MLB Arbitration: Who makes the strongest and weakest cases?

Twins pitcher Jose Berrios, whose actual on-field value is likely to well-exceed his arbitration award. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)
Twins pitcher Jose Berrios, whose actual on-field value is likely to well-exceed his arbitration award. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images) /

A measurement of the actual on-field value of many of the MLB players whose cases are headed to salary arbitration next month.

With the passing of Friday’s arbitration settlement deadline, 19 MLB players and their teams appear on course to proceed to an actual hearing. That process will begin with the exchange of figures this coming week. While those cases could, in theory, be mutually agreed to between now and the February dates when cases will be heard, several teams have a ‘file and trial’ policy ensuring that many of those cases will be handed off to an arbitration panel.

The 19 unresolved cases include some prominent names: Milwaukee reliever Josh Hader, Dodger infielder Max Muncy, Dodger outfielder Joc Pederson and Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi among them.

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Predicting the outcome of arbitration cases is a chancy proposition. Arbitrators will hear presentations from both sides about which side has presented the figure that is closest to the player’s value. At that point, the arbitrators are obligated to select either the player’s or team’s figure; they cannot settle on a compromise figure.

According to the Basic Agreement covering player-team negotiations, information that can be submitted includes the player’s contribution to the team during the past season, the length and consistency of the player’s career contributions, the player’s past compensation, the existence of any physical or mental defects, the team’s recent performance and comparative baseball salaries. Arbitrators are supposed to weight comparable baseball salaries most heavily.

In a multi-part study recently presented at, I calculated the actual on-field dollar value contributions of 13 of the 19 arbitration-eligible players. As noted above, on-field performance is only one of numerous factors to be considered by the panel, so it cannot be used as a reliable barometer of which way a panel may go.

At the same time, when compared with the player and team figures to be released this week, it should give an indication of whether the player or team is more likely to prevail.

The table below lists the 13 players, their actual 2019 on-field values, and their estimated arbitration judgments as calculated by Cot’s Contracts, a website focusing on payroll-based records. All figures are in millions.

Player, Team                      Actual Value       Cot’s estimate

Jesus Aguilar, Mia                 $6.484                   $2.754

Nick Ahmed, Ari                    $6.300                   $6.775

Andrew Benintendi, Bos    $5.146                   $3.775

Jose Berrios, Min               $12.223                   $4.750

Brian Goodwin, LAA            $6.077                   $2.000

Max Muncy, LA                     $8.987                   $4.750

Joc Pederson, LA                  $8.883                   $9.000

J.T. Realmuto, Phi                $7.633                 $11.000

Eduardo Rodriguez, Bos $12.606                   $8.637

George Springer, Hou    $10.468                   $20.000

Trevor Story, Col                $7.548                   $11.000

Brian Taylor, Was              $6.796                      $6.000

Tony Walters, Col              $2.970                     $1.500

Where there are large differences, in cases such as Springer’s and Realmuto’s, it is generally due to service length, a real factor in the arbitration process but one that Is not part of my process of determining actual on-field value. Both Springer and Realmuto are in their final year of arbitration, a class of players who often are awarded salaries in the realm of $10 million to $20 million.

The figures above suggest that of the 13 players, five are likely to be overvalued as a result of the arbitration process. Those five are Ahmed, Pederson, Realmuto, Springer, and Story.

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The other eight MLB players – Aguilar, Benintendi, Berrios, Goodwin, Muncy, Rodriguez, Taylor and Wolters – are likely to be under-valued, Berrios by a substantial margin.