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How Dumb Is Baseball's Arbitration Process?

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I think all headlines should be written in the form of a Ray Fosse question.

Since 2013, Jarrod Parker has lost 2 seasons and 1 arbitration case. Oh, and you're holding the wrong arm.
Since 2013, Jarrod Parker has lost 2 seasons and 1 arbitration case. Oh, and you're holding the wrong arm.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

First of all, don't mess with me. I chaperoned a middle school dance Friday night, so nothing you have to offer is going to phase me. For an update on who now likes who, and who slow danced together, please visit our website at whotheheckcaresyou'

Second of all, you know that this article isn't really about the A's because the A's simply don't go to arbitration with their players. Actually, strictly speaking that's not true: they've gone three times in the Billy Beane era. What is true is that they don't lose (sorry, Ariel Prieto, Juan Cruz, and Jarrod Parker).

In fact, fewer and fewer arbitration cases are being heard nowadays and thank goodness for that, given the many flaws in the current system. Like the fact that the arbitrators are not experts in the area of baseball, which is a shame considering that the entire proceeding centers around understanding the very game of baseball. It really isn't sufficient to be good at law, good at debate, or even just really intelligent in general, if you are not familiar with baseball when you are asked to adjudicate disputes about how much a player's salary should be.

I am lucky to work with quite a few colleagues whose intelligence, logical mind, and sense of reason are top of the line. However, I would hate to rattling off terms like xFIP and BABIP to them and expect them to do more than ask me, "By any chance are you having a stroke?"

But what I wish to rant about to you today is the insistence that the player be present at arbitration hearings. Why? The player is represented by an agent whose job it is to speak on matters of the player's stats, comparative worth, relevant precedents, medical records, and any other issue that could potentially impact an arbitrator's decision.

Likewise, the team has no need to cross-examine the player himself in order to try to win its case. In what scenario does the player need to be there?

"Mr. Parker, isn't it true that on the night of April 29th, you hung not one but two sliders?"
"No! It was the catcher who insisted I throw it. I shook him off, I swear!"

"Well, judge, I saw the second baseman rounding the bag but I didn't really get a good look at his face."
"Could you pick him out of a lineup of, say, five gritty utility second basemen?"

Really the only purpose it serves for the player to be present at his arbitration hearing is to make everyone extremely uncomfortable.

"Hey, we love Juan and we're just so thrilled he'll be joining us again this year. It's just that we don't think he should get paid the amount he's asking for because, well, he has a $10,000,000 arm and a 10 cent head. Nothing personal of course, Juan."

Why can't the agents and teams just figure it out with the arbitrators and let the player know who won? Probably the same reason suspension appeals can't possibly be conducted by skype, and ruled on, the day after an appeal is filed.

"We definitely need to hear this appeal and have the matter settled. So ... when's the next time you're in New York? August? Ooh, no, that won't work because Mr. Torre has to be on TV talking about his prostate to fans who are desperately trying to watch a baseball game. Is 2018 good?"

If the goal is to make it so inherently awkward that both sides would rather avoid arbitration, I have a better solution. Instead of having the two sides each pick a figure, have the figures automatically be $50 or $50,000,000. You want to take the chance of losing? I don't think you do. Just to make it a tad more interesting, how about every 10 hearings it's decided by flipping a coin.

"Excellent arguments by both sides, really. Super well done, really super. However, I've just received word that this hearing is one of the 10% randomly selected to be decided by a coin flip, so Mr. Prieto: do you want heads or tails?"

With ideas like these, honestly I don't know why I'm not Commissioner. I mean it doesn't even have to be of baseball. It would just be nice if I could be Commissioner of something. Well, that's enough hard-hitting journalism for this week -- you're just lucky I didn't publish Cindi's new recipe for Hungarian Goulashes. I'll give you a hint: it tastes shoe-y.