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Sox Avoid Arbitration with Ellsbury and Papelbon


It is no surprise that prior to today’s deadline to sign players and avoid arbitration, the 2 remaining players were reached agreements with the Boston Red Sox. Both Jacoby Ellsbury and Jonathan Papelbon were eligible for arbitration (Ellsbury in his 1st year and Papelbon in his 3rd and final year) and in typical Theo Epstein fashion, he avoided a hearing like the plague. Since he took over as the Red Sox GM, the team has not gone to an arbitration hearing once. Why is that important? To answer that question, let’s explore the arbitration process a bit. (more after the jump)

The arbitration process in general can be a mess, both for the team and the player. If a player and club do not reach an agreement as of the MLB deadline (today), then the process essentially becomes a court moderated fight between both parties, with 2 possible outcomes: the player’s proposed salary or the club’s proposed salary. The out comes are generally bad for one of the parties involved because the impartial judge picks 1 option or the other. The end result can cause resentment and bad blood very easily.

For example, let’s say that Jacoby Ellsbury didn’t get a contract today from the Red Sox. The process would then move into the submission of figures, which is an opportunity for each side to present the salary they feel represents the player’s value. The deadline to exchange figures is today, so if the deals didn’t get done, the next step would have occurred quickly. As you might imagine, the club often offers a lower number and the player offers a high number. The larger the discrepancy, the higher chance the player feels undervalued by the club and that can create some anger and resentment from the player as well as the club, because the team may feel they put a reasonable number on the table. Both sides then appear before a panel of judges or moderators who look at both numbers and attempt to determine which is the amount the player should receive the next season. Each side has 1 hour to present and 30 minutes for a rebuttal. If the sides are far apart, this could be a rather painful process and someone will surely be offended or upset with the outcome.

Given the trying nature of an arbitration hearing, it makes perfect sense why Theo has worked hard over the years to avoid one at almost all costs. By avoiding arbitration, you avoid another opportunity for bad blood and you reduce the chances a player will be upset and damage the clubhouse atmosphere.

With that in mind, the Sox apparently had easy negotiations with both players and the salary outcomes seemed to please everyone involved. Given Ellsbury’s injury issues, he has built-in $50,000 incentives for reaching 600 and 700 at-bats on top of his base $2.4 million deal. The Sox certainly hope he reaches those benchmarks in 2011. Papelbon’s salary climbed to $12 million for next season, the last on his contract. Both because Papelbon has expressed interest in testing the free agent market and because the Sox may no longer have an interest in him in 2012 (thanks to the addition of Bobby Jenks and Daniel Bard, both signed through 2012), it is likely 2011 is Pap’s final season in Boston.

No matter how you cut it, both players will need to have great years if Boston wants to compete for a World Series title. Now, they can put their contract talks behind them and concentrate on getting ready for the season.