Unless things change dramatically, the Orioles this week will participate in their first arbitration hearing since 2012, when they were victorious against right-hander Brad Bergesen.
On Friday afternoon, the Orioles and outfielder Alejandro De Aza are expected to present their cases before a three-person panel in St. Petersburg, Fla.
The sides can still settle heading into the hearing, but the sense is they won't. So the panel will choose between De Aza's submitted figure of $5.65 million and the Orioles' $5 million.
The club had 11 players that were arbitration-eligible this winter and settled with 10. Six players exchanged figures with the Orioles and the gap of $650,000 with De Aza was the second-smallest. And yet they didn't settle with him. (Ryan Flaherty had the smallest disparity of $600,000, but that represented a large chunk of what he was asking for -- $1.5 million. He settled at $1.075 million).
So why didn't the Orioles just settle with De Aza?
Steve Pearce, for instance, asked for $5.4 million and the Orioles countered with $2 million – for what seemed like an insurmountable gap of $3.4 million.
But, in many cases nowadays, the larger the gap the better chance to settle because the risk is huge. If Pearce goes to a hearing and loses, it's a $3.4 million verdict for the other side. So he and the Orioles met in the middle, and he agreed to a $3.7 million deal – which, based on the season he had in 2014 and the struggles he's had to stay healthy in the big leagues in his career –can be viewed as a victory for both sides.
If De Aza loses, it's a $650,000 drop – a lot of money for the regular worker but not nearly as significant for someone who will make $5 million in 2015 anyway.
There used to be a stigma with players going to arbitration hearings – basically, the team will mention a laundry list of negatives to explain why a player shouldn't get paid what he thinks he is worth. And there was a sense that could affect a player's performance in the upcoming season.
Former baseball executive Andy MacPhail never once took a player to arbitration in his career with the Orioles, Chicago Cubs and Minnesota Twins. He didn't like the message it sent.
But with all the criticism players deal with nowadays, listening to negatives in a hearing just doesn't seem to be as much of a concern in 2015. Current Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette doesn't have a problem with it. This is likely the second case under his watch to go to arbitration in four offseasons.
Overall, the Orioles have been tremendously good in arbitration hearings over the years. Since Peter Angelos took over the team in 1993, the club is 9-1; losing only to Ben McDonald and his agent, Scott Boras, in 1995. Since club general counsel H. Russell Smouse took over lead in the proceedings, the Orioles are 7-0.