Upton is heading to Arbitration Avenue
As I could hear the bell chimes ringing from the old church near near Williams Park in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida, at high noon, you know that the echoing sound could also be heard in the Rays front office on the third floor of Tropicana Field and provided a nice musical end the team’s revolving series of conversations with their remaining arbitration eligible player centerfielder B J Upton.
For it was now time for the Rays organization to regroup and prepare for their next meeting between them and Upton and his representation at his arbitration hearing. It was time for both parties to again refocus on the future where a single mediator will decide the future dent made by Upton in the Rays 2010 payroll. And at this time you can envision that there will be no winner in this round of talks, the Rays have a distinctive advantage going into this final round of discussions about Upton’s possible 2010 salaries.
And I kind of thought the arbitration situation might ultimately pan out this way only a few short weeks ago. Sure there was a chance that the Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman might have extended a multiple year scenario and salary figure to Upton’s camp, but in reality, he was always the one player who might have been banking on going through with arbitration during the entire unfolding of the process. Upton might have been the one Rays player who thought it was his time to be heard in private about his worth to this franchise…..And now he and his representative will get that chance sometime this Spring.
And some people call this entire arbitration mess more like taking a load of your potential future earnings to Las Vegas and playing a single hand of Blackjack, but never being able to doubling down, or even slightly predict the outcome before the cards hit the table. And you have to admit it is always a crap shoot that your production numbers and potential earnings would mesh perfectly so that this process could be avoided at all costs. You end up put your total expected earnings amount up for grabs and hope that the mediator finds your figures satisfactory and in-line with your request.
But you always like your chances and gamble that the last minute paperwork to flow off that fax machine could be acceptable to you as it was the the last communication from the Rays after their team imposed high noon deadline. And because the Rays have enjoyed a stellar arbitration track record (3-0) in hearings since Stuart Sternberg took over the team, you would think the “house” has the strongest chance to win here.
The whole process is not made any easier in the fact that Friedman is getting comfortable in his Rays role in this arbitration process by using his risk managment style scenarios with pin-point percision and submitting the right collection of statistics based on comparative peer player performances to end up snatching large amounts of moolah away from you as you stare blindly at him as Friedman sits at the other end of the table.
And it is not personal, it is business, the Rays business model in fact, to secure the lowest salary rewards to fine-tune and effectively reduce payroll and give some breathing room to the organization heading into the Spring Training reporting dates. Friedman has chiseled his own path to financial victory in all three of his prior arbitration hearing over his four seasons with the Rays. And that might make it seem more like a “no-win” situation for Upton, but he is also left standing alone with a better performance based situation for a nice raise in pay than former Rays catcher Josh Paul, who fell victim in two of Friedman’s four past arbitration hearings.
You would think that the Rays would consider Upton is one of the face’s of their Rays 2010 team and placed somewhere front and center in a collage on the cover of the Rays Season Ticket Information folder given out in December 2009. But the funniest thing happened here in the fact that the top four pitchers in the Rays rotation grace the cover of that folder, and not long time stalwarts Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford or even the arbitration eligible B J Upton.
Upton was the only player who I realistically thought was headed to his first arbitration setting long time before the Rays team imposed deadline. And both parties might have made some headway in their negoiations with the Rays before high noon, but the deadline passed without Upton batting an eye. As most of the long time Rays fans know, since Upton has been up with the Rays at the Major League level, he has let his Major League contract be renewed automatically with a small raise every season before 2010, and Upton has not been open to public discussions about any multi-year salary extensions since the long gone era of ex-Rays General Manager Chuck LaMar reign over 5 seasons ago.
It might be a bold move, and one that might have to be calculated closely as Upton will submit his first arbitration numbers to the Rays at some point today. I think Upton will be seeking a huge increase in salary considering his 2009 $ 435,000 salary was sandwiched closely between Garza and Howell’s 2009 salaries, and both could get sizeable increases for 2010. This will be the first chance for Upton to get his significant increase, and I could see him submitting a number around $ 3.5-3.75 for 2010 season.
Upton is the one member of this season’s Rays arbitration class that was not going to give a local discount to the Rays, or even consider an extension before getting his first chance before an arbitration mediator this Spring. But sometimes a situation like this can back-fire on a player and it can get pretty messy if personal feeling get twisted during discussions. With some members of the Rays Republic and even the media thinking that this could finally be Upton’s break-out season, this series of salary negoiations might be critical to his survival as a member of the Rays.
But then again, it could be a nice tactical situation by Upton to just see how important the team think he is to their future, and his position with the team in their future. I think his refusal to discuss his salary away from a mediator at a arbitration hearing has nothing to do with respect. But it will certainly be a war of wrds and sharp minds backed up by volumes of pages of statistics and future output projections both met and missed by Upton over the past two seasons that could decide this issue.
Not playing at all into this he
aring will be that nice shiny American League Championship ring upon Upton’s finger as he personally stepped it up a notch during the 2008 playoffs. But what is sure to surface is his step backwards in production after his shoulder situations in 2009, and his presumed attitude problems while playing in games. I can definitely see this hearing getting personal at times, and it might end up becoming a clear indication of the Rays hopes and Upton’s future plans with the team. The Rays could go hard on the megative factors in this hearing, or just sit and wait and see if Upton toots his horn a bit too loud, then come in and crash the party.
The funny thing about arbitration hearing is it should be about the player in relationship to his contributions on and off the field to his team. And should be a showcase to shop his ability to step up and and take it to another notch for his team, which would equal a request for an increase in salary. But most of the time it is a room full of lawyers and accountants with a pile of papers arguing for or against a matter as if in ta court of law.
Upton should play a major role in the Rays success during the 2010 season. He could end up being saddled with a salary that Upton doesn’t totally agree with, but still produce a stellar season and prove without a doubt he deserve some substancial coinage during his next arbitration round in 2011. But the reality of it all is that if Upton sees his arbitration salary as a Rays power play and as a way for management to control him, he could produce either a break-out season or have another bust season and possibly be gone by the July Trade deadline.
But there is always hope. The Rays thought Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett ($4 million),Rays starter Matt Garza ( $ 3.35 million) and reliever J P Howell ($ 1.8+incentives) might be all heading also towards arbitration before all three candidates agreed to contracts in the last 24 hour period. Their multiple phonecalls and faxes ended up with a series of deals that please both the players’ and the Rays front office.
So the Rays last minute dealings have cut the field to one lone survivor and they no longer intend to try and convince Upton to see it their way. And with Upton basically announcing he will submit his numbers, the arbitration clock stops ticking for 2010. And with it last tick, it makes Upton the lone Ray player to step into the mediator’s office during the 2010 Spring Training.
And the worst part is that all the information and all the number floating up at that meeting will have nothing to do with Upton the person, but be totally about Upton the team employee being considered for a huge fiscal upgrade. It will not be about handshakes or even hugs after winning key games, it will be about business, and that is something Friedman and his crew of fiscal mercenaries are pretty good at……..or so Upton will find out soon enough.