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Viera, Day III

Three items to start the day here in Viera.

First, pitchers and catchers have their first workout today. Stephen Strasburg is throwing a bullpen session. Expect many eyes, cameras, and subsequent NJ reports. I'm excited to watch.

Second, Baseball Tonight's Grapefruit League tour makes it stop in Nats camp today. Did I mention Strasburg is throwing?

Third, some linkage. Here's the full transcript of GM Mike Rizzo's Saturday Q&A with the media... And here's the best story (non-baseball related) that I've read in many many months... Here's my fishwrap story about the Nats recent arbitration cases, and their effect.

Now generally at least, journalists looking out for their readers should avoid repeated use of words like incentivize, task force, derivatives, and, most of all, arbitration. But wait, don't let your eyes gloss just yet. Major League Baseball's salary arbitration hearings, as it becomes clear after talking to players who've gone through the process, have a lot of emotional intensity. And the two Nats players who went through the hearing process this week still have a few scars as a result. Both Sean Burnett and Brian Bruney were remarkably forthcoming about the process, and hopefully their selected quotes in the story make that apparent.

Here are two quotes from my conversations with Burnett and Bruney that got lost on the cutting board.

From Burnett: "Don't get me wrong, they gave a fair offer [that would have avoided arbitration]. But the guys I was comparing myself to (salary-wise) were in the same class as I was, and you won't hear it from my mouth that I'm not as good as those guys. There's a pride factor. Yeah, in the end maybe it cost me a few grand -- of a few tens of grands -- but I know for damn sure I'm better than the guys [the Nationals] compared me to."

From Bruney: "It's not very often that I've had somebody sit there and point out all your faults. Obviously I'm aware of them. I know that I've been hurt. But I don't know, I think that's why no player wants to go. You'd rather get a deal done, but when you can't, well, that's the outcome: You get to hear all the bad things about you."

There is one other layer to this story: In recent history, no team has been more involved in arbitration hearings than the Nationals. Consider the following numbers, obtained from data published on the Biz of Baseball Web site. (I offer some data in my story, but this comes in addition...) Since 2005, when the Nats moved to DC, MLB has seen 35 arbitration cases. The Nats have been involved in seven of them. The Lerners officially took ownership of the team in the middle of the '06 season, so perhaps this is more applicable: Since 2007, the Nats have been involved in six of 26 cases -- 23 percent.

By Chico Harlan  |  February 21, 2010; 7:36 AM ET
 
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Comments

Clearly, this is an indication that arbitration is a preferred tool for the Lerners, that they do not fear conflict. However, I was trying to think of what other reasons might apply. The first could be that the team had so few established players, and large turnover replaced arbitrationeligible players with other arbitration-eligible players. The team didn't sign many free agents, other than players non-tendered by other teams, or dumpster-diving for marginal players without much experience.

The Nationals management would be in a good position to win arbitration cases against such players. They also might not be all that worried long term about building long, warm relationships with them. It's my guess that if C-M Wang has a great year, the Nats will do everything they can to avoid arbitration with him in 2011, and instead would try to negotiate a long-term contract.

+1/2St.

Posted by: kevincostello | February 21, 2010 8:18 AM | Report abuse

+1/2St.: I think you will also find that some teams negotiate a "last-minute" deal by splitting the difference between the two sides, just to avoid the hearing. The Lerner's tact has been that once the Arb date is set, there is no further negotiation.
I wonder if there is data out there that would track Arb cases for, say the first five years of a team with new owners. Are the Lerner's really "tight-fisted" with arbitration, or are there examples of other owners who "softened" over time?

Posted by: BinM | February 21, 2010 9:15 AM | Report abuse

I don't put any stock into the concerns about the Bruney and Burnett being upset, demotivated, wanting to be traded, etc.

Give Rizzo and Riggleman some credit. They've got plenty of time to show these guys some love, and you can be sure that they will.

Besides, giving them the ball in the 7th and 8th innings will show them all the respect that they're after.

Posted by: Sunderland | February 21, 2010 9:15 AM | Report abuse

Hey Chico, You left out another statistic. How many times did the arbitrator pick the players number and how many times did the arbitrator side with the Nationals? I guess its your plan to go down swinging. Why else would you take a shot at the Lerners. What is your point? I know this, I won't miss your articles because they are bad! You don't understand the purpose of covering a baseball team. It's the game Chico. You don't cover the game. I really don't care what you think, but if I did, I would go to the editorial page, and not the sports page.

Posted by: RWLowry | February 21, 2010 9:41 AM | Report abuse

@RWLowry:

Dude, seriously, don't be such a jerk.
Read the story that Chico wrote. It's in the sports section. He included a link to it above.

"Since 2006, 32 cases league-wide have gone to a hearing. Washington has been involved in seven of those cases, winning five."

You're calling out Chico and slamming Chico because you're too lazy to check things out for yourself?

That's just wrong.

Posted by: Sunderland | February 21, 2010 9:50 AM | Report abuse

@RWLowry: Blog posts are not news articles. Bloggers are expected to have an opinion or two.

