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Orioles are going to start playing hardball with arbitration negotiations

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The Orioles are going to a “file and trial” approach for arbitration, so if they don’t reach deals by this afternoon, hearings will be coming.

Boston Red Sox v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The Orioles are setting themselves up to have a much more contentious arbitration season than they have had in recent years. According to The Baltimore Sun’s Eduardo Encina, the O’s are joining the ranks of “file and trial” teams for the arbitration process.

What that means is that if the Orioles don’t reach deals with any of their seven remaining arbitration-eligible players ahead of today’s 1pm deadline to exchange numbers, they will not negotiate between now and the hearings.

Instead of the usual pattern of settling around the midpoint between the two figures, the hearing has a definite winner. Either the player gets his salary request or he gets what the Orioles offer.

That’s new for the Orioles, which doesn’t mean that it’s weird or bad, although it might be! The general line is that arbitration hearings can be contentious and are not necessarily preferable for either team or player. Nobody wants to sit there and hear why their employer thinks they aren’t worth what they believe they are worth.

MLB Trade Rumors notes that, including the O’s, there are now eight teams who are employing the approach, and at least five more have been known to use it with certain players. That includes teams with front offices that currently receive a lot of media praise like the Astros and Braves. So for better or worse, a file and trial approach isn’t something where the O’s are out on a limb.

The O’s have had success in arbitration hearings in the time that Peter Angelos has owned the team. They last lost a hearing to Ben McDonald in 1995. It’s not like they’re having a bunch of hearings every year, though - they have only gone to eight hearings since that last loss. The most recent was against Alejandro De Aza two years ago.

On Thursday night, the O’s settled with two of their lower-cost players. Ryan Flaherty settled for a salary of $1.8 million, while T.J. McFarland settled for $685,000. Encina added that he believes the O’s look to be heading towards a hearing with their other seven remaining arbitration-eligible players.

That list of players, with the estimated 2017 salaries from MLB Trade Rumors:

  • Chris Tillman - $10.6 million
  • Zach Britton - $11.4 million
  • Brad Brach - $2.9 million
  • Manny Machado - $11.2 million
  • Jonathan Schoop - $3.4 million
  • Kevin Gausman - $3.9 million
  • Caleb Joseph - $1 million

It’ll be interesting to see how much of a gap there is between the two sides, if they go to filing numbers, for some of the larger expected salaries. If players and teams are filing numbers with the expectation of settling at a midpoint, they may make different offers than if there’s likely to be a hearing.

If the Orioles can’t even reach agreements for one year of salary for Tillman and Machado, that doesn’t seem to speak very highly of their chances of reaching a multi-year deal with either one. Though you never know, of course. They can always surprise us.