A nondescript career that included stints with four organizations over six years took off for the 28-year-old big-time in Seattle last season, when he grabbed control of the closer role in May and converted 38 of his 42 save opportunities.
The breakout season soon will pay dividends in another way.
For the first time in his career, Aardsma is eligible for salary arbitration, and he conceivably could almost triple his 2009 salary of $419,000. Players eligible for salary arbitration last year received, on average, a 172 percent increase.
The filing period for third-party assistance started on Tuesday and continues through Jan. 15. Players who have at least three years of MLB experience, and who are not on multiyear contracts, can have their salary determined through arbitration.
Players and their respective organizations exchange salary figures on Jan. 19 and can continue negotiations until a hearing begins in February. A panel of arbitrators determines which of the two submitted salaries the player receives in 2010.
More often than not, settlements are reached before the hearing. First-year general manager Jack Zduriencik avoided the final step of the process last season with ace right-hander Felix Hernandez ($3.8 million) and left-hander Erik Bedard ($7.75 million).
"I don't think anybody wants to go to an actual hearing," Aardsma said. "I have talked to other players who have gone through it, and one thing I'm finding out is that it's different for every single person."
Aardsma is one of five Mariners eligible for arbitration.
The others are Hernandez, right-handed reliever Mark Lowe ($418,000 last season), recently acquired right-hander Brandon League ($640,000) and center fielder Franklin Gutierrez ($455,000), though the Mariners are close to signing him to a four-year, $20.5 million contract extension.
Coming to terms with Gutierrez would erase one potential case from the docket, but first baseman Casey Kotchman ($2.885 million), expected to be acquired from the Red Sox on Friday for Bill Hall, a Minor League prospect to be named and cash, also is eligible for salary arbitration.
Hernandez is a perfect example of how lucrative the 36-year-old arbitration system can be for a player. King Felix turned his first year of eligibility into a huge pay raise, going from $540,000 in 2008 to $3.8 million in '09 -- a seven-fold jump.
Not bad for someone with a 9-11 record the previous campaign.
In light of his breakout season last season, when he posted a 19-5 record and 2.49 ERA, Hernandez is expected to seek at least $10 million through arbitration. There have been reports, though not confirmed by either side, that the Mariners and Hernandez's agent are working on a multiyear contract.
Meanwhile, it figures to be one year at a time for Aardsma.
"I have talked to Jack several times since the end of the season," Aardsma said, "but nothing about a contract. I'm not sure what's going on there, but it should be an exciting time.
"You work your entire career to get to this point. I don't want to make it a bad situation, but until they come to us with some numbers, I just don't know."
Aardsma has done his homework on the arbitration process, with most of the information coming from the Major League Players Association and peers who have gone through it.
"The more information you can get, the more prepared you are for whatever happens," he said. "With everything that happened last year with the team, I think [management] wants everyone coming into camp happy.
"I really don't think [reaching an agreement without a hearing] will be a problem."
Acquired last January in a trade with the Red Sox for Minor League pitcher Fabian Williamson, Aardsma reported to Spring Training as one of several closer candidates. The position became available when right-hander J.J. Putz was traded to the Mets.
"I was definitely in the right place at the right time," Aardsma said. "You could tell in Spring Training that it was a special place to be. I love it here."
Aardsma lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., during the offseason and has been preparing for the 2010 season since early October.
"I took a week off after the season and began my offseason workouts," he said. "I'm pumped. How can you not be excited with all the moves that have been made, like bringing in [Chone Figgins], Milton [Bradley], Cliff Lee and Brandon League for the back end of the bullpen?
"[League] will take a lot of the pressure off myself, Lowe and [Sean] White. It makes all of our jobs easier. I can't wait for camp to open. Just talking about it puts a smile on my face."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.