The Oakland A’s 2019 payroll tied up a final loose end on Saturday with the determination of Blake Treinen’s salary. The All-Star closer was eligible for arbitration and did not come to a settlement agreement, so the two sides went to a hearing to let an arbiter decide. Treinen won the case and will earn $6.4 million this season, reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle.
For his part, Treinen clearly earned every penny of whatever salary he makes this year. He just put up one of the best campaigns ever by a relief pitcher, and along the way Athletics Nation unanimously voted him as the Cy Young of a team that won 97 games. His sinker, which can reach 100 mph, was voted by the players as the second-nastiest pitch in the majors. His consistent and utter dominance helped drag an injury-riddled pitching staff to a surprise postseason berth.
Treinen, 2018: 0.78 ERA, 80⅓ ip, 100 Ks, 21 BB, 2 HR, 1.82 FIP, 38 saves
He was the first pitcher in MLB history to post a sub-1.00 ERA, 30+ saves, and 100+ strikeouts in a single season. His ERA is the lowest in history for any pitcher with at least 80 innings thrown. For his efforts, he finished sixth in the AL Cy Young voting, tops among relievers in either league.
This was Treinen’s second year of arbitration eligibility, and he has one more remaining after 2019. That means he’s still under team control for 2020 even though there isn’t an actual contract in place yet. So, he just signed a one-year deal for ‘19, but he won’t be a free agent until after ‘20.
Arbitration: Just business
Before we go any further, let’s properly set the scene before any part of this news gets misinterpreted. Arbitration is part of the business side of baseball, and nothing more. The fact that the two sides couldn’t agree to terms and went to a hearing does not tell us anything about their relationship, nor any souring or bad blood or disrespect or anything of the sort. It just says that an employer and employee couldn’t agree on an exact number, so they had someone else decide.
For an example of this principle, look no further than Khris Davis. He went to a hearing a couple years ago and also beat the A’s, and the story line around him has never wavered from how much he loves the team and city and how much they love him back. Let’s please not let our imaginations run wild with conspiracy theories about stars being disgruntled with bullpen strategies or personnel decisions or whatever.
In fact, it’s particularly understandable for this case to have gone to a hearing. The arbitration process is at least somewhat based on precedent, with part of the valuation process being a comparison with the salaries of statistically similar players. Treinen’s resume this offseason is, in a word, unprecedented. Nobody has ever put up the numbers he did last year, so there is literally no direct comp to make, and to complicate things further he was a breakout star so the recent greatness is still an outlier in his overall track record. How do you put a precise value on that?
Oakland’s other recent hearings were for cases similarly tough to peg. Khrush went to a hearing after breaking out for his first 40+ homer season, but having never before hit even 30 nor played 150 games in a year. Kendall Graveman went after being the Opening Day starter, but also after putting up mediocre stats and missing nearly half the season to injury. And Treinen’s was probably the most complicated of that trio.
The A’s chose $5.6 million as their offer, but it wasn’t enough. It turned out Treinen’s record-breaking season earned him a record-breaking raise, as his $4.25 million uptick is the biggest ever for a reliever in his second year of arbitration, reports Jeff Passan of ESPN. Of course, he could command far more on the open market as a free agent, but within the limited confines of the arbitration process he did as well as could have been hoped. Meanwhile, the A’s offer fell short, but it wasn’t a lowball and I think they can be excused for not quite suggesting an outright historic raise. It’s just business, after all.
Here’s an updated look at the A’s 25-man payroll, which now stands around $85 million. All of the arbitration cases are now resolved, so there is no more guesswork to be done.
|Sean Manaea (DL)||LHP||3.2|
|9 more players||--||5.0|
Note: I made a change from the last few versions of this table. For the “9 more players” section, made up of pre-arbitration players who make more or less the minimum salary, I’d previously been using Baseball-Reference’s estimate of $750K per player. But I’m not sure why they do that, so this time I bumped down to the actual minimum salary of $555K.
Also note: I’ve rounded everything to the first decimal point, so in reality the total is about a quarter-million lower than what I concluded in the table.
Also also note: Yes I know it adds up to 26 players. I’m counting a replacement for Manaea, who will open the year on the DL.