Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier and first baseman James Loney avoided arbitration on Tuesday by agreeing to terms on one-year contracts. Meanwhile, the team's only remaining eligible player, left-hander and reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, officially requested a $10 million salary for 2012, a staggering amount for a player in his first winter of arbitration.
The Dodgers countered at $6.5 million for Kershaw, which in itself would represent a $6 million increase over the $500,000 Kershaw received last season and is the second-highest figure ever filed by a club in an arbitration case with a starting pitcher who is eligible for the first time.
Ethier will receive $10.95 million this season and an additional $25,000 for each of 600 and 625 plate appearances. Loney gets $6.375 million plus $25,000 for 585 plate appearances and $50,000 for each of 625 and 650 plate appearances.
The midpoint between Kershaw's figure and the club's is $8.25 million, but the gap between those figures is wide enough to suggest the sides could be headed for a hearing next month.
"It's part of the process, but we have plenty of time to come to an agreement," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. "That would be our choice, but it is going to take more than us to come to that decision."
The worst-case scenario for Kershaw would be that $6 million raise, and that is only if he goes to a hearing and loses. Among first-year arbitration-eligible starting pitchers, the $6.5 million the Dodgers filed is second only to the $8 million the San Francisco Giants filed two years ago in the case of Tim Lincecum, who at the time already had two N.L. Cy Young Awards.
Lincecum filed at $13 million that winter before the two sides eventually agreed on a two-year, $23 million deal that in the first year paid Lincecum the same $10 million ($8 million base salary, $2 million signing bonus) Kershaw is now seeking for 2012.
Colletti said he wasn't shocked that Kershaw filed at such a high figure.
"I'm not surprised by anything," he said. "People always have their strategies and thought processes that go into both sides' filing figures. I'm sure they feel they have ample reason to file where they did."
Ethier, who will turn 30 on April 10, is a five-plus player (at least five years of major league service time), is in his final winter of arbitration-eligibility and will be eligible for free agency after the 2012 season unless the Dodgers sign him to an extension before then. He received $9.25 million in 2011, the final year of a two-year, $15.25 million contract he signed before the 2010 season.
Colletti said that while a multiyear contract was never discussed with Ethier, negotiations for such a deal could commence in the coming weeks in an effort to prevent losing the left-handed, power-hitting outfielder and two-time All-Star to free agency in the fall.
"It is something I would entertain," Colletti said.
Loney, 27, also is a five-plus player and will be eligible for free agency next winter. He received $4.875 million last season and put up disappointing numbers for the second year in a row, leaving him in danger of being non-tendered before a second-half resurgence -- he hit .320 with a .380 on-base percentage after the All-Star break and .349 with a .400 OBP in September -- clearly saved him from that.
Kershaw, 23, is a three-plus player who in 2012 led the N.L. in ERA at 2.28 and in strikeouts with 248 and tied for the league lead in wins by going 21-5.
Kershaw is the Dodgers' first Cy Young winner since Eric Gagne in 2003, and the team famously beat Gagne in an arbitration hearing the following winter, leaving Gagne with a $5 million salary in 2004 rather than the $8 million he sought. That was one of only two hearings the Dodgers went to during the past decade -- the other was with reliever Joe Beimel in 2007 -- during which former assistant general manager Kim Ng handled all the club's arbitration cases. The Dodgers won both hearings.
Ng left the club during spring training last year to accept a position with Major League Baseball as senior vice president for baseball operations. Alex Tamin, an attorney who assisted with the legal side of several of those cases for Ng, joined the Dodgers this winter as director of baseball contracts, research and operations and is now spearheading the club's arbitration cases as Ng formerly did.
Arbitration hearings will take place during the first three weeks of February. If a player doesn't reach agreement on a new contract and goes to a hearing, a three-person arbitration panel will hear arguments from both the club and representatives of the player, then choose either the player's figure or the club's figure with no flexibility to choose a compromise figure in between.
Such hearings are often contentious, with club officials pointing out a player's negatives in an effort to prove why the player should receive the lower figure, so generally, every effort is made to reach agreement and avoid a hearing.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.