Arbitration Inevitable


Oct 2, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians left fielder Michael Brantley (23) dives back to first base against the Tampa Bay Rays during the first inning in the American League wild card playoff game at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Indians Likely to Face Arbitration for First Time Since 1991

Like death and taxes, one thing was almost guaranteed in life – The Cleveland Indians would not go to arbitration with any player. In fact, the last time the Indians faced such a scenario was 1991 when when they went to arbitration with Greg Swindell.

Well, all good things must come to an end.

It looks as if for the first time in over two decades that the Indians will have to face an arbitration hearing. And this isn’t some sort of conjecture or assumption on our part. This is straight from the mouth of Indians general manager, Chris Antonetti.

Per a report posted yesterday afternoon by Indians beat writer Paul Hoynes, the Indians are likely to go to arbitration with one of their for remaining arbitration eligible players – Justin Masterson, Michael Brantley, Vinnie Pestano, and Josh Tomlin. According to Antonetti:

"“I think there’s a very high likelihood that we’ll end up in a hearing this year. We continue to talk to the representatives of each player. I’m not going to get into every player, but it’s very likely we’ll end up in a hearing.”"

In an article posted on Wahoo’s on First this past Sunday, I speculated that while both sides are very far apart in terms of Masterson’s value, that does not mean he will be going to arbitration. I actually said the opposite was more likely given that the Indians would like to sign Masterson to a long term-deal rather than agree on a one-year deal and allow free agency to come into play:

"“He is the ace of the staff but it would appear that they aren’t willing to pay him #1 starter money. Should this case go to arbitration it may make it next to impossible to sign Masterson long-term following the season. As it goes, in arbitration both sides present their case for why they made their respective offers. Call me crazy, but a couple of hours of hearing why they think he is only worth about $8-million dollars is not going to go a long way in making Masterson want to stay here long-term.”"

It would appear that this was an accurate statement to make as Hoynes made virtually the same point. That being, if the Indians want to sign Masterson long-term, it is better to reach an agreement now rather than go through the bitter process of arbitration:

"“While the $3.5 million separating Masterson and the Indians is significant, it doesn’t seem likely that they’d be headed to a hearing with him while talks on a multiyear deal are still taking place. The potential acrimony of a hearing could endanger a long-term contract.”"

That leaves one of the other three players as the most likely candidates for an arbitration hearing. If I were a betting man, I would wager a guess that it will be Vinnie Pestano, Josh Tomlin, or both. Pestano is coming off of a down year in which he struggled with injuries. Tomlin is finally recovered from Tommy John surgery and made virtually no contribution to last year’s wild card run. Based on that, it would stand to reason that the Indians may have a leg to stand on in an arbitration hearing.

As for Brantley, both sides are not that far apart, a mere $1.1-million to be exact. It should stand top reason that both the Indians and Brantley should be able to find a happy medium. Also, like Masterson, the Indians have discussed the possibility of a long-term deal with Brantley. An arbitration hearing could go a long way towards derailing any progress. Also, based on his historical performance and durability, it’s more likely that Brantley could win his case whereas Pestano and Tomlin are more likely not to.

Regardless, one of the more impressive, albeit less significant streaks in baseball might be coming to an end this year. For many of use, we don’t know a world in which the Indians go to arbitration. I for one was seven years old in 1991 and barely paid attention to professional sports let alone the minutia that is contract negotiations. The same goes for the rest of the Wahoo’s on First staff, save a few.