MILWAUKEE -- Tuesday marked the official start of a quieter-than-usual arbitration season for the Brewers, who have only two eligible players in Marco Estrada and Juan Francisco.
Both players filed for arbitration, a formality that begins a process likely to gain steam by Friday, the date players around baseball exchange proposals with their teams for a one-year contract. The Brewers official in charge of the team's arbitration efforts expressed hope that deals for both Estrada and Francisco will be wrapped up in short order.
"They're both going as we would expect," Brewers vice president of business development Teddy Werner said. "We've seen this over the last couple of years, that more and more deals get done on the exchange day. We're happy with the process and optimistic that we'll get both of these guys done on Friday."
Assistant general manager Gord Ash is handling negotiations with Francisco's agent, Fernando Cuza, and Matt Kleine of the Brewers' baseball operations department is leading talks with Estrada's agent, Paul Cohen. Kleine is a graduate of Marquette Law School and is taking on an increased role in contract matters.
"What's interesting is to see the evolution of this within the organization," Werner said. "A couple of years ago, we had a lot of guys [eligible for arbitration], and now we're at a point where we have only a couple. I'm sure in due time we'll be back to where we were five years ago with players of the caliber of Prince [Fielder] and Rickie [Weeks] and J.J. [Hardy] and Corey [Hart] in arbitration. But those guys have graduated, and we have also locked up some of the guys like Jonathan Lucroy. It gives us a year when we have a dearth of arbitration-eligible players."
A reminder of how salary arbitration works:
Eligible players are generally those with at least three years of Major League service but less than the six needed to qualify for free agency, though a select group of players with between two and three years of service also qualify as "Super Twos" -- Carlos Gomez was one in 2010, and Francisco is one this year.
These eligible players are still under team control, but unlike players with zero to three years of service, whose salaries are set at the whim of their teams, arbitration-eligibles are paid relative to similar players in terms of performance and service time as governed by Article VI of MLB's Basic Agreement. Among the considerations are a player's performance in his most recent -- or "platform" -- season, the length and consistency of his career contribution, his "leadership and public appeal" and the recent performance of the team. Representatives from both sides seek to establish comparable players to support their proposals.
This year and for the next three years, players formally file for arbitration on a Tuesday and exchange proposed figures on Friday. The parties then continue negotiating until the date of an arbitration hearing, which are scheduled this year from Feb. 1-21. In the vast majority of cases, the sides avoid a hearing with a settlement near the midpoint of figures.
But if a case goes all the way to a hearing, each side presents its case to a three-member panel of judges. The player attends, so teams often hire outside counsel to argue its case in an attempt to lessen hard feelings.
The judges weigh the evidence and, 24 hours later, chose one salary proposal or the other. They do not have to explain the decision.
Only twice since 1998 have the Brewers gone all the way to a hearing with a player. Hart took his case to a panel of judges in St. Petersburg, Fla., in 2010 and won a $4.8 million salary. In 2012, the Brewers beat reliever Jose Veras in a hearing. The player still earned $2 million.
Overall, the Brewers have gone to the hearing room five times.
"Our goal every year is to get these deals done, and I'm optimistic that will be the case again," Werner said. "But as we've done in the past, our strategy is that if we can't get a deal done by the exchange date, we file a strong number with the intention of going to a hearing. But that's certainly not our hope and that's not our goal."
Estrada, 30, is eligible for arbitration for the second time after settling with the team at $1.955 million last year. He was 7-4 with a 3.87 ERA in 21 starts, sidelined for about two months in the middle of the season by hamstring and back issues. According to Matt Swartz of MLB Trade Rumors, who has developed a model for predicting salaries of arbitration-eligibles, Estrada projects to earn around $3.5 million for 2014.
The Brewers acquired Francisco from the Braves in June in an attempt to solve their first-base problem, and the now-26-year-old combined with Atlanta and Milwaukee to bat .227 with 18 home runs, 48 RBIs and 138 strikeouts in 348 at-bats. Since the Brewers have not found any alternatives to their liking so far this winter, Francisco remains an option to return to first base. Swartz projects a $1.4 million salary for Francisco in 2014.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy.