Red Sox could be heading for arbitration hearing with Fernando Abad

Aug 4, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Fernando Abad (43) throws against the Seattle Mariners during the ninth inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 4, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Fernando Abad (43) throws against the Seattle Mariners during the ninth inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Red Sox have a long track record of avoiding arbitration hearings, but lefty reliever Fernando Abad may snap their streak.

Eight of the arbitration eligible players for the Boston Red Sox have already reached agreements, leaving Fernando Abad as the only one from that group still in contract limbo.

Under Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement, players with at least three years of service time at the big league level but less than six are eligible for salary arbitration. The process allows players to negotiate their salary for the upcoming season based on factors that include performance and experience.

These players are still under team control, so there are no other teams bidding against them, but they do have a bit more leverage than the pre-arbitration eligible players that typically make just above the league minimum. If the player and team can’t come to an amicable agreement then the decision is placed in the hands of a third party arbitrator who will determine which side has presented a fair offer.

The Red Sox have avoided arbitration hearings since 2002, when they won their case over Rolando Arrojo.

At the Winter Weekend event at Foxwoods last Saturday, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski spoke optimistically about avoiding a hearing, but admitted that they were prepared to go through the process if necessary.

"“Really my goal is that you can be in a position that you negotiate a contract yourself rather than have a third party do it,” Dombrowski said. “But if you need to go to arbitration because you just have a disagreement, then you use the process if you need to. It’s not personal. It’s a business decision. It’s the same way in that regard from the other sides. We’ve already told Fernando that. He understands that.”"

Abad provides a curious case that won’t be easy for an arbitrator to sort out. The 31-year old is in his third and finale year of eligibility after making $1.25 million last season. The lefty is reportedly seeking a raise to $2.7 million, while the Red Sox have offered $2 million.

The price would seem reasonable if the Red Sox knew they were getting the pitcher they thought they traded for last July. Abad spent the first half of 2016 with the Minnesota Twins, producing a 2.65 ERA.

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Unfortunately, that’s not the pitcher we saw once he put on a Red Sox uniform. Abad imploded in Boston, posting an unsightly 6.39 ERA over 12 2/3 innings. By the end of the season he found himself out of the mix of relievers manager John Farrell could trust and he wasn’t utilized in the postseason.

Based on those results, Red Sox fans are left to wonder why Abad is being brought back at all. You can imagine that those same fans are baffled as to why he’s demanding a salary that would make him the third highest paid reliever in Boston’s bullpen.

His performance down the stretch clearly isn’t worthy of the salary he seeks, but Abad can still be useful. Lost in the messy overall numbers is that Abad was still lights out against left-handed hitters, holding them to a .130 average and .461 OPS. The problem is that it took Farrell far too long to realize he can’t trust Abad against right-handed hitters, who shelled him to the tune of a .357 average and .986 OPS. Despite those massive splits, Farrell still ran Abad out there to face more righties than lefties.

Next: Ways for fans to get involved

If used correctly, Abad can be a valuable asset against tough lefties, but a lefty specialist isn’t worth the money he’s asking for. Hopefully an arbitrator agrees, otherwise a team desperately looking to stay under the luxury tax will be stuck overpaying a reliever that most of us are hesitant to want on the roster to begin with.