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Posted at 5:29 PM ET, 01/ 5/2011

Nationals begin arbitration process with John Lannan, Michael Morse and Doug Slaten

By Adam Kilgore

Baseball's arbitration filing period, which begins today and will last through Jan. 15, will affect the remaining three Nationals players eligible for arbitration who have yet to reach an agreement with the team: Starter John Lannan, outfielder Michael Morse and reliever Doug Slaten.

The players, who were tendered contracts by the Nationals before the deadline in early December, have 10 days to reach agreements for the 2011 season. If not, the sides would exchange salary figures on Jan. 18.

The exchange of figures give the sides one final chance to strike a deal, with the midpoint as the basis for compromise. If a deal still can't be reached, their salaries would be determined in an arbitration hearing between Feb. 1 and Feb. 18.

In a hearing, the player's side presents one salary figure, the team another. They argue before a three-member committee that determines a winner. There is no compromise - the player is rewarded the higher or lower salary, nothing in between. It is a confrontational process most players and teams prefer to avoid.

In the past, the Nationals have been one of a handful of teams that took a different approach to the process, a policy known in the industry as "file and trial." In short, they informed a player's agent that if any salary figures were exchanged, it would lead to a hearing, no further negotiation, no questions asked. The middle ground couldn't be formally established. The Rays, Marlins and White Sox have also employed the policy.

The stance, not surprisingly, led to an inordinate number of hearings. From 2006 to last year, 32 arbitration cases across the league reached a hearing. Seven of them involved the Nationals, and they won five. Last year, as described in the Chico Harlan story linked above, relievers Sean Burnett and Brian Bruney each lost hearings to the Nationals.

This year, according to two league sources, the Nationals are not expected to use "file and trial" -- also referred to as "file-to-go" -- as a hard-and-fast policy. That doesn't preclude them from potentially going to trial with Morse, Lannan and/or Slaten, but it will at least provide the chance for further negotiation before a hearing.

Just to be clear, Morse, Lannan and Slaten will all be Nationals in 2011. The arbitration process simply determines their salary.

The Nationals have already handled several arbitration-eligible players. The Nationals reached agreements with catcher Jesus Flores and infielder Alberto Gonzalez at the non-tender deadline back in early December. They've also already signed Burnett to a two-year extension with a mutual option for a third year. They non-tendered Chien-Ming Wang before re-signing him, and they traded Josh Willingham.

By Adam Kilgore  | January 5, 2011; 5:29 PM ET
 
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Comments

"The exchange of figures give the sides one final chance to strike a deal, with the midpoint as the basis for compromise. If a deal still can't be reached, their salaries would be determined in an arbitration hearing between Feb. 1 and Feb. 18."

Actually I believe the two sides have up until the minute the arbitration hearing is scheduled to start to reach a deal and avoid the hearing. For instance, in 2008 Jim Bowden and Ryan Zimmerman flew out to Arizona for what was supposed to be his first arbitration hearing only to come to an agreement the night before the hearing and fly right back to Florida.

Posted by: nunof1 | January 5, 2011 5:53 PM | Report abuse

Morse better not win his case; the Nats already hate him.

Posted by: swanni | January 5, 2011 5:58 PM | Report abuse

Here is a wild idea -- Rizzo, reach agreement with all the arb eligible players -- no hearings.

The totals these guys will get are small in any event and how good might that look to players out there in the baseball world that the Nats are avoiding saying bad things in arb hearings about their own players in order to save $40K or the like.

Posted by: dfh21 | January 5, 2011 6:13 PM | Report abuse

@dfh: The differences are usually a bit more than your "$40K or the like", but I understand what you're getting at. I'd also hope there is some 'wiggle-room' in the numbers to get all three players signed somewhere short of a hearing.

Posted by: BinM | January 5, 2011 6:44 PM | Report abuse

Its interesting because last year Lannan sounded like he wanted to avoid this like the plague. He is still just a fifth starter and a reliable innings eater at best. Yet, he too manages to struggle to get beyond five innings.

Posted by: periculum | January 5, 2011 7:01 PM | Report abuse

I hope Morse asks for a ton. He deserves it. The nationals spend all this money on Werth who is Worthless. Morse needs to be very agreesive on his asking price. GO MIKE
They screwed him many times already.

Posted by: chiro1623 | January 5, 2011 7:10 PM | Report abuse

"Here is a wild idea -- Rizzo, reach agreement with all the arb eligible players -- no hearings."

Yeah. Last year they took Sean Burnett to arbitration and beat him. Everyone said he'd be resentful against the Nats, leave as soon as possible, etc. How'd that work out?

Posted by: nunof1 | January 5, 2011 7:33 PM | Report abuse

I believe that since the Lerners bought the team, the Nats have pretty consistently been the team most often taking players to arbitration. That has to contribute to the poor reputation the Nats have among players. It really seems like the classic "penny wise pound foolish" move to me. Hopefully they will get beyond this sort of thing. There is nothing wrong with negotiating and driving a fair bargain, but the "file and trial" strategy is just a lousy management technique. As has been forcefully demonstrated this year, players don't have to come here, and for some of the best, no amount of money can convince them to do so given the rep that is out there now.

Posted by: NatsFly | January 5, 2011 8:44 PM | Report abuse

Only one thing is certain: When it comes to salary arbitration/contract negotiation, absolutely NO ONE who comments on this blog (me included) knows anything about signing pro BB players.
Anyone offering an opinion--especially anyone who talks like they know what they are talking about---is a COMPLETE BS IDIOT!

Only true MLB insiders know how MLB negotiations work...and they will NEVER weigh in here.
So for the rest of us: continue farting out your ass

Posted by: 1stBaseCoach | January 5, 2011 11:06 PM | Report abuse

Only one thing is certain: When it comes to salary arbitration/contract negotiation, absolutely NO ONE who comments on this blog (me included) knows anything about signing pro BB players.
Anyone offering an opinion--especially anyone who talks like they know what they are talking about---is a COMPLETE BS IDIOT!

Only true MLB insiders know how MLB negotiations work...and they will NEVER weigh in here.
So for the rest of us: Quit talking like you know then continue farting out your ass

Posted by: 1stBaseCoach | January 5, 2011 11:08 PM | Report abuse

Welease Bwian Bwodewick!!

Posted by: fischy | January 5, 2011 11:31 PM | Report abuse

The Nats arbitration strategy has to be the furthest thing from any potential free agent's mind in considering coming to D.C. With good reason, players looked at the past and rejected the Nats as a team capable of winning. I believe they are wrong but nobody is claiming that we'll be battling the Phillies this year for the division title or putting a scare into the wild card hopes of the teams in the NL East or Central. Washington's time will come and players won't be turning deaf ears about coming to NatsTown.

Posted by: McKinley2 | January 6, 2011 12:21 AM | Report abuse

arbitration is the system mlb has & when the process is over, its over. In the end none of these players will be like the living Ted Williams, living on the side of the road sleeping in the brush.

Posted by: cokedispatch | January 6, 2011 7:36 AM | Report abuse

Adam--

Your post is confusing, as it doesn't actually explain what happens during the "arbitration filing period, which begins today and will last through Jan. 15."

You've explained that the players already have been tendered contracts in December, which is a prerequisite to arbitration. It's also clear that players and teams can agree to a deal at any time, regardless whether it's between Jan. 5-15, or not. Also, you've made clear that salary figures are exchanged on January 18 if no deal has been reached.

So what, exactly, began on Jan 5 and ends on Jan 15? You've called it a filing period, but you also explained that salary figures would be exchanged on Jan 18. So is something filed within this 10-day period? If so, what is it?

Posted by: CoverageisLacking | January 6, 2011 8:18 AM | Report abuse

Not one of these guys made $500K in 2010, so none of them is going to be making substantial money (on a MLB basis) in 2011. All three are important players for the Nats. Rizzo should do all he can to avoid hearings with these guys -- the differences in team versus player numbers will not be huge.

This club needs to build its brand as something other than a penny-pinching club in a big market. The splurge on Werth does not erase 5 years worth of cheap-skating folly.

Posted by: dfh21 | January 6, 2011 8:20 AM | Report abuse

Lannan should be just happy the Nats want him. The guy last year was close to exile in AA. This is one guy who shouldn't push his luck.

Morse deserves a nice healthy raise and needs to prove last year wasn't a fluke. He needs to show more consistency and if he does he can become a very wealthy man. I hope the Nats tie him up for a multi-year deal. If they are paying Ankiel $1 mill then Mike is worth close to that and more on a multi-year deal.

