The Arizona Diamondbacks have made a contentious effort to try and stay away from salary arbitration hearings with their players. For the most part they have been successful. In the past decade the team has been able to sign all of their players before the scheduled arbitration hearing date.
There have been times when it went down to the wire such as the recent contract with Conor Jackson which was hammered out just before the start of the hearing. It is in the best interest of the player and the team to try and avoid arbitration hearings.
While Major League Baseball and the players’ union both publicly state arbitration is good for the game in allowing younger players with limited service time to be paid a fair wage, it is not without its dangers.
The arbitration hearing is akin to a winner takes all lottery. Each side provides an argument for the player to be paid a certain amount. After hearing both sides an arbitration panel will determine which side was more convincing and the salary is set.
The problem with this is that the player is put into a position where he has to justify his salary while the team argues why the player is not worth what they think they are worth. At the conclusion of the process the two sides are supposed to shake hands and act as though the player is a valuable asset to the team. Not exactly the greatest motivator going into Spring Training.
It is therefore understandable why the Diamondbacks attempt to avoid having to go through the process by signing their arbitration eligible players before their hearing dates. This year there were four players who were arbitration eligible. Three of them – Joe Saunders, Stephen Drew, and Miguel Montero all signed contracts leaving just second baseman Kelly Johnson as the one unsigned.
With his arbitration hearing date set, Johnson’s representatives worked diligently with Diamondbacks General Manager Kevin Towers to try and hammer out a deal. The two sides were quite far apart in their initial salary figures.
Part of this had to do with the circumstances around Johnson’s career. After having a breakout year with the Atlanta Braves, Johnson saw his stock plummet when the team non-tendered him after the following season.
Johnson signed a one-year contract with the Diamondbacks last season and recovered nicely. That one-year anomaly made it difficult for the team and the player to find similar historical value data to compare against hence the difference in opinion between the two sides.
It looked as though Johnson may end up attending an arbitration hearing when the two sides finally found middle ground and hammered out a one-year contract for the 2011 season that would pay Johnson $5.85 million. The amount was roughly $250,000 above the midpoint between the two sides making for a decent compromise.
The Diamondbacks were attempting to sign Johnson to a two-year contract hoping to get another year of service before having to make a determination of whether to sign him to a longer term. Johnson seemed unwilling to give up a year of free agency hence the one-year deal.
Arizona will need to determine whether Johnson is going to fit into their 2012 and beyond plans or if they have anyone that could be ready to step in from their farm system. Looking over the prospect list no second baseman jumps out at you so look to see the Diamondbacks revisit contract plans with Johnson as the season progresses.