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Monday, January 17, 2011
Three Dodgers without deals

By Tony Jackson
ESPNLosAngeles.com

With major league teams and arbitration-eligible players set to officially file salary figures on Tuesday, the Los Angeles Dodgers still haven't reached agreement with any of their affected players -- pitcher Chad Billingsley, reliever Hong-Chih Kuo and first baseman James Loney -- but based on recent history, it appears highly unlikely that the club will end up going to a hearing with any of those players in early February.

In the decade that assistant general manager Kim Ng has been handling all the team's arbitration cases, only two players have taken the Dodgers to a hearing. The club won both of those cases against pitchers Eric Gagne in 2004 and Joe Beimel in 2007, the victory over Gagne coming the winter after he won the National League Cy Young Award.

For now, Ng isn't making any predictions.

"We will have a much better idea in the next 24 hours [after numbers are filed on Tuesday]," Ng said. "It's moving. We're progressing, but nothing is final yet."

Ng did confirm that the club isn't discussing a multiyear contract with either Billingsley, Kuo or Loney. All three are "four-plus" players, meaning they have between four and five years of major league service time, are arbitration-eligible for the second time and -- barring a multiyear deal -- will be arbitration-eligible again next winter.

Last winter, Billingsley avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $3.85 million contract for 2010; Loney by agreeing to a one-year, $3.1 million deal; and Kuo by agreeing to a one-year, $950,000 contract that ultimately paid him $975,000 after he activated a $25,000 performance bonuses by pitching in at least 55 games.

All three players will receive significant raises no matter what the outcomes of their individual cases are.

The numbers to be exchanged on Tuesday are binding only in the event of an arbitration hearing, in which a three-person panel of arbitrators, after hearing each side state its case, must choose between the figure submitted by the player and that submitted by the club, with no wiggle room in between. However, the player's agent and the club can continue to negotiate in between the two figures right up until their hearing is held.

Two years ago, right fielder Andre Ethier, his agent and Dodgers officials were actually in the hearing room sitting at the table, minutes away from the start of a hearing, when they reached a buzzer-beater of an agreement on a one-year, $3.1 million deal that became $3.2 million when he maxed out his performance bonuses in 2009. Last winter, Ethier avoided a hearing altogether by agreeing early on a two-year, $15.25 million contract through 2011.

Negotiations often speed up once arbitration numbers are formally exchanged because it gives each side a clearer picture of where the other side stands and sets up more concrete negotiating parameters. Virtually every agreement that is reached between a club and an arbitration-eligible player, assuming it's a one-year contract, will fall somewhere between those two figures.

Another unique aspect of going to a hearing: when arguing their cases to an arbitration panel, the sides must limit their arguments to a player's past performance, most notably from the previous season. But in attempting to reach an agreement in advance of a hearing, the negotiations can also be based partly on projected future performance.

For example, Alan Chang, the agent from Octagon Sports who is handling Kuo's negotiation, would be free to cite the possibility that Kuo could become the Dodgers' closer in 2011 if incumbent Jonathan Broxton continues to struggle. To that end, any agreement between Kuo and the Dodgers might well include performance bonuses based on, say, games finished, something that would reward the left-hander if he did take over the closer's job.

This year's arbitration hearings are scheduled for Feb. 1-18.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.