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Arbitration Numbers

The Nationals still have not signed any of their four arbitration-eligible players, and today stepped closer toward the possibility of hearings, exchanging salary figures with Ryan Zimmerman, Josh Willingham, Scott Olsen and Shawn Hill.

Typically, both the Nationals and the players prefer to sign contracts that would let them avoid a February arbitration hearing. But if that is to happen in three of these cases, Zimmerman's included, the sides must bridge gaps of more than a million dollars.

Zimmerman's case won't affect the team's 2009 payroll as much as it augurs his own career progression with the franchise. Zimmerman is asking for $3.9 million. The club is offering $2.75 million. Within those parameters, the Washington third baseman will find his salary: If he ends up with a hearing -- and those will be scheduled in the next day or two -- an arbitration panel must select one figure or the other. Any contract negotiated beforehand would likely hit close to the midpoint of the two figures. In this case, the midpoint is $3.25 million.

For Olsen and Willingham, both acquired from Florida earlier this offseason, the numbers are similar.

Willingham is asking for $3.5 million; the Nationals are offering $2.555 million.

Olsen is also asking for $3.5 million; the Nationals are offering $2.5 million.

Hill, according to various reports, is asking for $775,000. The Nationals are offering $500,000.

All of Washington's players are entering the arbitration for the first time. The process is essentially baseball's reward to those with between three and six years of service time -- even those who lose a hearing receive a significant salary bump. All four players earned between $465,000 and $402,000 last year. Hearings will be scheduled from Feb. 1-21, and clubs can negotiate with their arbitration-eligible players until the hearings begin.

Hearings, though, are often seen as a last resort, because there clubs build their cases based on a given player's downside. Only eight of 110 arbitration cases ended with hearings in 2008.

By Chico Harlan  |  January 20, 2009; 6:59 PM ET
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Thanks for the post, Chico. I was noticing that there seemed to be a flurry of settlements reached by other teams and their players.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | January 20, 2009 7:07 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps I should say agreements rather than settlements, but you all get the drift.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | January 20, 2009 7:08 PM | Report abuse

IF the Nats don't reach agreements with these four - I think the only one that they will win is Hill.

And I know it's negotiation and business, but they look cheap for offering none of these players even $3M. There, I said it - cheap Lerners.

It doesn't help the Lerners image to go out and acquire Arbitration eligible players, and then not be able to reach agreements with them.

Posted by: comish4lif | January 20, 2009 9:45 PM | Report abuse

So the Nats are paying more to Cabrera than they think they should pay Olsen? Interesting...

Posted by: CoverageisLacking | January 20, 2009 10:15 PM | Report abuse

Let's sign Zim to a 6 year deal and be done with this arbitration business with him.

Posted by: cabraman | January 21, 2009 12:12 AM | Report abuse

I refuse to try and predict the future. Looking at these number though, I would think it shouldn't be that hard to avoid an arbitration hearing, with any of the four.

The question is if the team can sign Zimmerman to a contract longer than one year. He and his agents might want to wait another year and hope that a) he has a big year and b) the economy improves.

Naturally, I'd love to see the Nats lock him up for 4 - 6 years. I'm confident the team is trying but it takes two to tango. If Zimmerman thinks he can do better on a year-to-year basis or if he's determined to spin the free agent wheel, there isn't much the Lerners can do.

Posted by: grforbes | January 21, 2009 1:49 AM | Report abuse

Give Zimmerman what he wants. For the love of God. LoDuca and Dmitri Young worth $5 mil per year and they won't pay Zim $3.9??? Ridiculous. They better get Zimmerman under a long term contract now, or they are going to have another Teixera situation on their hands -- a player that won't sign with this team no matter how much they put on the table.

Posted by: raymitten | January 21, 2009 7:29 AM | Report abuse

I think the reason the team will likely go to arbitration with Zim for the foreseeable future is that he hasn't put up great offensive numbers. Every year he doesn't put up a huge offensive season, he'll delay with arbitration. He and his scouts will wait to negotiate a longterm deal until he actually does something with the bat.

Signing Zimmerman to a longterm deal makes sense for the team, but not for Zimmerman, so it won't happen now. I imagine that if the team improves, and his hitting improves, they may be able to work on a multi-year deal after next season.

Posted by: Cavalier83 | January 21, 2009 8:12 AM | Report abuse

It's easy to say that the Nats should just sign Zimm to a long-term deal. But the player has to want to sign for what might, in a few years, look like a substantial discount for the team. The team offered a decent long-term contract to Zimm last year, and he turned it down. Anyone saying "just get it done" needs to look up the road to Philly, where Ryan Howard is going into his second year of arbitration. Howard is the cornerstone of the team that just won the Series, and they haven't locked him up yet. Why do you suppose the Phils don't just give Howard what he wants?

