Monday, February 22, 2010
Why do players suffer arbitration hearings?
The Nationals won a couple of arbitration cases last week -- Brian Bruney and Sean Burnett -- but as usual, nobody really seemed to enjoy the process much. From The Washington Post's Chico Harlan:
Those who call arbitration hearings just business typically haven't attended one. "Brutal," Bruney called his. "Uncomfortable," Burnett called his. "It does wear on you. You listen to guys belittle you, make you feel like you're invaluable. It's like, '[Damn], these guys really hate me.' But at the same time, too, when your guy is talking it's weird to hear all the praise. The whole situation is awkward."
But because the arbitration process also leaves scar tissue -- "a hatefest," said Jason Bergmann, an arbitration-eligible pitcher who agreed to a contract in January, thus avoiding a hearing -- very few teams and players end up in battle. Since 2006, 32 cases league-wide have gone to a hearing. Washington has been involved in seven of those cases, winning five. This year, the Nationals had two of the eight cases. Historically, arbiters award the lower salary with 57.6-percent frequency. Historically, too, baseball is loaded with guys such as Bruney and Burnett willing to gamble on their own performance.
When I worked for Bill James, he sometimes helped prepare arbitration cases for players, and to this day I recall being surprised when he told me that the players actually showed up occasionally for the hearings.
And I'm still surprised, as I believe it's now de rigueur for the players to attend the hearings.
To what end, exactly? I suppose so the arbitrators can place a face with the name, and presumably the agents think the players' presence will help them however slightly. For all I know, they've even got data suggesting such a thing.
I doubt it, though. Feel free to correct me, but I suspect the agents like having the players there mostly so the players can see the agents fighting for them; earning their 6 percent.
This seems like small recompense for the players' time and discomfort. I think the owners and the players should simply agree that mid-February for the players is for playing, and for the owners and the agents it's for arguing for a few hours. Ideally, never the twain shall meet.