The Atlanta Braves and top starter Max Fried couldn’t agree on a contract. When cases like this arise, the CBA allows the player to take his case to binding arbitration.
The arbiter sided with the Atlanta Braves, who will now pay Fried $13.5M in his second year of arbitration rather than the $15M Fried requested at filing. As I read fan reactions, it became clear that many Braves fans:
- Didn’t like the decision, and
- Don’t understand why such a small gap caused a hearing,
Clearing that up requires a look at the system, how it evolved, its rules, who the arbiters are, and why hearings take place. Detailing all that would take more space than I have, so I’ll give you the Cliff Notes version.
Arbitration became part of the game after a month of intensive negotiations that led to its inclusion in the first collective bargaining agreement in 1968.
The method worked out by the leagues and Marvin Miller’s newly minted MLBPA was a different approach than arbitration in other industries because of its final offer format. While the system is known as final offer, yes-no, or pendulum arbitration, but baseball arbitration earned its own definition.
The agreed format ends player hold-outs like that of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale in 1966 and allows teams to begin play even if a final decision hasn’t been delivered before the season starts.
Baseball Arbitration (B-Arb) limits the arbiters’ discretion to a choice between offers. The hearing is held in front of a three-person arbitration panel selected by the MLBPA and MLB Labor Relations.
There are two types of B-Arb, day and night, but the rules are the same for each. In both types:
- The lead arbiter receives each side’s final offer before the hearing in the form of a signed uniform player contract.
- A hearing is held allowing both sides to present their case and offer a rebuttal.
- Arbiters value (weigh) the evidence using whatever logic they want to reach their decision
- A decision is provided to the MLBPA and MLB within 24 hours after the end of the hearing.
The decision is not explained to the player or team, but the MLBPA and MLB are given a record of voting to aid in selection for the following year.