Posted by: tailwagger | February 21, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

The handy link Chico inserted shows that the players the Nats have taken to arbitration since 2007 are:

2007 - John Patterson (team won)
2007 - Chad Cordero (player won)
2008 - Felipe Lopez (team won)
2009 - Shawn Hill (player won)
2010 - Burnett
2010 - Bruney

Looking at this list it seems pretty obvious why the Lerners went to arbitration so often the last few years. Patterson and Hill were guys tht were constantly injured. FLop was horrible as a Nat.

Posted by: peteywheatstraw | February 21, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

"The Lerners officially took ownership of the team in the middle of the '06 season, so perhaps this is more applicable: Since 2007, the Nats have been involved in six of 26 cases -- 23 percent."

This statistic is meaningless unless you know something else. Of players entering the offseason eligible for arbitration since 2007, what percentage were Nationals? More or less than 23%? Because it would seem that a team committed to building from within, acquiring players via trade who are still under team control instead of signing free agents, might then have a greater percentage of arbitration-eligible players than most teams. The more arbitration-eligible players a team has, the more chances there are that they will not be able to avoid reaching agreement with some of them before a hearing.

Posted by: nunof1 | February 21, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

"The Lerner's tact has been that once the Arb date is set, there is no further negotiation. "

Not true. They reached agreement with Ryan Zimmerman and Josh Willingham last year well after the submission of salaries by the two parties but before the actual arb hearing. Negotiation had to have taken place then, and there's no evidence that negotiation didn't also take place in every other case. It's just that the negotiations weren't successful, thus the arb hearing had to resolve them.

Posted by: nunof1 | February 21, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Now, BinM, you know I trust your memory/sources more than mine, but didn't the Nats do the last-minute thing with like two guys like last year?

Posted by: Scooter_ | February 21, 2010 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Or I just could've asked nunof1.

Posted by: Scooter_ | February 21, 2010 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Or, in the extreme case, done my own research. But let's not get carried away here, mkay?

Posted by: Scooter_ | February 21, 2010 10:42 AM | Report abuse

@nunof: Zimmerman's "settlement" was actually a long-term contract, so that's another story in my mind, but I'll admit to overlooking the Willingham signing. My bad.

Posted by: BinM | February 21, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Hang on, Part II: I seem to recall Zimmerman's long-term contract being announced in like May. (We all thought there would be no deal, because they missed their self-imposed Opening Day deadline.) That couldn't have been at the arbitration hearing.

Posted by: Scooter_ | February 21, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Speaking of salaries & signings, there are 18 other players (by my count) who are under team control, but have not been listed as 'signed'. I'm wondering how many of those were offered raises, and how many were offered ML minimum ($400k).

Posted by: BinM | February 21, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

@Scooter: Zimmerman signed a 1-year deal 2/19/09, and an extension on 4/20/09 (according to Cot's); Now I'm looking at an 0-2 count for this PA (post appearance).

Posted by: BinM | February 21, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

shorten up and protect, Binny.

And Chico, big thanks for the Ebert story link.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | February 21, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Eh, you'll get 'em in the new post, Binny. ;-)

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 21, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

I went to the Washington Post sports page this morning to see what its reporters had written about the Nats. The only new "story" I found was about arbitration. Chico's own words in his Viera Day 3 blog -- "Here's my fishwrap story about the Nats recent arbitration cases, and their effect." I'll leave it to others to wonder what "fishwrap" means...but I'm sure it doesn't address why this was the only "story of the day". In another era of the Post, the stories from spring training filled the newspaper and gave insights about the players who looked good, or promising. It's my opinion that Chico Harlan does not understand that he should cover the game of baseball, and the players who are playing the game. At this point the Washington Post Sports Pages are irrelevant when it comes to baseball. For comparison, go to ESPN, MLB.com, or The Sporting News to see how real sports reporters cover baseball.

Posted by: RWLowry | February 21, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Just wondering, RWL, from a linguistics perspective--are a) young or b) from another country? Seriously, I'm just curious. "Fishwrap" has been a disparaging term for print newspapers since ... I dunno, probably Shakespeare's time. So I'm curious.
And yeah, coverage is lacking. Newspapers are dying. We noticed.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | February 21, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Of course I knew, but I thought I would leave the meaning vague rather than using the definition to describe Harlan's story. I do believe your definitition of the word is the same as mine, but I would never use the word to describe my own work. One might question why Chico used the word to describe his article. Any wonder why the guy is looking for new work. Who is this guy Shakespeare? Does he cover baseball? In my opinion he was the greatest writer ever, next to Chico, of course.

It's certainly not a coincidence that newspapers are dying when they don't provide a worthy product to the public.

By the way, does anyone believe that Chico's writing would improve if he ate more hot dogs.

Posted by: RWLowry | February 21, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

I'm just wondering, is the term "Fishwrap" actually understood here? It's not meant to allude to a story or newspaper smelling bad. The term (now out of date) derives from the British custom of going to your local "chippie" to buy your fish and chips which were wrapped in day-old newspaper. Hence the "fishwrap adition" refers to the newsprint not the odor.

Posted by: KilgoreQTrout | February 22, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

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