DETROIT -- No, Michael Fulmer isn't going anywhere. No matter what happens with his arbitration case over the next few weeks, he'll be part of the Tigers' rotation when the season opens in about two months.But unless the Tigers and their gifted young right-hander reverse course and negotiate a mutually
DETROIT -- No, Michael Fulmer isn't going anywhere. No matter what happens with his arbitration case over the next few weeks, he'll be part of the Tigers' rotation when the season opens in about two months.
But unless the Tigers and their gifted young right-hander reverse course and negotiate a mutually acceptable one-year contract, Fulmer will be a part of franchise history besides his 2016 American League Rookie of the Year Award. He's on track to become the first Tiger to go to salary arbitration since Chris Holt in 2001.
Randy Smith was Detroit's general manager back then. The team has gone so long without a salary-arbitration hearing that it's worth a reminder just what the process involves.
Hearings take place each February before a three-person arbitration panel. This year's hearings will take place in St. Petersburg, Fla. In alternating years, they take place in Arizona. Both the player and club will have a representative. Usually, either the player's agent will represent his case or the agent will include a colleague who specializes in arbitration cases.
Each side will state its case to the arbitration panel why the player should receive the salary their respective side has proposed. Salary proposals were submitted earlier this month. In this case, the Tigers filed for $2.8 million while Fulmer filed at $3.4 million.
For first-time arbitration-eligible players, the case is determined on the player's Major League career to date, not just the previous season. Thus, while Fulmer's 3-12 record and 4.69 ERA in 2018 will be taken into account, so will his 11 wins, 3.06 ERA and Rookie of the Year honors in '16, as will his All-Star selection in '17. So will a lot of other traditional statistics and advanced metrics, as well as salaries of statistically similar players, each meant to argue for a particular side.
When arguments end, the arbitration panel must pick one of the two proposals. There is no middle ground, which is one of the reasons why the Tigers and players were motivated to reach deals without a hearing for so many years. Better to compromise and get close to your offer, the thought process would go, than to go through a potentially antagonistic process and risk a loss.
Technically, the two sides can negotiate a contract anytime before a hearing. However, more teams in recent years have considered the exchange of arbitration numbers as a cutoff point for negotiations, an approach known as "file and trial."
In Fulmer's case, a $600,000 difference either way isn't likely to have a major impact on the Tigers' payroll, which is projected at just under $115 million by Baseball-Reference. By comparison, the Major League minimum salary for last year was $545,000.
The amount does, however, make a difference on Fulmer's future salaries. Normally, players need three full seasons of Major League service time to qualify for arbitration, but the top 22 percent of players between two and three years of service time qualify as "Super Two" players. That includes Fulmer, who barring a long-term contract will be eligible for arbitration three more times before he becomes eligible for free agency.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.