In his seven years as the general manager of the Red Sox, Theo Epstein has not once gone to arbitration over the salary of a player. Today, with mere hours to go before the deadline for teams to
hammer out deals with their arbitration-eligible players [Edit: As Wolf has pointed out, I'm completely wrong on this. The deadline is actually for exchanging figures.] , he would have to complete four deals to maintain his spotless record.
It's not too surprising that Theo would want to avoid arbitration. After all, arbitration is, at its core, a fight between the player and the team. A fight where the front office will have to explain, in detail, why they think a player isn't good enough to earn more money. It doesn't exactly make for a comfortable workplace, as you can imagine.
The main holdout this year is Jonathan Papelbon. This will come as no surprise to Red Sox fans who will remember that the closer has often made talk of setting new bars in free agency and going year-to-year to make as much as possible. Last year, Papelbon signed a record-setting $6.25 million contract with the Red Sox right before the deadline. This year, it's expected that he could make up to $10 million.
This year Papelbon is joined by fellow relievers Ramon Ramirez and Manny Delcarmen, as well as outfielder Jeremy Hermida. For Ramirez and Delcarmen, it will be their first time eligible for arbitration. Hermida signed a $2.25 million contract right before the deadline last year to avoid arbitration.
Of the other three players, the widest gap between the team and player would likely be found with Manny Delcarmen. After 2 good years with the club in 2007 and 2008, Delcarmen fell apart down the stretch to finish with a 4.53 ERA in 59.2 innings pitched. Recent reports of late-season arm injury (which is now supposed to be completely healed) seem to be timed very conveniently for an agent trying to make the case that his client's late-season meltdown should be overlooked.
Still, though, if the difference is only a few hundred thousand dollars, would it really be worth risking the relationship between the team and player for a club that has as high a payroll as the Red Sox? Possibly. To begin with, the club will likely be pushed over the Collective Bargaining Agreement's luxury tax threshold when all arbitration-eligible contracts are factored in. A few hundred thousand here or there could be the difference if the Red Sox were to attempt to shed some payroll in order to get underneath the $170 million limit.
It also has to be considered how solid the relationship between the player and the club is to begin with. In the case of Papelbon, Delcarmen, and Hermida, how much is there to lose? Papelbon's outspoken ways haven't done anything to endear him to ownership. Delcarmen was seemingly being shopped around the trade deadline last year, and concealed an injury from the team. And Jeremy Hermida is a newcomer who was told he would be traded if the Red Sox signed Jason Bay; is Mike Cameron really such a different situation?
When all is said and done, Theo may no longer have enough incentive to avoid arbitration, regardless of how minor the financial gains may end up.