The Brewers lost their arbitration hearing with Corey Hart this week, but one former club official said that, in a roundabout way, they may have also won.
The thinking is that by taking Hart all the way to a hearing, the Brewers showed that they were not afraid of the process if they believed strongly in their filing number. It had been 12 years since the club had proven so, when then-negotiator Tom Gausden went into a hearing against Jose Mercedes. That was nearly five years before Doug Melvin took over as Milwaukee’s general manager.
“What you do one year always affects the next,” Gausden said. “Maybe you want the agents to realize that you aren’t bluffing, that they had better file a realistic number.”
And it just so happens that the Brewers could face a monster of a hearing next year with first baseman Prince Fielder and his agent, Scott Boras. Assuming the sides cannot work out a contract extension, Fielder would be arbitration-eligible one last time before he hits the free agent market following the 2011 season.
The Brewers also have a couple of key first-time eligibles next year in pitchers Yovani Gallardo and Manny Parra. Gallardo in particular is likely to get a very substantial raise.
Gausden, the former Brewers vice president who argued arbitration hearings with Mercedes in 1998 and Mike Fetters in 1994, said that part of the strategy is picking your battles every few years. Otherwise, agents know which teams shy away from hearings and file salary proposals artificially high, to drive up the midpoint in anticipation of a settlement.
So, the Brewers will pay Hart $650,000 more than it wanted to in 2010, but could have left themselves positioned to save some payroll dollars in the future. Yet another layer to a very complex process.