Arbitration deadline concrete for 'file and trial' clubs

Arbitration deadline concrete for 'file and trial' clubs

By 1 p.m. ET on Friday, teams were required to exchange salary figures with all of their remaining arbitration-eligible players. But the significance of that deadline varies depending on the club.

For many, it's simply a landmark in the negotiation process. For others, who employ a strategy known as "file and trial" or "file to go," the meaning is much more concrete. Once figures are exchanged, they cut off settlement talks -- at least for one-year deals -- and take their chances with an arbitration hearing.

Such teams remain the minority, but their ranks have grown in recent years. The Blue Jays, Braves, Brewers, Dodgers, Indians, Marlins, Pirates, Rays and White Sox are among those who use or have recently used the strategy. Some, including Atlanta and Toronto, still make exceptions for multiyear deals, such as the ones Craig Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward signed with the Braves after last year's exchange.

Either way, the reasoning behind this approach typically has two main parts: to encourage deals to be struck before the deadline, and to get the team more favorable terms.

"Honestly, I think it helps across the board with all of our cases because it lets the agents know we're serious about sticking to what we believe in market value," Brewers arbitration point man Matt Kleine told MLB.com. "We're certainly willing to pay market value; we're just not necessarily willing to go over. Being on record as a 'file to go' club, it lets the agents know we're serious, and it moves up the deadline for these cases to get settled."

This is Milwaukee's fourth year using this strategy, and on Friday it reached a one-year, $6.2375 contract with outfielder Gerardo Parra just five minutes before the deadline. This will be the Brewers' third straight year without a hearing, although that isn't exactly unusual. Only three hearings took place last year across the entire league, and not a single one occurred in 2013.

The Blue Jays, for example, have not not participated in a hearing since 1997. They have used the "file to go" strategy since Alex Anthopoulos took over as general manager in 2009.

"The thought was really, it's hopefully to encourage more dialogue in negotiations with the goal of continuing to avoid arbitration and continuing to try to get deals done and maybe bring both parties to the table a little bit sooner," Anthopoulos said back in 2010.

Yet it's difficult to tell whether the "file and trial" approach actually has contributed to a low number of hearings. After all, there is always plenty of reason for both sides to avoid them, as it's an unpleasant process in which the player has to hear his team argue why he deserves the lower of the two salaries.

Such a firm stance has a flipside as well. The Indians were responsible for two of last year's three hearings, and at least in the case of pitcher Josh Tomlin, the Tribe employed a "file to go" strategy. Meanwhile, Toronto's streak could end this year, as it was unable to reach agreements with third baseman Josh Donaldson and infielder Danny Valencia ahead of Friday's deadline. Miami and Pittsburgh also could not come to terms with three players apiece.

"As an organization we believe there is ample time to reach agreement between the tender date and filing date -- if both parties are motivated," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "As a result, once numbers are filed we shift our attention to preparing for the hearing."

The Rangers, to use one counterexample, have not had a player go all the way through arbitration since 2000. After Friday's deadline, first baseman Mitch Moreland was their only remaining case, and the club is still hopeful it can reach an agreement with him.

"We do not subscribe to that rigid an approach to negotiations," Rangers assistant general manager Thad Levine said of "file to go."

But the strategy also can be about saving money by pushing players and their agents to submit a more reasonable figure in an effort to get something done before the deadline. Brewers executive Teddy Werner, who handled arbitration for the club before Kleine, believes that it takes some leverage away from agents who might otherwise stall and file an overly high number to drive up the midpoint between the two figures.

"It doesn't mean you're going to win every case. Hey, it doesn't mean you're going to win any cases," Werner said in March. "But what you're going to get is a pre-exchange date negotiation that is far more fair and reasonable."

That could be why new Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman brought that philosophy to Los Angeles from Tampa Bay, where he employed it as the Rays' general manager. During Friedman's nine seasons there, the club went 5-0 in arbitration cases, but the Dodgers won't have any this year.

Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.