Cast of rising stars heads into arbitration
Aces Lincecum, Hernandez top striking list of candidates
When Mike Scioscia was in the midst of a sterling career as the catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, he walked into a late 1985 arbitration hearing with plenty of confidence, having just finished second in the National League with a .407 on-base percentage for a division-winning club.
Well, as is often the case in arbitration, he didn't exactly hear what he wanted.
The club told Scioscia that the hardly-fleet-of-foot backstop was actually getting on base too much and therefore clogging up the bases to the detriment of the offense.
Scioscia's overall production and toughness behind the plate won that case in the end, but almost 25 years later, while the current Angels manager is slightly removed from the ongoing process of teams arguing with their own players over their merits to save money, he might privately have a bit of sympathy for Erick Aybar, Joe Saunders, Jered Weaver and Howard Kendrick, four of the Angels' shining lights looking for hefty raises in 2010.
This impressive Angels quartet is just one example of the rising-star-caliber players who can file for salary arbitration, a 10-day process that begins Tuesday. Players and their clubs will then exchange figures on Jan. 19, and hearings begin on Feb. 1 for those cases not settled before then.
Two-time National League Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum heads up a striking list of candidates that includes Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon, Seattle ace Felix Hernandez and Florida's young right-handed gun, Josh Johnson, plus Tigers righty Justin Verlander, the Rays core of B.J. Upton, Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett and J.P. Howell, Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton and Rockies closer Huston Street.
Also up for arbitration is a quintet of young Dodgers in Chad Billingsley, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Jonathan Broxton and Russell Martin, a terrific trio of White Sox in John Danks, Bobby Jenks and Carlos Quentin, the Phillies' playoff-tested All-Star center fielder, Shane Victorino, Astros outfielder Hunter Pence and Padres All-Star closer Heath Bell.
Currently, clubs control the contracts of almost all players with zero to three years of Major League experience, save for a small group of "Super 2" players who are eligible for arbitration early if they played in the Majors at least 86 days in the previous season and were among the top 17 percent in cumulative playing time in that group with at least two to three years of experience. Lincecum qualifies in this regard and could command even more money than Phillies slugger Ryan Howard, a Super 2 in '08 who won $10 million before hammering out a three-year, $54 million payday to avoid a hearing in early '09.
The whispers of $20 million for Lincecum have echoed loudly throughout baseball this winter, although if the right-handed phenom does go to a hearing with the Giants, it will be something of a baseball rarity.
Since 1974, when the arbitration system was collectively bargained, a hint more than 10 percent of the filings have gone to a full hearing, including only three of them last year, two of which were won by the players. Shawn Hill beat the Washington Nationals, Dan Uggla bested the Marlins, getting a raise from $417,000 to $5.35 million, and the Tampa Bay Rays won their case with Dioner Navarro. Last year, in fact, 111 players filed for arbitration and 65 had already signed contracts before they exchanged figures with their teams.
While Scioscia's tale proves in rather humorous fashion how teams and players can come to odds in the hearing room, it's not always that way. Situations vary and there's more understanding than hard feelings.
For example, in the case of Uggla, who broke out with 32 homers in '08, he and his agent, Jeff Borris, had to abide by a Marlins policy of ending contract talks if agreements aren't reached by the figure-exchange deadline.
"You never want to go to a hearing, win or lose," Borris said after Uggla won his hearing. "You try to settle, but the Marlins have a policy. ... Bottom line is the team is trying to make the best deal for them, and you can't fault them for that. And the player is looking for the best deal for him, and you can't fault him for that."
Aside from Lincecum, expect a significant raise for Hernandez, who made $3.8 million in '09 at the age of 23 and then went out and had his best Major League season by far, going 19-5 with a 2.49 ERA and finishing second to Zack Greinke in American League Cy Young voting.
Hernandez figures to ask for something close to if not more than $10 million, making a possible long-term contract to avoid free agency one of Seattle's offseason priorities and potentially shaping the way the Mariners operate their franchise beyond '10.
And Hernandez, like Howard was after his first score in '08, should walk away smiling, courtroom or not.
"My reaction is mostly relief now that the whole process is over," Howard said then.
"It was interesting. Any way you look at it is a win-win, because it's a substantial raise. [Winning was] some good news."
Doug Miller is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.