Posted by: TomServo | January 21, 2009 8:13 AM | Report abuse

Oen interesting observation (again, from fangraphs, but if anyone has a different source, point it out) is that player contracts tend towards tend towards 40% of free agent value in the first year of arbitration, then 60%, then 80% in the last year. I'm not sure if that only is for long term contracts that buy out free agency, or for year to year contracts as well. If the 40% applies to the exchange of arbitration numbers, then Zim is pricing himself as a free agent somewhere around $9.75 million per year, while the club is pricing him at $6.9m.

Right now, Zimmerman should be somewhat indifferent between year to year arbitration and an offer of $3.9 / $5.8 / $7.8 / 9.8, or $27.3m. A 10% discount is typical for long term security, so say 4 years, $25 million should get it done.

What is interesting about that number is that last year, the FO reportedly offered him a Cano /Tulo contract, which he declined. That would have been around 5 years, $31 m, including one year of prearbitration. The arbtiration + 1 year of FA amounts for Tulo and Cano were $30m. So, I guess by turning down the lont term deal, he put at least $5 million at risk, based on his own current valuation of himself.

Of course, if he breaks out, then he might beat those dollars. But what we have to think about when we say, "he'd be an idiot not to arbitrate year to year" is that there is risk involved. Plenty of other players, who've won actual golden gloves, silver bats, ROYs, MVPs, and made all-star appearances do sign long term. It'd not obvious that he's being low-balled, either.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | January 21, 2009 8:48 AM | Report abuse

I too believe the Nats would go 1-3 in hearings if all four of these went to arbitration. Hill's number is patently ridiculous for someone so injury prone, and giving him a 20% pay raise for being basically injured and collecting paychecks to rehab on his own should be seen as a gift.

Olsen should be a slam dunk for the player. Willingham probably as well, given the power numbers he puts up.

Zimmerman could be a mess. 3.9M is a big number, maybe too big for arbitrators to consider based on his lack of production in 2008. Had this been after his 2006 season they'd be begging him to take that number. But he's declined 2 years in a row.

The only long-term deal that makes sense for Zimmerman is to buy out the 3 arbitration years and sign something like a 3yr $13.5M deal (salaries of $3.5, 4.5 and 5.5m/year). That gives him reasonable pay raises of about 20% per year and avoids ego-bruising arbitration hearings for the rest of his time here.

At the end of 2011 he can decide if he's gonna stay. If we continue to resemble the Royals in terms of payroll and bungling GM moves, he can escape for a better club.

Posted by: tboss | January 21, 2009 9:32 AM | Report abuse

If memory serves, Zim was looking for a deal like David Wright got in the $55M range. The club was looking at Tulo numbers in the $30M range. I look at Pedroia and Youklis, both of whom have better numbers and were coming off of MVP years (Youk finished 3rd to Pedroia)and signed for $40M/6 yrs and $41M/4 years respectively. I would argue that both have been significantly more productive than Zimmerman and should set the market for Zimmerman. On the otherhand, I really don't understand the Markakis signing. 6 years $66M is huge and will be the neew number that Zim and his agents point to.

I think if the team makes an offer of 6 years and $40 - $45M, that would be a solid offer for Zimmerman. It would provide him security and provide the the team a base to build around. Don't get me wrong, I love Zimmerman and think that he would be helped greatly by a Big Bat in the lineup.

Just an opinion.

Posted by: NatsWin | January 21, 2009 9:39 AM | Report abuse

Just noticed in the dead-tree edition that Post Sports Editor Jon DeNunzio has a coverage-related chat scheduled for 11 a.m. tomorrow. It's not listed in the online chat schedule at present but, assuming that the dead-tree edition is correct, here's a tip o' the cap to Jon and the Post for scheduling such a chat.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | January 21, 2009 9:41 AM | Report abuse

I'm sure that if the Post is hosting a chat about coverage, they'll be patting themselves on their back for how well they cover the Skins and defending their Nats coverage because no one reads the articles. Which no one knows to look for...

Posted by: comish4lif | January 21, 2009 10:46 AM | Report abuse

NatsWin - a key thing to remember is what years are being bought out. With Youkilis, it was 2 years of arbitration and 2 years of free agency, with an option for a 3d. With Pedroia, it was a prearb year, 3 years of arbitration, and 2 years of free agency. Markakis is agreeing to 3 years of arbtiration and 3 years of free agency. Zimmerman is really in the same position as Cano last year - just starting arbitration.

Youkilis may set the market for corner infielders in arbitration this offseason, but both of the Red Sox claim to be taking a bit of a home town discount (Youk's wife and her family are from the Boston area). I'd probably take your low number and maybe chip a year off, with a club option for year 6.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | January 21, 2009 10:46 AM | Report abuse

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