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5 key takeaways from arbitration-deadline day

@feinsand
January 10, 2020

Friday was a typically frenzied arbitration-deadline day, with dozens of players agreeing to contracts for 2020 rather than going to hearings with their clubs. We saw a new record set for the biggest arbitration deal ever, a contract for a pitcher whom nearly everybody -- including himself -- expected would

Friday was a typically frenzied arbitration-deadline day, with dozens of players agreeing to contracts for 2020 rather than going to hearings with their clubs.

We saw a new record set for the biggest arbitration deal ever, a contract for a pitcher whom nearly everybody -- including himself -- expected would go to a hearing, as well as a number of other deals that will help shape the upcoming season. Here are some takeaways from this year’s arbitration deadline:

1. Records are made to be broken

As expected, Mookie Betts took down Nolan Arenado as the arbitration king, establishing a new one-year salary record by agreeing to a $27 million deal with the Red Sox. Betts’ deal eclipsed the $26 million Arenado landed a year ago, just weeks before signing an eight-year, $260 million extension with the Rockies.

For the Red Sox, avoiding a hearing with Betts made perfect sense. Not that any club enjoys that process, but given that things can get ugly and personal, going to a hearing with Betts might have done damage to whatever hopes Boston still has of retaining the 2018 AL MVP as he heads for free agency following the 2020 season.

Reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger set a record for a first-year arbitration-eligible player, agreeing to an $11.5 million deal with the Dodgers. Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant had held the record ($10.85 million in 2018).

Salary arbitration, explained

2. Top 10, revisited

Earlier this week, we noted that nine of the 10 biggest one-year contracts for arbitration-eligible players were signed in the past two years. We knew Betts would join that list, either via settlement or hearing, and we were right.

He wasn’t alone. Here’s what the list looked like prior to Friday:

Nolan Arenado $26M (2019)
Josh Donaldson $23M (2018)
Bryce Harper $21.625M (2018)
Mookie Betts $20M (2019)
David Price $19.75M (2015)
Anthony Rendon $18.8M (2019)
Jacob deGrom $17M (2019)
Khris Davis $16.5M (2019)
Manny Machado $16M (2018)
José Abreu $16M (2019)

Here’s what it looks like now:

Mookie Betts $27M (2020)
Nolan Arenado $26M (2019)
Josh Donaldson $23M (2018)
Bryce Harper $21.625M (2018)
Mookie Betts $20M (2019)
David Price $19.75M (2015)
Anthony Rendon $18.8M (2019)
Kris Bryant $18.6M (2020)
Francisco Lindor $17.5M (2020)
Trevor Bauer $17.5M (2020)

Bryant, Bauer and Lindor -- who got the second-highest contract for a second-time arbitration-eligible player -- had been expected to crack the Top 10, along with George Springer, who filed at $22.5 million, while the Astros filed at $17.5 million.

3. Unfinished business

A total of 22 players exchanged arbitration numbers with their clubs on Friday, though two of them -- the Twins' Miguel Sanó and the D-backs' David Peralta -- agreed to multi-year extensions, so their filing numbers will be moot once physicals are passed and those deals become official.

Of the other 20, a few stand out as particularly interesting.

George Springer will enter that aforementioned Top 10 list one way or another; he filed at $22.5 million (which would be the fourth-highest one-year deal ever for an arbitration-eligible player), while the Astros countered at $17.5 million (which would match Trevor Bauer and Francisco Lindor for 10th all time). That $5 million difference represents the largest spread between player and club among the 20 that appear headed for a hearing.

The next three biggest spreads belong to the Phillies' J.T. Realmuto ($12.4 million vs. $10 million), the Brewers' Josh Hader ($6.4 million vs. $4.1 million) and Joc Pederson of the Dodgers ($9.5 million vs. $7.75 million).

Now that the figures are exchanged, a hearing is scheduled in February. If no settlement can be reached by the hearing date, the case is brought before a panel of arbitrators. After hearing arguments from both sides, the panel selects either the salary figure of the player or the club.

Here’s a complete list of the 20 players expected to go to hearings, with the salaries filed by both the player and team listed in parenthesis:

Jesús Aguilar ($2.575M), Marlins ($2.325M)
Nick Ahmed ($6.95M), D-backs ($6.6M)
Pedro Báez ($4M), Dodgers ($3.5M)
Andrew Benintendi ($4.15M), Red Sox ($3.4M)
José Berríos ($4.4M), Twins ($4.025M)
Archie Bradley ($4.1M), D-backs ($3.625M)
Aledmys Diaz ($2.6M), Astros ($2M)
Brian Goodwin ($2.2M), Angels ($1.85M)
Shane Greene ($6.75M), Braves ($6.25M)
Josh Hader ($6.4M), Brewers ($4.1M)
Max Muncy ($4.675M), Dodgers ($4M)
Héctor Neris ($5.2M), Phillies ($4.25M)
Joc Pederson ($9.5M), Dodgers ($7.75M)
J.T. Realmuto ($12.4M), Phillies ($10M)
Eduardo Rodriguez ($8.975M), Red Sox ($8.3M)
George Springer ($22.5M), Astros (17.5M)
Trevor Story ($11.5M), Rockies ($10.75M)
Brent Suter ($1.25M), Brewers ($825K)
Chris Taylor ($5.8M), Dodgers ($5.25M)
Tony Wolters ($2.475M), Rockies ($1.9M)

The Dodgers lead the way with four potential hearings, while the Phillies, D-backs, Red Sox, Rockies, Astros and Brewers have two apiece. The Dodgers have not gone to a hearing with a player since 2007 (Joe Beimel).

4. Surprise settlement

A year ago, Trevor Bauer went to his second straight arbitration hearing with the Indians, calling the latter portion of Cleveland’s presentation “a character assassination.”

Bauer, who ultimately won his hearing against the Indians for the second time in a row, said at the time that he fully expected to return for a third consecutive hearing in 2020.

"Next year, I expect to be paid in line with what my season in 2019 is worth, which would never be agreed upon before a hearing," the pitcher told reporters last February.

So when word came down Friday that Bauer had agreed to a $17.5 million deal with the Reds for 2020, it may have been the most surprising news of the entire day (Bauer was traded to the Reds back in July).

Bauer’s deal marks the second-biggest salary for an arbitration-eligible pitcher in history, trailing only David Price’s $19.75 million in 2015. Mets ace Jacob deGrom had been second on the list with a $17 million deal in 2019.

Bauer is eligible for free agency at the end of the year, and he has been on the record that he plans to sign a series of one-year deals when he hits the open market. His stance on arbitration clearly changed in less than a year; could his take on his free-agent future be next?

5. Payroll clarity for the Red Sox

The Red Sox payroll has been a hot topic all offseason, as Boston’s ownership has made it clear that getting below the $208 million Competitive Balance Tax threshold is a goal for 2020.

With Betts ($27 million), Jackie Bradley Jr. ($11 million), Brandon Workman ($3.5 million), Matt Barnes ($3.1 million) and Heath Hembree ($1.612 million) all settling prior to the deadline, the Red Sox have only two arbitration-eligible players whose salaries have yet to be determined: Andrew Benintendi and Eduardo Rodriguez.

The five players who settled will now account for a little more than $46 million in payroll, giving new chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom a better idea of how much salary would have to be shed in order to land beneath the threshold. The club's estimated 2020 payroll is $235,462,928, according to rosterresource.com.

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.