any kind after a season like that set the tone for what’s been a difficult transactional relationship.
The good news is, the Yankees appear to have learned from last year’s fiasco and avoided the kind of confrontation the Jays now have to deal with. Back in January, the team finalized settlements with their eight arb-eligible players, and didn’t have to appear before any panels this season. Teams with a surplus of young talent, like the Jays with Aaron Sanchez, Roberto Osuna and Stroman, or the Yankees, must feel more of an imperative to settle and head off the nasty arbitration proceedings.
The Yankee cadre of arb-eligible players included Didi Gregorius, Sonny Gray, Tommy Kahnle and Betances again. This collection of players is too important to the success of the 2018 squad to risk a confrontation, and the remaining four players who settled form the depth that makes the roster so solid. By avoiding arbitration, the players and team have been able to agree on their value, and nobody needs to sit through a stripping-down of their abilities. Better yet, neither side has any righteous anger, as contracts more or less represent the market-clearing price for a player at a given talent level.
With all the changes coming to the next CBA in 2021, it’ll be interesting to see how the arbitration process changes. An obvious alteration to the current scheme would be replacing arbitration with a restricted free agency system or augmenting the process by having both sides submit written cases instead of oral arguments, so neither the team nor player must actually hear the case made against them.
Until then, arbitration is still going to be messy, and the Yankees will have to deal with high-profile arb-eligible players soon. They’d do well to learn from their own example and do whatever they can to avoid a Stroman or Betances-level mistake.