Tribe's arbitration streak comes to an end
Hearings can create awkward situations for players, ballclub
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- An arbitration hearing is an uncomfortable situation for both parties involved. Teams do not like to sit across a table from a player while shredding his statistics to support a case, and players do not like listening to how they are worth less than the salary they are seeking.
This is one reason why the Indians went more than two decades without an arbitration hearing before needing one Friday to settle reliever Vinnie Pestano's salary for the upcoming season. It is also why the club is hopeful that it can avoid a hearing with its remaining cases: right-hander Justin Masterson and righty Josh Tomlin. On Monday night, the Indians avoided arbitration with outfielder Michael Brantley when the two sides agreed to a four-year contract with an option for a fifth year.
Masterson, whose hearing is scheduled for Feb. 20, and his agent, Randy Rowley, were trying to negotiate a long-term contract for the pitcher, but have put those talks on hold in order to focus on a one-year pact. The All-Star sinkerballer wants to avoid a hearing, and there is no doubt that Cleveland holds the same preference.
"Any time you can avoid any type of hearing, that's what you want to do," Masterson said on Monday. "We're working through it. It's difficult, challenging, and yet a fun part of the game. It's different. We're working with the businessmen and having some fun with that. You're trying not to be too stubborn in your own right, but know that you're trying to work for something fair and true."
That was Pestano's motivation behind taking his case to the three-person arbitration panel, even though the Indians' last contract offer was north of the midpoint of the exchanged proposals of $975,000 (Cleveland's offer) and $1.45 million (Pestano's request). After the hearing, the panel ruled in favor of the team, which focused its argument heavily on the right-hander's rough, injury-marred 2013 campaign.
Sitting at a picnic table next to one of the Tribe's practice fields at the team's spring complex, Pestano said he had no regrets over going to the hearing. The pitcher fully expected to hear a stream of negative statistical analysis, and took no issue with that element. Pestano was, however, caught off guard when the Indians used quotes he gave to reporters as fuel for their case.
Quotes from a general manager, manager or player are fair game for both sides during an arbitration hearing and that tactic is relatively common. That did not make it any easier for Pestano -- one of the team's most media-friendly players -- to hear his words used to support the team's stance.
"You're being honest and accountable and saying the right things and being there," Pestano said, "and then later you find your own words in the paper, and somebody is trying to use your words against you to drive your value down. Whether that played a big role in the decision, I don't know.
"That was the only thing that I didn't care for. I definitely think it'll affect how I see things going forward. I don't really know if I can be as honest and up-front anymore. I've got three more years of arbitration left. I don't know what they'll pick to use against me next year or two years from now."
Indians assistant general manager Mike Chernoff, who helped prepare and present Cleveland's case for Pestano's hearing, declined to delve into the specifics of the hearing, but hopes the pitcher understands that the proceedings were purely business.
"We always prefer to negotiate a settlement," Chernoff said. "Over the past 23 years, and probably almost 100 cases, we've done that. In this case, obviously we couldn't, and we understand that's part of the process. But we try as hard as we can to exhaust the process prior to that and find something that's agreeable. Look, in the end, it's an uncomfortable thing to have to go through this.
"A player paints all of the positives. A club has to, in this situation, paint the deficiencies. What's so awkward about that is we are 100 percent behind our players and always want them to be at their best and be in the right mindset. This is strictly a business part of it, in negotiating a salary, and no part how we feel about a player or want to help a player succeed in his career."
Pestano, who turns 29 years old later this month, was one of the top setup men in baseball across the 2011-12 seasons (2.45 ERA and 160 strikeouts in 132 innings), but dealt with a right elbow injury, a statistical decline and a demotion to Triple-A in '13. The right-hander felt the trip to the Minor Leagues last season swayed the case in Cleveland's favor.
"I think that was their silver bullet," he said.
Prior to Pestano's case, Cleveland had not gone to a hearing since 1991, when they did so with pitcher Greg Swindell and infielder Jerry Browne. Now, the Indians could also have hearings with Tomlin (Friday) and Masterson (Feb. 20).
Tomlin, who is vying for a spot in the rotation or bullpen this spring, is seeking $975,000, compared to the $800,000 offered by the Indians.
Masterson, who has served as the Opening Day starter for the Indians in each of the past two seasons, is seeking $11.8 million, while the Tribe has offered $8.05 million. The pitcher is hopeful that the sides can reach a deal prior to his hearing, and he reiterated Monday that he is still open to continuing extension talks during Spring Training and even into the regular season, if necessary.
"It's always good [to negotiate] before the season, at least for me," said Masterson, who is eligible for free agency next offseason. "But, if nothing were to happen, depending on how this takes place, maybe there's a time for my representation, and [GM Chris] Antonetti and Chernoff to say, 'Let's just take a breather.' I don't necessarily want to talk during the season, but I leave it up to my agent.
"My agent is smart enough to listen and knows my heart and how I go about things. If we come to something fair and reasonable, then he can relay that to me. Until then, you never know what can happen. I enjoy it here. I have fun, especially with [manager Terry Francona] and there are a few guys that are here for another couple years at least.
"It's a great spot to be, leading this potentially young staff and having some fun with it, and going out and, last year, making the playoffs like no one thought we could. This year, whether or not people think we can, I think we have a great shot to do it again."