MLB arbitration day: Juan Soto nets $23M contract; Pete Alonso, Vlad Guerrero Jr. set records
Friday marks Major League Baseball’s arbitration deadline, which means it’s the last day for teams and their arbitration-eligible players to trade salary figures for next season.
As a reminder, players with between three and six years of major league service time* have their salaries determined or at least informed by salary arbitration. Typically, arbitration salaries emerge from negotiations between the team and the arbitration-eligible player, but if an agreement cannot be reached, then each side submits its own salary figure to an arbitration panel. The panel then selects one figure or the other — there is no averaging of the two figures presented or otherwise drawing the player’s paycheck. This dynamic encourages serious negotiation and explains why you don’t see truly absurd player or team exchanges of figures (if either side presented an absurd salary figure, then the panel would quickly pick the opposing figure).
As for that star
above, a small group of players known as the “super two” are eligible for an additional year of salary arbitration after only two years of MLB service. In general, however, players see huge pay raises in years three, four and five of their careers by hitting free agency after six years of service. This is thanks to arbitration. As a prominent example, Angels two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani in October avoided the process by agreeing to a one-year, $30 million deal for the upcoming walk year. Not surprisingly, this is a record salary for an underrated player.
Most arb-eligible players will agree to salaries for next season before the deadline, and others will agree to terms before an arbitration hearing is set to sit. A smaller number won’t reach an agreement with their teams and will actually attend a hearing, but those hearings can become contentious and awkward — essentially requiring teams to discount the player’s accomplishments in word — and usually both sides prefer to avoid that final step. This “usually” qualifier is important, as some clubs take a “file and try” approach, in which they refuse to negotiate further if the deadline does not yield a deal.
Also, it’s worth noting that for some notable players with arb rights, long-term extensions could grow from these talks. That is, negotiations with the stolen players should not yield a one-year pact. Sometimes they can even lead to nine-figure deals that “buy out” players’ remaining bullish years and one or more free agent seasons.
Below we’ll track the standout signings on deadline day, led by one that landed well before Friday’s finish line.
Devers, Red Sox agree to big extension
The Red Sox earlier this month stopped a trend of hemorrhaging homegrown stars by signing third baseman Rafael Devers to an 11-year, $331 million extension. Devers had been eligible for third-year arbitration and was scheduled for free agency after the 2023 season. Instead, he will be in a Boston uniform for years to come.
Devers, 26, hit .295/.358/.521 (141 OPS+) with 42 doubles, 27 homers and 4.4 WAR last season and made his second straight All-Star team. He’s already amassed nearly 3,000 plate appearances in 689 career regular-season games since debuting at just 20 years old and slashed .283/.342/.512 (124 OPS+) over that span. He led the AL with 54 doubles in 2019 and has two 30-plus homer, 100-plus RBI seasons to his credit.
Soto, Padres deal for 2023
The Padres and star shortstop Juan Soto have agreed to a $23 million contract through 2023, ESPN reports. Soto was the prize of last season’s trade deadline, and in 153 games combined for the Padres and Nationals he collected 27 home runs and an MLB-leading 135 walks. For his career, the 24-year-old has an OPS+ of 157. Soto is scheduled for free agency after the 2024 season, which means one more year of arbitration rights. The big question remains whether the Padres will be able to sign him to a long-term (likely record) extension before he hits free agency. What we do know is that no long-term deal emerged by Friday’s deadline.
Hader sets record for relievers
Closer Josh Hader and the Padres agreed to a $14 million deal for his walk year in 2023, Robert Murray reports. That’s an arbitration record salary for a reliever.
Hader struggled with the Brewers last season and generally performed even worse after the trade to San Diego. However, starting in September and going into the Padres’ NLCS run, Hader seemed to find his groove — a groove that has seen him save 132 games, post a career ERA+ of 156, strikeout 563 strikeouts in 332 1/3 innings, and made four All-Star teams. No doubt Hader and the Padres are hoping for more of that peak in his age-29 season.
Alonso, Guerrero set records for first base
Sluggers Pete Alonso and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. set new salary records for arbitration-eligible first basemen at their service level this offseason. Here are the details:
One year of free agency: José Abreu, $16 million with White Sox in 2019 Two years of free agency: Pete Alonso, $14.5 million with Mets in 2023 (per ESPN) Three years of free agency: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 14 .5 million with the Blue Jays in 2023 (per Sportsnet)
Barring a catastrophic injury or a sudden collapse in performance, Vlad Jr. will break the salary records of Alonso and Abreu at those levels of service time in the next few years.
Home runs are the easiest way to get paid through arbitration, and no player has hit more than Alonso’s 146 since his MLB debut in 2019. He also has two All-Game selections Star and a Rookie of the Year award, which further push his arbitration case. Guerrero is quite capable in the power department, plus he has two All-Star Game selections, a Gold Glove and an MVP runner-up to bolster his case.
Here are some notable players who reportedly agreed to standard one-year deals to avoid arbitration on Friday:
Chris Paddack, Twins (three years, $12.5 million extra) Julio Urías, Dodgers ($14.25 million) Rhys Hoskins, Phillies ($12 million) Brandon Woodruff, Brewers ($10.8 million) Lucas Giolito, White Sox ($10.4 million) Shiansaneeber, $4 million) ($10.01 million) Jordan Montgomery, Cardinals ($10 million) Walker Buehler, Dodgers ($8.025 million) Framber Valdez, Astros ($6.8 million) Dylan Cease, White Sox ($5.7 million) Zac Gallen, Diamondbacks ($5.6 million, $5.6 million) Jay $5.4 million) Tyler O’Neill, Cardinals ($4.95 million) Rowdy Tellez, Brewers ( $4.95M) Logan Webb, Giants ($4.6M) Cedric Mullins, Orioles ($4.1M) Gregory Soto, Phillies ($3.925M) Dodgers May, $1.675M) No deal by deadline
According to various reports, the following players are notable among those who cannot agree with their respective teams before Friday’s deadline. This means that negotiations can continue or be closed before the hearing.
Luis Arraez, TwinsCorbin Burnes, BrewersYandy Díaz, RaysSeranthony Domínguez, PhilliesMax Fried, BravesRyan Helsley, CardinalsTeoscar Hernández, Mariners