Jason Heyward was supposed to be going to court in a few weeks. His agents had filed a salary number for arbitration, and his team was a file-to-trial team — once a player has filed an arbitration number with a file-to-trial team, it’s supposed to mean that they are headed to court to debate their respective cases in front of an arbitrator. We thought about this situation when they filed, and it seemed that were reasons on both sides for the public fight over $300 thousand — the team wanted to discuss more reasonable numbers quicker and needed the threat of trial, while the agents in this case were aggressive and didn’t mind the consequences, apparently.
But today, look in the news, and there’s an announcement — the Braves and Heyward have agreed to a two-year $13.3 million deal. This seems to go against the file-to-trial policy, at first. Until you look around the game and realize that two other file-to-trial teams, the Rays and the Blue Jays, have also made deals like this after filing numbers. Now it looks like there was one last benefit to the file-to-trial policy that we didn’t get to: leverage in negotiations for a multi-year deal.
Frank Wren didn’t spend a lot of words in announcing the deal, but he did make sure that the phrase “multi-year deal” were among them. Part of an effective file-to-trial policy must be a lack of exceptions, or every agent would be clamoring for their player to be the benefit of a loop-hole.
So the loop-hole here, the way out of an argument in front of the roulette wheel that is an arbitration panel, is to sign up for more than one year. Which benefits the team. An extra year of cost certainty, in the face of rising labor costs — especially with a player that has shown star-type potential — those are tangible benefits to the team. Since Heyward just had one of his worst seasons, it seems that the Braves have used this moment to their advantage.
And they’re not alone. The Rays and Blue Jays come up as file-to-trial teams, and they’ve both agreed to multi-year deals after numbers were filed. Relievers Jason Frasor and Casey Janssen both filed numbers recently, and both signed multi-year deals before going to trial. Brandon Morrow filed and got an extension. Jose Bautista filed and got an extension. That means that, since 2010, only Frank Francisco has filed numbers with the Jays and settled before going to court. Then again, the Blue Jays have only recently gone public with their file-to-trial policy, so it’s hard to say how long they’ve acted as such.
The Rays have been more of a staunch file-to-trial team for longer. Since 2010, only B.J. Upton has filed numbers with the team, and he lost in trial. But if you reach back further, there is a curious case where the team filed and didn’t go to arbitration: Willy Aybar. With just over two years of service time under his belt, and coming off what would prove to be the best season of his career, he filed for $975 thousand in 2009. His teammate Dioner Navarro filed numbers, too. The catcher went to court and lost, while the third baseman filed with a file-to-trial team… and got $975 thousand from the team for his 2009 salary without going to court. The team? It got Aybar for $1.35 million in 2010 (with some escalator clauses) with a team option for 2011. It didn’t end up being a stellar deal for them, but it fit with their policy of pushing for multi-year deals with their young talent. Even if it didn’t, at first, look like it fit their file-to-trial policy.
Ask around, and the Rays are the first team off everyone’s lips when you’re talking about file-to-trial. But even the vaunted Rays will listen after numbers are filed — if you’re talking about a multi-year deal. So we have to add another positive to the policy. It adds leverage when you’re interested in locking your players down to fixed salaries in multi-year deals.
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