It has been 17 years since the Blue Jays last went into an arbitration hearing with one of their players, but they could be looking at three hearings to start 2014 unless they work out salary figures with Colby Rasmus, Brett Cecil, and Esmil Rogers. In general, all players on the major league roster with between three to six years of service are considered to be "arbitration eligible"--there is a special "Super Two" exception that allows some players with only two service years to ask for arbitration but it does not apply to any current Blue Jay. Back in December, the Blue Jays chose to tender their contracts (while letting J.P. Arencibia leave as a free agent), meaning that the three will be under contract for 2014, but they haven't figured out compensation just yet.
- Colby Rasmus: $6.5 million
- Brett Cecil: $0.9 million
- Esmil Rogers: $1.0 million
Rasmus, who had a solid (albeit injury-shortened) year at the plate and in centre field, is one of the best centre fielders in the American League and will likely get a large raise from the $4.675 million he made in 2013 as he is in his last arbitration year before he can declare free agency. Rogers made $1000 less than Cecil in 2013 but both of them look to almost double their salaries heading into next year, with Rogers getting a slight boost over the All-Star Cecil because of the 20 starts he made in 2013.
The actual hearings will not occur until February, but January 14 is the deadline for Rasmus, Cecil, and Rogers to declare their desire to head into salary arbitration. Between then and January 17, Major League Baseball's Labor Relations Department collects salary figures from both players and clubs and then exchanges the numbers on January 17 at 1 pm Eastern. There is no rule stopping a team and a player to agree to a contract between January 17 and their scheduled hearing, but Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos has a personal rule where he would not negotiate on one-year contracts after the exchange of salary figures. That leaves the player with two options: agree to a multi-year deal or let the arbitration panel decide his salary.
During the arbitration hearing, representatives of both the player and the club will appear in front of a three-member arbitration panel, generally composed of non-baseball experts selected by both Major League Baseball and the Players' Association. The format of the hearing is quite rigid:
- Player's presentation (1 hr.)
- Club's presentation (1 hr.)
- Player's rebuttal and summation (30 min.)
- Club's rebuttal and summation (30 min.)
- Player's surrebuttal ("very brief")
- Club's surrebuttal ("very brief" only upon request by club)
The three arbitrators have little flexibility in terms of choosing the player's salary: they must pick either the figure the team submitted, or the one the player submitted, whichever is closest to what the panel thinks the player should get. The arbitrators only selects one of the two salaries--they are not permitted to give either parties reasons behind their decision. The binary choice is designed to lead both parties to submit reasonable figures and to not outrageously lowball offers or highball demands. In addition, all arbitrated contracts are one year in length, non-guaranteed (meaning a player could get as little as 30 days of termination pay if he gets released during spring training), and cannot contain frills like no-trade clauses, player or club options, or performance bonuses. Knowing this, Anthopoulos's strategy is clear--he wants to prevent players from dragging contract talks until they see what the club is willing to offer for a one-year deal.
I can see a one-year deal with a club option for Esmil Rogers and Brett Cecil, both of whom are entering into arbitration for the first time. Colby Rasmus will be a free agent after the 2014 season, so depending on how contract extension talks are going, Rasmus may elect to take a one-year contract without options for the time being and continue talking. In 2011, Jose Bautista did not settle his salary with the Blue Jays by the salary exchange date and two sides agreed to his contract extension just hours before his arbitration hearing.