Bad optics aside, Orioles’ arbitration process simply part of ‘mind-numbing’ business of baseball

TAMPA, Fla. — Trey Mancini missed the 2020 season while undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer. Last season, he returned as baseball’s comeback player of the year in the eyes of the league and his peers, and contributed to the Orioles’ lineup as the sport’s greatest history all year.

Sometime this season, Orioles officials will explain to a panel of judges why they believe Mancini should be paid less than his asking price, arguing for a difference of less than Major League Baseball’s new minimum salary of $700,000.

Before Tuesday’s pay swap deadline, Baltimore did not agree to any arrangements to avoid arbitration with Mancini, the longest-serving member of the major league roster, and John Means, their planned opening day starting pitcher. For an organization that has repeatedly cut payrolls during a rebuild that’s about to enter its fourth full season – presumably 29th of 30 teams in 2022 with an opening day total of $40.6 million – the inability to agree salaries with two of its most significant players is another case of poor optics. But even for Mancini, it’s just part of the business of baseball.

“I may be a little surprised that we didn’t come to an agreement, but at the same time it’s part of the process,” Mancini said Wednesday from the visitors’ clubhouse at George M. Steinbrenner Field. “A lot of people go to hearings and that’s how business works. I don’t think there are any hard feelings or real emotions that should be associated with it. It’s part of the game and part of the arbitration. It’s for a reason, and that’s the reason.”

Arbitration is a structure used to increase the salaries of players with at least three years in the majors but less than the six years required to reach the free hand. The Orioles are among the teams to “file and go to court,” meaning the sides will go to a hearing without further negotiations after the payroll numbers are exchanged. Means reportedly turned in $3.1 million in his first season, with Baltimore countering with $2.7 million. In his last season before becoming a free agent, Mancini asked for $8 million with the club’s valuation at $7.375 million.

It often happens that teams cannot agree on a relatively small difference in salary. White Sox ace Lucas Giolito reportedly submitted $7.5 million, with Chicago countering $7.3 million. Braves right-hander Max Fried, who helped Atlanta win its first World Series title since 1995 last season, reportedly submitted $6.85 million, while the Braves filed $6.6 million dollars countered. Last year, the Orioles went to a hearing with outfielder Anthony Santander, with a panel siding with the club and its $2.1 million proposal over Santander’s $2.475 million.

Mancini earned $4.75 million in 2020 and 2021 and believed accepting the same salary last season was “the right thing” after not playing the previous year. He wasn’t sure what precedent there was for a player who was a Rookie of the Year finalist and played at All-Star level during his pre-arbitration season and then missed his first arbitration season, before he returned.

Such comparisons are vital to the arbitration process, with the panel deciding between numbers largely based on what similar players have paid in the past. From a public relations standpoint, the Orioles would do well to pay a cancer survivor and ace pitcher the salaries they demand. But economically, the decision would have ramifications beyond the Baltimore clubhouse and payroll.

Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias described the arbitration as “mind-numbing” and said it was “a systematic connection of players over the years who have been influenced by past players that will impact future players.” .

“It’s affecting other clubs and we’re being forced to work within those parameters as a club,” Elias said in a Zoom call. “We’re doing everything we can to avoid that [not coming to an agreement]but it happens.”

The salaries established for Mancini, Means and other eligible players this season will be used to determine such numbers in future seasons, and it is the responsibility of Elias and other baseball executives to keep those numbers at an appropriate level keep. Not all players who resemble Mancini and Means on the field will be clubhouse and rotation leaders.

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“I’ve had career talks with these guys in particular,” Elias said. “We speak openly. I’m very respectful to these two guys in particular. I really admire what they have accomplished so far in their careers and what they will do in the future. But you see, I’m put in a position where I have to manage the club’s long-term future and make business decisions on behalf of the club, so of course there are times when you’re at odds about things. ”

When the Orioles did not advertise the popular infielder Hanser Alberto after the 2020 season, Elias justified the decision with the need to “act within the economic framework of the collective agreement”. The comment was that players are likely to be paid at least a certain salary a team is not always willing to pay through the system, which remained unchanged in this year’s new CBA.

The 99-day lockout that preceded this agreement made baseball business a focus of the offseason, and the fact that arbitrations for Means and Mancini — as well as other players who failed to settle with their teams — will likely take place after opening day , provides another example of this side of the game dragging into the regular season.

“Sometimes we really wish, especially over the past year, that the big business element of Major League Baseball wasn’t pushed to the fore so often,” Elias said. “But it’s the reality.”

That’s at least one place Mancini and Elias agree, with the Orioles veteran calling the situation bleeding into the season “a little unfortunate.” But beyond the day he sits while the Orioles and his agency debate his worth, he reckons it won’t impact his season.

“There are so many other people going through that,” Mancini said. “One Arb case is no bigger than the other.

“It’s not something I’m going to mention on a daily basis or let it affect me. It’s not something I’m going to bring up. … As hard as it may be, if you let the emotions out, then I think that’s how the process will work and everything will be fine.

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