MILWAUKEE -- Three Brewers players filed for arbitration on Tuesday, the latest formality in what has become an increasingly deliberate process of setting salaries for eligible players.The next deadline for shortstop Jean Segura and pitchers Wily Peralta and Will Smith is Friday, when those players and others around baseball who
MILWAUKEE -- Three Brewers players filed for arbitration on Tuesday, the latest formality in what has become an increasingly deliberate process of setting salaries for eligible players.
The next deadline for shortstop Jean Segura and pitchers Wily Peralta and Will Smith is Friday, when those players and others around baseball who remain unsigned will exchange salary proposals with their team and set on a course that could lead to an arbitration hearing in February.
"The process seems to move slower and slower and later and later each year," said Brewers general manager David Stearns, who has been intimately involved in arbitration matters for years, including during his stint in the Commissioner's Office aiding teams through the process. "I don't anticipate any real updates on that front until close to the exchange deadline."
For the Brewers' trio, the importance of Friday's exchange deadline is murkier than in recent years. In an email, Stearns indicated the club would no longer disclose whether it was employing the "file-and-trial" strategy used during the past four arbitration cycles.
To understand what that means, an arbitration primer is helpful.
Arbitration-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 a notable one in 2010, and Smith is one this year.
These eligible players are still under club 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 players of similar 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 from past cycles to come up with a suitable salary for the coming season.
If they find common ground, the player signs a contract and avoids the arbitration process entirely. But if the sides cannot agree by the exchange date, which falls on a Friday every year in mid-January, each party submits a proposal for a one-year contract it is willing to defend before a panel of judges. Arbitration hearings are scheduled for February.
What happens next varies from club to club.
Before 2012, the Brewers were among the teams that continued negotiating with players after exchanging figures. In the vast majority of cases, the sides used their filing figures to reach a compromise, often striking a deal at or near the midpoint of proposed salaries, sometimes doing so literally on the doorstep of the hearing room.
But the Brewers eventually joined a group of teams employing a strategy of "file-and-trial" or "file-to-go." In those cases, clubs notify agents in advance that negotiations will cease at the exchange date. No more midpoints; instead, both sides focus on preparing for a hearing.
The idea, Brewers officials said in explaining the change, was to speed up the timeline and to avoid what clubs viewed as artificially inflated compromises. The argument went like this: Player representatives would file figures they knew would be difficult to justify in a hearing, because they never intended to get all the way to a hearing. They merely wanted to drive up the midpoint.
Back to the procedure itself. If a case does go all the way to a hearing, each side defends its salary proposal before a three-member panel of judges. Twenty-four hours later, the judges choose one proposal or the other without explanation.
Only twice since 1998 have the Brewers gone all the way to a hearing with a player. Corey Hart took his case to a panel of judges in St. Petersburg, Fla., in 2010 and won a $4.8 million salary. In '12, 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.
This year, all three of the Brewers' arbitration-eligible players are eligible for the first time. According to the database at Cot's Baseball Contracts, Segura earned $534,000 last season, Peralta earned $522,500 and Smith $512,500.
In the next few days, we'll find out if the Brewers -- and the players in question -- are able to reach deals to avoid the process entirely. But we won't know if the Brewers are still employing a "file-and-trial" strategy until after the exchange of figures on Friday.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast.