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Arbitration Time

Today begins the 10-day period where players may file for arbitration -- and yes, in some cases that word itself can cause eyes to glaze, but for the Nationals this year, there are some things to keep an eye on.

First of all, the Nats have four players who are arbitration-eligible: Shawn Hill, Scott Olsen, Josh Willingham and Ryan Zimmerman. Arbitration is the process that baseball uses to determine salaries for those with between three and six years of big league service. The short story in all this is, a good player who doesn't make much in Yrs 1-3 uses arbitration to make his first big payday. That will be Zimmerman. (More on him below.)

Anyway, Washington has several options with these players.

The team can...

* negotiate a long-term deal with a player, thus "buying out" the upcoming arbitration years

* OR, negotiate a short-term deal with a player, avoiding arbitration for at least the current year

* OR, enter into a hearing, where both sides' desired salary figures are exchanged starting Jan. 19. From there, an arbiter settles the matter in February.

In the past, Washington has traditionally done a good job of avoiding such hearings: Only one arbitration-eligible player from 2008 (full list here), Felipe Lopez, actually needed a hearing. The Nats avoided arbitration in '08 with players like Chad Cordero and Jon Rauch by signing them to new deals. (Though it should also be noted that Cordero beat the team in an arbitration hearing in '07.)

So what to look for this year? The wretched economy and slow-moving free agent market makes the trends with arbitration tougher to predict, but of the 110 players who filed for arbitration last year, the average salary more than doubled -- increasing from $1.38 million to $3.04 million.

Zimmerman seems unlikely to sign a multiyear deal because he's coming off an injury-plagued 2008 that muddles his value. But this is the first time that Zimmerman, with just more than three years of MLB service, is arbitration-eligible, and he will get a significant salary bump even if it comes by way of a hearing. One player who might give you an idea of the numbers we're talking about: Last year, Colorado 3B Garrett Atkins, entering his first year of arbitration, avoided the hearing by signing a one-year, $4.38 million deal. Had the Rockies and Atkins needed an arbiter, though, the deal would have been comparable. Atkins was seeking $4.65 million, and the Rockies offered $4.13 million.)

No matter how it comes about, Willingham and Olsen both figure to make annual salaries at or north of $2 million next year. Hill is a bigger question mark, because he's coming off September elbow surgery and has been on the DL four separate times since 2006. His salary bump won't be anywhere as significant.

Here are the salaries each player earned in 2008:

Zimmerman - $465,000
Olsen - $405,000
Willingham - $405,000
Hill - $402,000

By Chico Harlan  |  January 5, 2009; 3:02 PM ET
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Next: Bradley A Cub


"in some cases that word itself can cause eyes to glaze"

What? Maybe in your world, my friend, but not with true baseball fans.

Posted by: NatsNut | January 5, 2009 3:57 PM | Report abuse

I cannot BELIEVE Zimmerman was making so little!! I'm very, very interested to see how his works out. My guess: they offer him a couple million for one year and it doesn't go to arbitration.

Posted by: NatsNut | January 5, 2009 4:02 PM | Report abuse

More power to Zimmerman. I'd guess that it's a one-year deal.

Question: if it is a one-year deal, does that mean it happens all over again in 2010?

Posted by: JohnRVA | January 5, 2009 4:03 PM | Report abuse

How do we avoid last year's debacle?

Phil Wood was saying over the weekend that the NYY were so hot on Tex because they had 6 different starters at 1b in 08
In 08 the Nats had 6 starters at:




If that happens again:

Calling Mr. Applegate. Calling Mr. Applegate!

Let's play two!

Posted by: SlowPitch63 | January 5, 2009 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Yes, JohnRVA. And Happy New Year, everybody.

Posted by: BobLHead | January 5, 2009 4:09 PM | Report abuse

Zimmerman would be wise to go for arbitration. He's sure to get more there than he would from the Lerners.

The Lerners, on the other hand, should be trying to buy out his arbitration years.

Between $4 - $5 million sounds right for next year for the Z-man.

Posted by: Section506 | January 5, 2009 4:09 PM | Report abuse

My question is, they can opt to not file for arbitration and just earn the regular base salary, right? (Probably some kind up bump up from last year's salary).

But is arbitration necessarily between a Nats offer and their own number? Or can a player ask for arbitration between his lame salary and the one he really wants without the Nats offering anything?

Posted by: NatsNut | January 5, 2009 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Clear this up for me, folks. This is my understanding of the arbitration process. Correct me if anything here is wrong.

This is a multi-step process. The first step was for the team to decide to tender qualifying offers. Those that were non-tendered became free agents, and the team would not receive a compensatory pick if they signed elsewhere.

Next, the players receiving QOs must decide whether to a) accept the qualifying offer, b) file for arbitration, or c) sign an extension. At this point, can they simply decline the QO and walk away as an FA?

If he chooses arbitration, then the team has two options after the arbiter makes his decision. They can then either a) accept the offer, or b) decline it, making the player an FA. Don't they have something like three days to decide this?

Is this accurate? It seems I'm either oversimplifying or missing a key point.

Posted by: JohninMpls | January 5, 2009 4:23 PM | Report abuse

ESPN .COM reporting Milton Bradley is to sign with Cubs details on dollar amount not available Oh Well.

Posted by: dargregmag | January 5, 2009 4:23 PM | Report abuse

JohnRVA: I believe that, unless he signs a long term deal, the next TWO years (2010 and 2011) are arbitration years.

NatsNut: If Atkins got 4+ million, I would think that Zimmerman will start at that point.

I think that somewhere betweeen 4 and 6 million will settle it.

Posted by: TimDz | January 5, 2009 4:24 PM | Report abuse

A player cannot opt out of arbitration, but can only refuse to sign a deal. The club can opt not to offer it, like Arizona did with Dunn, but that makes the player a free agent. The arbitor decides how much the player gets with each side giving their numbers. Usually the club wins, but recently players have been getting bigger awards - see Howard, Ryan.

It's in the club's best interest to come to some sort of deal to avoid arbitration because the process is a painful one where the club lists all the things wrong with a player.

Arbitration guarantees a raise, so it doesn't make sense for a player to opt out even if he could.

Part of 'team-control' means that even if a player's deal is up and they don't want to sign for the offer they're given, they are forced to arbitration and then are forced to play for the one-year deal that the arbitor decides.

The system is set up to prevent players from becoming free agents, but also ensures that they get a raise.

Posted by: sec307 | January 5, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Bye bye Milton. No great loss.

Make some trades instead. Kila 'The Unspellable', Gonzalez, pitcher. That way we go into Spring Training a younger fitter, more athletic team than last year.

We need to be adding speed, youth and enthusiasm, and Bradly does not fit the bill with any of those.

I can see why the Nationals are stalling over Zimmerman. He is not proving to be the superstar that everyone thought he would be. However, he has shown enough that maybe the waiting should come to an end and, he can get that big contract. He didn't have a great year last year, so his value may very well be a lot higher if they stall for another year.

Posted by: Rednational | January 5, 2009 4:29 PM | Report abuse

sec 307 the abratration offered to dunn was for draft pick arbatrations he was a free agent anyway whie redding was not a six year player to become a free agent so the nats had the option to offer him a contract but the players going trough the abatration process now where offered contracts there just trying to figure out for what dollar amount.

Posted by: Baseball95der26 | January 5, 2009 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, 307. Can you clear two more things up for me?

First of all, after the arbiter makes a decision, do both sides have to abide by it? In hockey, the team has a window in which it can decide whether to accept the arbitration amount or cut bait.

Secondly, how does this work regarding free agency and compensation picks? From what I understand, a compensation pick is only awarded if an FA who was offered arbitration signs with another team. Is this accurate?

A little CBA 101 would probably help. I apologize for my ignorance.

Posted by: JohninMpls | January 5, 2009 4:34 PM | Report abuse

With the Nats, all their players are under team-control (because they are between 3 and 6 years of service) so they have to accept the arbitration if it goes that far and cannot become free agents unless the team releases them.

But I think JohninMpls got it.

Posted by: sec307 | January 5, 2009 4:37 PM | Report abuse

JiM, not sure if this is what you were missing/wondering about, but one point that rednat touched on is that while a player is arbitration eligible after three years, he cannot become a free agent until he's played for six years.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | January 5, 2009 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Ah, 307 explained it. Never mind (nf1a/EL).

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | January 5, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Per ESPN, bradley to Cubs - 3 yr, $30m. Burrell to Rays - 2 yr, $16m

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | January 5, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse

There's a brief arbitration/FA primer here:

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | January 5, 2009 4:46 PM | Report abuse

ESPN .COM reporting Milton Bradley is to sign with Cubs details on dollar amount not available Oh Well.

Posted by: dargregmag | January 5, 2009 4:23 PM

it's 3/30. same deal we offered him.

Posted by: MrMadison | January 5, 2009 4:46 PM | Report abuse

As stated, once the parties agree to arbitration, in MLB it is binding to both parties. That is the incentive for both parties to be reasonable - if the team submits an extremely low offer, the arbitrator is likely to choose the player's number. Between now and the actual arbitration hearing, many teams/players will reach an agreement and many of them (like Garrett Atkins and the Rox) will choose to split the difference.

Regarding Free Agency, the arbitration process for Zimm, Olson, Willingham, will have no effect on free agency. This is part of the years where the player is under club control - the players cannot leave unless they are released, or not offered the arbitration (non-tendered). While under team control - years 4-6, the players must accept arbitration. It is a negotiated union benefit,

Posted by: comish4lif | January 5, 2009 4:50 PM | Report abuse

I should have left Dunn out of my first run down because he was not under team control. My understanding is that arbitration is binding if it goes that far. With Dunn, who was becoming a free agent, the team has to offer Dunn arbitration in order to get draft pick compensation if he rejects their offer and signs else where. But with him, the D-backs did not feel he was worth the raise he was going to get and were afraid he'd accept their offer and they'd be stuck with him at a price they were not comfortable with.

With Redding, it's similar in that the Nats did not think he was worth the raise arbitration was going to give him, so they didn't offer - just like the O's didn't offer Cabrera.

With players not under team control, it's a gamble to offer them arbitration because in a down market, arbitration could give them more than their market value. Cabrera signed with the Nats for less than what the O's would have had to pay him if they offered. The D-backs didn't want to risk Dunn accepting their offer, so they forfeited their right to draft pick compensation by not offering.

But with young players, the system is set up to prevent them from becoming free agents or holding out.

As for Zimmerman, I actually think the club is making a mistake in not signing him, because if he has a breakout year, his price is only going to go up. Sign him now for as cheaply as they can. Of course it takes two to tango and FoF thinks he can put up super star numbers. I expect Zim to take a one-year extention similar to what others speculated - 4-6 mil, and defer the long-term deal until he produces what he thinks he's capable of.

Posted by: sec307 | January 5, 2009 4:51 PM | Report abuse

In another key move, the mlb trade rumors site reports that the Cardinals have signed (cue the FBI theme song) Special Agent Royce Ring. Luckily, we will face the Cards in May and August so that the Nats radio sound bite can live on...

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | January 5, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Got it! Thanks, 307, 1a and comish!

Posted by: JohninMpls | January 5, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Things are moving quickly today... by the time I try to answer something, I've been beaten to it.

Good to know we have our share of seam-heads among the 9K loyal Nats fans.

Posted by: sec307 | January 5, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Unless Dunn drops into our laps due to disinterest fo contending teams, I think a trade will be needed to fill the left handed power hitting 1B need.

Everybody would love to see Nick Johnson play 150 games at 1B, but you'd have to be crazy to willingly go into the year with that as Plan A.

Posted by: natbisquit | January 5, 2009 5:04 PM | Report abuse

@natsbisquit: never underestimate the craziness of Jim Bowden. this is the man that showed up for a press conference in a dreadlocks wig and informed Chad Cordero he's be non-tendered...on a sports talk radio show.

do not expect the Nats to spend the $160M or whatever it turned out to be they offered Teixiera acquiring other players via free agnecy. they clearly rated Teixeira as a franchise savior, willing to break the bank on the one player. but there are no others in that context available.

the remainders of FAs available are of the scrap heap variety, what has gotten the Nats (and our neighbors to the north, for that matter) in trouble in the past. granted, some bargains seem to be emerging (Burrell at $8M per), but Bradley was to be avoided and the Cubs did Bowden a favor. while talented, Bradley's batship crazy and verrry injury prone--think Nick Johnson in the outfield (without the crazy part!).

Posted by: bottomfeeders10 | January 5, 2009 5:15 PM | Report abuse

Why can't Abreu play 1st? Dunn's never really played it either, so Bobby can't be any worse. I'd rather have his plate disipline than Dunn's lack there of, if I had my druthers.

Posted by: sec307 | January 5, 2009 5:15 PM | Report abuse

Unless Dunn drops into our laps due to disinterest fo contending teams, I think a trade will be needed to fill the left handed power hitting 1B need.

Everybody would love to see Nick Johnson play 150 games at 1B, but you'd have to be crazy to willingly go into the year with that as Plan A.

Posted by: natbisquit | January 5, 2009 5:04 PM

Is it just me or is '09 looking more and more like '08 with every passing day? At least we have Willingham to crush some bombs.

Posted by: jctichen | January 5, 2009 5:20 PM | Report abuse

I'm just a little confused...

Up there I see at least 3 (and probably more) posts saying "Sign Zim to a long term deal NOW before he'll make more money!" But you gotta get Zim to go along with that.

Okay, so let's say you're Zim and you (with good reason) think that you are better than you showed last season. Do YOU sign long term now? I think not. Because you are going to make good money next year with the chance to up your long term contract dollars.

I'm betting you don't. Plenty of time to lock yourself up later.

So, for those that advocate that approach, what figures do you offer NOW that you are pretty sure will get it done?

Posted by: OldDude | January 5, 2009 5:21 PM | Report abuse

Other than Texiera, the free agents who I'd be most interested in if I had a choice would be Cruz and Perez(Oliver), but they've never been mentioned in connection to the Nats(I don't think).
To miss out on Bradley is a good thing, not to mention Burrell.

Posted by: jcampbell1 | January 5, 2009 5:35 PM | Report abuse

RZimm will probably agree to a 1-yr for between $3.95M-$4.6M for 2009; He'll only go to arbitration if the FO lo-balls him with their initial offer. A long-term deal will come later, when Zimm (& his agents) have confidence that the franchise has made moves toward becoming competitive.

Posted by: BinM | January 5, 2009 5:39 PM | Report abuse

Almost agree, BinM, but I would say that 51% or more of Zimm's reasons for holding out is that he expects to perform better and therefore merit more money.

Posted by: Section506 | January 5, 2009 5:46 PM | Report abuse

Jeeves: Burrell might have been a good addition, if the Nationals' were'nt already lousy with RH-hitting OF's.

It looks more & more like IF the team is going to get a power bat (LH or other), it will be through a trade.

Posted by: BinM | January 5, 2009 5:47 PM | Report abuse

307: Dunn does have some expierence at 1B (alot of it bad); Abreu, on the other hand, has little or no time logged at 1B - at 34, it would be an experiment that is usually only done to extend the career of a player.

Posted by: BinM | January 5, 2009 5:58 PM | Report abuse

BinM - I agree with you. Abreu's not really an OF anymore, so why not try 1B to extend his fielding career. Otherwise he needs to stay in the AL and DH.

But Dunn's no Tex at first (if he can even play it) and will be an experiment just like Abreu would be. I think Abreu is a better hitter and would be no worse at 1B than Dunn. I don't think Dunn would be here for more than two seasons, so that negates his only advantage - age.

Either guy would be an adventure in Viera learning 1st, but if we can live with Da Meat Hook, then we can live with anybody... literally anybody.

Posted by: sec307 | January 5, 2009 6:35 PM | Report abuse

307: Not arguing against you by any stretch of the imagination - I've wondered on the blog if the Nationals' shouldn't put WMP / Kearns through a similar process in Viera (1B-101).

Dunn would'nt be 'an experiment' at 1B - he has ML time served at the position & is far-less-than-adequate as a fielder (even Dmitri's #'s were better). Abreu can still field RF well, has a +arm, & would be a welcome LH-hitting addition (BAvg, OB# & OPS with gap power). I just can't see the Nationals' gambling $10-$12M/yr on a 34-y.o. 'possible 1B solution'.

Posted by: BinM | January 5, 2009 6:57 PM | Report abuse

"I'd rather have his [Abreu's] plate disipline than Dunn's lack there of, if I had my druthers."


Posted by: Uncle_Teddy | January 5, 2009 7:03 PM | Report abuse

"Abreu can still field RF well"

No he can't.

He'd a step above Wily Mo, but then so would half the posters here, and I've seen the size of some of your beer bellies.

Posted by: Uncle_Teddy | January 5, 2009 7:04 PM | Report abuse

Do you all think Zimmerman wants to play here, versus say Boston, New York, Chicago, LA?

Posted by: 6thandD | January 5, 2009 7:07 PM | Report abuse

"Do you all think Zimmerman wants to play here, versus say Boston, New York, Chicago, LA?"

For the next several years he has no choice but to play here, so what he wants doesn't really matter. A lot can happen in two or three years, so maybe you should hold off on this question for a while.

Posted by: nunof1 | January 5, 2009 7:19 PM | Report abuse

nunof1: RZimm should be under 'club control' through 2010, maybe 2011, based on total service time on ther ML roster.

Posted by: BinM | January 5, 2009 7:56 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: nunof1 | January 5, 2009 8:01 PM | Report abuse

nunof1 is correct in this. And we've been through this before (in fact as early as last off season when some of the screamers were yelling that the Lerners were cheap and he should have been signed to a mult-year, instantly) and the point was made, by at least a few of the more reasonable of us, that his agent was in no particular hurry to sign, because he was just approaching his long term level and would become even more valuable. Turns out to have been a good move by the Lerners and a bad one by the agent. As it stands, now:

1. Zimm is under Nats control for three more years.
2. I'll buy that 3.5 - 4.5 is probably the range.
3. His agent wants less to sign long term, now, than last year.
4. Two possibilities:

A. He proves that he is what we all hoped...Great glove and .290 / 30 / 120.


B. He's Brooks Robinson. Fabulous hot corner glove. Good hitter. Not Mike Schmidt!

We'll have a better idea next year. Relax, it's a long season and a long career.

Posted by: Catcher50 | January 5, 2009 8:06 PM | Report abuse

"A lot can happen in two or three years" can...... but it doesn' just stays the same......Milton Bradley signed with the Cubs for the same contract amounts Nats were taking about .....does anyone NOW see the cost of planned losing in 2007 and 2008 yet.....It did not have to be like this and I do not see any way out from this mess.....

Posted by: JayBeee | January 5, 2009 8:24 PM | Report abuse

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