Whitt recalls how ugly arbitration was


* Even for the popular Ernie Whitt the salary arbitration process wasn’t fun with sniping back and forth from management and his side of the negotiations. ….

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By Andrew Hendriks
By the time the clock struck 1 p.m., Friday, the deadline for major league clubs to file their salary arbitration figures to the league office had officially arrived.

Salary arbitration you say?

Well the process works as follows …

Once called up to the big leagues, a player is under team control for a total of six years, three of which are arbitration eligible.

In 2014, the major league base salary checked in at $500,000 per season meaning that the majority of MLB’s players that had accumulated three years of big league service time or less were making that amount on the year.

Once a player reaches his third complete (big league) season under team control, he is then eligible for a raise from that minimum based on his on-field performance. This raise is granted via arbitration, or, in most cases, the threat of a nasty arbitration process.

Of course, an exception can be made if a player qualifies for Super Two status.

Explained, Super Two is a special category reserved for big leaguers with more than two years but less than three years service, ranking in the top 22% of all two year players in service time. If a player qualifies as Super Two, he receive an added year of salary compensation instead of the customary three.

Back to arbitration.

Once qualified for arbitration, the players (and their representation) will often feel as if their performance is worth $X amount, and the club feels differently. If both the controlling club and the player cant find a happy medium in which both parties feel as if they are being fair with one and other in regards to compensation, things can get ugly.

After failing to come to terms with each other, both sides break off and begin to build a case for their respective arguments. A few weeks following the arbitration deadline, both the player and representatives from his club meet again in front of an arbitrary figure who then decides, based off the arguments put forward by both the team and the player, who deserves to have their salary demands granted.

Implemented in 1974, salary arbitration has been a mainstay in MLB, with exception to 1976-77, ever since.

In 1990’s “Catch: A Major League Life,” penned by former Jays’ catcher, Ernie Whitt and Greg Cable, a Kitchener writer — Whitt explained how ugly contract talks between player and organization can get.

“(Paul Beeston and Pat Gillick) were at $500,000 and I was at $900,000” explained Whitt in the August chapter of his Blue Jays memoirs. “There were a few snide remarks snipped in here and there and I’d throw a couple their way, but nothing hostile.”

This was in 1988 and Gillick shot back: “If you feel you’re worth that kind of money, why don’t you test the free agent market?”

“Here’s an organization that says they want to keep me, yet their telling me to go out and test the free agent market?” explained Whitt. “To me, that didn’t make sense unless they really didn’t care whether I stayed with the team or unless they knew there was no other team that was going to offer me more money that the Blue Jays were offering.”

After a lengthy battle, one well documented in “Catch”, Whitt was tendered a contract in which he felt was a fair deal considering his services. The deal, a three-year, $2.3M (incentive laced) contract was forged in the 11th hour… at 1:25 a.m on the morning of the arbitration deadline.

Some cases are more civil than Whitt’s. Most are not.

As for the Blue Jays, Toronto has endured a total of eight arbitration hearings in club history, with five of said hearings working out in the clubs favor. Beginning with RHP Dave Lemancyzk in 1978 and most recently featuring RHP Bill Risley in 1997, the club has had it’s share of success avoiding the process in recent years.

In 2015, the Jays’ employed a total of five players who were eligible for arbitration ahead of Friday’s 1 p.m. deadline.

Of the five, three were able to come to terms with the Jays, effectively avoiding the arbitration hearings all together. As for the other two, they have until late January to reach an agreement with Toronto or duke it out in front of an arbitrator during the first week of February.

Marco Estrada – Projected at 4.7M – Paid 3.9M.

Brett Cecil – Projected at 2.6M – Paid 2.47M.

Michael Saunders – Projected at 2.9M – Paid 2.87M.

Danny Valencia – Yet to come to terms.

Josh Donaldson – Yet to come to terms.

*All projections based off figures calculated by MLBtraderumors.com

If the Blue Jays wish to continue their recent tradition avoiding the process all together, the club will have until now and the end of the month to reach an agreement with both Donaldson and Valencia.

Given how ugly the process can become, one hopes that a happy medium can be found with both parties, Donaldson in specific. Lets face it, no one wants to be traded to a new organization only to be subjected to the rigors of an arbitration hearing a few months later.

In other news, the Blue Jays have signed INF Munenori Kawasaki to a minor league contract that comes complete with an invitation to big league camp this spring.

In addition to the news about Kawasaki’s impending return, the club also released details regarding RHP Cory Burns who was designated for assignment on Thursday in order to clear a spot for OF Andy Dirks who also signed a MiLB deal with Toronto earlier this week.

Like Kawasaki, both Dirks and Burns, who outrighted to triple-A Buffalo on Friday, will be with the Blue Jays this spring.

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