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Mariners agree on 2023 salaries with three players, file for arbitration with three others

DMo money, DMo problems

Dylan Moore reacts to being hit in the hand by an errant pitch on October 4, 2022
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Just before this past Friday’s deadline for exchanging arbitration figures, the Mariners reached agreement with three of their arbitration-eligible players. According to’s Mark Feinsand, the deals are:

  • Tom Murphy, in his final year of arbitration, will be paid $1.625 million;
  • Paul Sewald, who’s in his second year, settled on $4.1 million; and
  • Ty France, in his first year off the league-minimum salary, will also make $4.1 million.

However, the Mariners are yet to come to agreements with arbitration-eligible players Dylan Moore, Diego Castillo, and Teoscar Hernández. They could still come to an agreement with any or all of these players before the actual arbitration results; Friday was just the deadline by which they had to submit their numbers to the arbitrators. (If you need it, there’s a refresher on how all this works under the page break below—if this is all new to you, feel free to skip down there, read it, and come back up for air.)

According to Feinsand, the filings for the remaining players are:

  • Teoscar Hernández, in his final year of arbitration, filed at $16 million, while the Mariners countered at $14 million;
  • Diego Castillo, in his second year, filed at $3.225 million, with the Mariners at $2.95 million; and
  • Dylan Moore, also in his second year, filed at $2.25, and the Mariners submitted $1.9 million.

Sportrac, MLB Trade Rumors and Roster Resource, the authoritative sources for estimating likely arbitration outcomes at the beginning of the offseason, all projected the parties would settle much closer to the team’s side of things (though they’ve updated the projections after the filings). But those projections were made before this winter’s free-agency bonanza, which may have shifted the players’ view of their market value.

Teoscar Hernández’s case represents the most money at stake in an unsettled arbitration case across MLB this year. There had been speculation that Hernández and the team were working towards an extension, and going to arbitration doesn’t foreclose that possibility. In fact, it’s entirely possible that they blew the deadline simply because they think they’re close to a deal and didn’t want to spend time working out the details of a 2023 contract that they expect to become moot. Equally possible, however, is that they’re farther apart than ever, and no extension is forthcoming.

Teoscar Hernandez celebrates one of his two home runs off Robbie Ray in Game 2 of the 2022 Wild Card Series
If you can’t get him out, trade for him
Photo by Thomas Skrlj/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Castillo and Moore’s cases likely represent differences in how they view their roles as much as their value. Castillo looks to want to be paid like a setup man, while the team countered with a middle reliever number; and DMo seems to want to be paid as a starter, while the team’s number reflects more of a 10th-man value. Ultimately, while I’m not going to pretend that $250,000 isn’t a lot of money in absolute terms, relative to the Mariners payroll, it’s nothing. There’s $250,000 between the couch cushions in Justin Hollander’s office. So it’s hard to imagine they won’t get to a deal with these two players before arbitration concludes.

The Mariners should get this done

In some sense, it’s fine that the Mariners didn’t finalize deals with every player. They may yet, and even if they don’t, this is how it’s supposed to work. This is a market transaction conducted under a process that was mutually agreed to by labor and management. It’s OK not to agree, and the parties agreed on what should happen when they don’t. As Sam Haggerty might put it, it’s not personal; it’s strictly business.

But in another sense, this is concerning. Arbitration is an adversarial process, where the team will have to say on the (non-public) record why they think their players aren’t as good as the players think they are. And quibbling over relatively small amounts endangers the club’s reputation as an organization that players want to play for—that’s both bad for morale and is hardly an obstacle the team needs when it comes to luring free agents to our far-off corner of the country.

The Mariners seem to have recognized this, avoiding arbitration with every eligible player over the first seven years of Jerry Dipoto’s tenure except Adam Frazier and only having two cases go all the way through arbitration in the past 20 years (Tom Wilhelmsen). But exchanging numbers is all that’s happened so far, and that’s no more adversarial than the less formalized part of negotiating salaries. One just hopes they can find deals with these three players before it gets to the truly adversarial part.

How this all works (warning: gory contract details ahead!)

As a refresher, under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams generally have club control of players for the first six years of “service time.” One year of service time is equal to 172 total calendar days on the 26-man roster. So in practice, a team can get an extra year of club control by keeping a player in the minor leagues for just a couple weeks. This is what people are talking about when they refer to service-time manipulation.

For the first three years (or four if their first year didn’t add up to a full year of service time), a player makes the league minimum. For 2023, that’s $720,000, though teams often throw players an extra few thousand to say “we like you.”

Usually, beginning in the first offseason after a player has accrued three years of service time, they enter the arbitration process for the next three years. The 22% of players with the most service time that doesn’t add up to a full year get to enter arbitration a year early. They are generally referred to as “Super Two” players.

Under the CBA, arbitration is supposed to award the player an increasing proportion of his market-rate salary, so that by his third year, he’s earning about 80% of what he’d get in average annual value as a free agent.

Tony Clark, Executive Director of the MLB Players Association, and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred
Tony Clark, Executive Director of the MLB Players Association, and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred

Teams can also “non-tender” a player eligible for arbitration, in which case he becomes a free agent. The deadline for that is a week after the World Series ends.

If the arbitration system worked as it’s supposed to, it should almost never make sense to non-tender a player. That’s because arbitration is supposed to pay a player a fraction of what he’d make on the open market (up to 80%). So teams should always end up with a player being paid less than his market value; even if they don’t want that particular player, he should be a tradable asset.

But players get non-tendered all the time. That’s because arbitration doesn’t always work like it’s supposed to. The arbitrators are infamous for overvaluing traditional metrics like RBI and Saves over modern tools like WAR or wRC+. Don’t even bother with xwOBACON or VAA.

And arbitration also relies on the idea that players generally trend upward; if a player has uneven seasons—like Cody Bellinger, whose MVP campaign in 2019 was followed by three straight disappointing seasons—that can lead to a former superstar getting dumped by a team who would like to allocate their resources elsewhere. Bellinger was projected to get $18 million in arbitration, was non-tendered by the Dodgers, and after testing free agency, his best deal was $12.5 million from the Cubs.

These flaws don’t systemically skew any individual case in players’ or managements’ favor. But because only teams can opt out of arbitration by non-tendering players, this favors management when taken as a whole. A team can non-tender a player who would make more in arbitration than on the open market, and then they can even re-sign that player to a cheaper deal. But on the flip-side, a player cannot get to free agency early if arbitration would underpay him (even relative to the fact that it’s only supposed to pay him a fraction of his market value).

The arbitration itself works by the player and the team trying to come to a negotiated resolution. If they are unable to come to an agreement, then a neutral arbitration panel will determine the player’s salary, but with a twist. The player submits a number to the panel and the team submits a number to the panel, and then they argue about whose number is more correct. In the end, the arbitration panel has to select one of those two numbers; they can’t split the baby.

Friday was the date by which teams and players had to file their numbers. But it does not foreclose the parties’ ability to still come to a negotiated resolution. That happens often, though the filing deadline forces a lot of action, with many deals being announced on deadline day. You’ve got deadlines in your life—you get it.