Jason Heyward and Another File-to-Trial Benefit

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.

And look here — it looks like the Braves and Freddie Freeman are closing in on a multi-year deal. And all it took was the willingness to go to court over a few hundred thousand bucks.

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25 Responses to “Jason Heyward and Another File-to-Trial Benefit”

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  1. Joshua says:

    Of note, the Francisco one with the Jays was only allowed because they acquired him after he had filed.

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  2. walt526 says:

    I’m having a hard time seeing how this two year deal makes sense from Heyward’s perspective.

    Let’s assume that he lost the arbitration case and received $5.2M for 2014. Then the question is the distribution of potential arbitration awards for 2015. A mean of $8.1M may be a little high, but it’s skewed because there is a hard floor via the CBA (80% of his 2014), but in reality that floor is much, much higher given the typical increase due just to service time. There are various arbitration models that could predict his 2015 arbitration award due to 2014 projections, but the floor is probably somewhere around $7.5M if we assume that there is a very low chance that his performance would be so terrible that the Braves wouldn’t tender him a contract. Really the only scenario in which that might happen is if he were to suffer some sort of career-ending injury.

    So basically Heyward traded the potential to earn more than $8.1M in his final year of arbitration for $600k. In the end it probably won’t matter a whole lot, as he’s in line for a huge payday in the 2015-16 off-season. But it seems to me like he’s leaving potentially several million on the table for 2015 in what is effectively a pretty expensive insurance policy against a catastrophic injury.

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    • LHPSU says:

      Heyward missed significant time in both 2011 and 2013, so there is above average risk here for himself which can also affect his arbitration.

      Also, Heyward’s numbers don’t look too good at first glance – a relatively low BA and low RBI numbers that are also held down through time missed. With a swing that has been described as high-maintenance, the risk that he’ll hit a long enough slump to significantly affect his arbitration case is fairly high.

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      • Chronicles of Reddicks Beard says:

        RBIs baseballsssss!

        Wait – I thought the mention of RBIs was banned outside of rotographs?

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        • larry says:

          unfortunately, the arbitors are not as SABR inclined as the people around here and still value the traditional stats (BA, RBI, Wins, ERA, and Saves) when making their arbitration rulings. So RBI numbers are actually important in the arb process

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        • Eric Feczko says:

          In regards to evaluation of player talent, RBIs are a waste of time.

          In regards to arbitration, RBIs matter, because the arbitrator is rarely knowledgeable about baseball.

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  3. TK says:

    But Jim Bowden just wrote yesterday:

    “However, it has since become an antiquated policy because in most cases the differential is relatively small compared to the quickly escalating salaries across the sport. Going to war over a few hundred thousand dollars doesn’t make sense in a world of $100 million payrolls.”

    Are you telling me that he is wrong and has no idea on how to run a successful team that actually utilizes best practices?

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  4. walt526 says:

    I agree that his BA and lack of counting stats would prevent him from setting any records via arbitration, but the Braves offered a 42% raise in their arbitration filing after a pretty disappointing 2013.

    I don’t buy that he’s an increased risk of being injured. In terms of injuries, he missed time in 2013 for an appendectomy (23 games) and a broken jaw after getting hit by a pitch (26 games). He no longer has an appendix and the HBP was a fluke injury, so neither are a threat to reoccur. The 2011 injury was an inflammed rotator cuff (20 games), which hasn’t been a problem since mid-2011.

    In terms of BA, I think that you make a good point that his conventional baseball card stats aren’t all that pretty. But it’s mostly service time and past salaries that determine arbitration awards. And expecting another 40-45% increase just for being a decent full-time player is probably enough to have gotten him to $7.5M in 2015 via arbitration, with the potential for several million more if he had a breakout season.

    In the end, it won’t matter that much because even if he left a few million on the table for 2015, he’ll almost certainly won’t miss it after he signs his megacontract in the 2015-16 off-season (or another extension before then). But it seems to me like he should have gotten a bit more for 2015–although when you’ve got a nine figure contract on the horizon, maybe some risk aversion in the short-term is prudent.

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    • walt526 says:

      Crap, that was intended as a response to LHPSU’s response to my earlier post.

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    • LHPSU says:

      “But it’s mostly service time and past salaries that determine arbitration awards.”

      Not really, which is why people talk about Craig Kimbrel, Buster Posey and Mike Trout’s arbitration cases.

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  5. Anon says:

    “And look here — it looks like the Braves and Freddie Freeman are closing in on a multi-year deal. And all it took was the willingness to go to court over a few hundred thousand bucks.

    Contract may be $100M+. http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2014/02/braves-freddie-freeman-agree-to-extension.html

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  6. Jonathan Aicardi says:

    The only real difference between Heyward’s ’12 and ’13 was 210 plate appearances. For all intents and purposes, he created runs at about the same rate relative to league avg and was only a bit behind on defense in ’13. Given a repeat of 650 PA, we’d have been looking at about 5 WAR.

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    • larry says:

      and that includes a 40 point drop in BABIP from 2012 to 2013 with no real change in batted ball profile. No reason to think he cant post another 6+ win season

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  7. Wil says:

    Wren stated after the Heyward extension that they are still a solid File and trial team, but that multi-year extensions were the one exception to that rule. And that makes total sense.

    If a guy is going to sign an extension, generally for less than market value, it makes sense to never have the window be closed, even when arbitration is approaching.

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  8. Four Eyed Jackson says:

    Before denigrating Heyward’s deal, you must consider that his parents are college professors. Each earns $200,000 a year or more. And it must have pained them for their son to skip college for MLB money.

    At age 24 or so, it’s now important for the son to nail coonskins to the wall, in his case 13 million of them. At $200,000 a year, my math says that’s 65 years to gross the same, and that doesn’t even consider the time value of money.

    People get hurt now and then. Heyward has the rest of his life to tell his folks “I told you I’d turn out all right.” And financially at least, he has.

    The PhD can wait.

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  9. College Professor avec PhD says:

    200k? Someone should tell that to Harvard’s check writers writing down 80K.

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  10. Four Eyed Jackson says:

    Okay, prove my point twice over.

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  11. matt w says:

    I’m not sure what your point was, but Heyward’s father is an electrical engineer at ITT and his mother was an insurance underwriter who now works at Georgia Power (as a systems analyst or quality analyst, I believe): http://www.denverpost.com/ci_9290032

    Some college professors make over $200k, most likely business school, law school, med school, and engineering professors. A general rule is the more likely your degree is to get you a job in the private sector the higher you get paid in academia.

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  12. Jake L. says:

    In 2007, Rays worked out an extension with Carlos Pena rather than going to an arbitration hearing

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  13. what? says:

    can anyone explain how freeman gets 2.5x the money and FOUR times the years of heyward, when heyward is clearly the better, harder to replace player? What is wrong with Heyward’s agent?

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