Posted by: PensRule | January 6, 2011 9:56 AM | Report abuse

CiL:
I'm pretty certain Adam made a typo which contributed to the confusion.

The period does run from Jan 5 to Jan 15. The Jan 18 date AK referenced is the typo. Figures are swapped on or before the 15th.
Even though the numbers can be swapped / submitted anytime during this period, ntypically umbers are not sent to the arbitration panel until the final day of the period, the 15th.

Posted by: Sunderland | January 6, 2011 10:16 AM | Report abuse

1stbase--you are right that none of us knows the intricacies of MLB arbitration. However many, including myself, have management experience in our own careers and it does not take an Einstein to know that labor notices management tactics. And a "file and trial" strategy is a hardball tactic that wouldn't sit well with anyone on the other side of it. Going to arbitration should be a last resort, reserved for times when one finds the other position to be unrealistic and inflexible. I am not saying that one thing would drive a free agent away. I do agree with dfh that the club needs to build its brand as something other than a penny-pinching club in a major market. A step in that direction is letting go of needlessly adversarial tactics in dealing with your labor force.

On another point, Adam, have you heard anything on the TV broadcast front? If I have to listen to Knight during the game I would turn on the radio, if I could get the radio broadcast. Which I can't. Knight is fine for after-game shows, but PLEASE get Carpenter another color guy!

Posted by: NatsFly | January 6, 2011 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Pensrule, there's certainly a number of people who feel differently than you.
Lannan ain't Bob Gibson, we all agree on that.

But in 2008 his 3.91 ERA ranked 21st in the NL for starters with 180 or more IP.
That's a useful MLB pitcher.
In 2009, his 3.88 ERA ranked 16th in the NL for starters with 180 or more IP.
Again, a very useful pitcher who would be in rotation of about every single club in the league.

His first half of 2010 stunk.
He goes to AA, figures it out and comes back for a start on Aug 1. From that date until the end of the season, he has 11 starts to a 3.51 ERA, winning 6, losing 3 and 2 ND's.

30 Teams in MLB. Lannan would make the rotation in just about every one of them. He made $458,000 last year. He'll get, and he's earned, a very nice raise.

Posted by: Sunderland | January 6, 2011 10:37 AM | Report abuse

"I'm pretty certain Adam made a typo which contributed to the confusion."

Adam made a typo? No way. Next you'll be telling me Ian Desmond made an error.

Posted by: FeelWood | January 6, 2011 11:02 AM | Report abuse

"And a "file and trial" strategy is a hardball tactic that wouldn't sit well with anyone on the other side of it. Going to arbitration should be a last resort, reserved for times when one finds the other position to be unrealistic and inflexible. I am not saying that one thing would drive a free agent away. I do agree with dfh that the club needs to build its brand as something other than a penny-pinching club in a major market. A step in that direction is letting go of needlessly adversarial tactics in dealing with your labor force."

Right. Which is why a marquee FA like Adam Dunn would never, ever sign with a notorious "file and trial" team like the White Sox.

Oh, wait...

Posted by: FeelWood | January 6, 2011 11:08 AM | Report abuse

If a player doesn't want to go to arbitration they can sign... or hire a better agent to state their case. And any player who goes to arbitration and doesn't like what the team says about him should go ahead and sign for the lower figure... its not like in a divorce your ex is going to say "no, you keep more money". Just like teams underpay and underappreciate some players some players overestimate their worth.

As for the hardball tactics, well, when it gets right down to it it shouldn't matter to the player; if you are a $1M player and ask for $1M you'll get it thru arbitration, whether it is from the team or the arbitrator.

Posted by: SCNatsFan | January 6, 2011 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Thanks, Sunderland, that makes sense.

Posted by: CoverageisLacking | January 6, 2011 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Can't we just trade Morse for some mid level prospect and end this nightmare?

Posted by: Capitalist-1 | January 6, 2011 12:59 PM | Report abuse

"Can't we just trade Morse for some mid level prospect and end this nightmare?"

Actually a good idea, although I doubt anyone would surrender a mid-level prospect for him.

Posted by: Fairfax6 | January 6, 2011 2:21 PM | Report abuse

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