All signs continue to point to the Mariners, as we reported last month, heading to salary-arbitration hearing with reliever Tom Wilhelmsen.
Barring a negotiated agreement, it will be the first time in 12 years that the club engaged in such a process. The last occasion was 2003, when pitcher Freddy Garcia won his case.
The date for Wilhelmsen’s hearing isn’t public knowledge — the process calls for secrecy on that point — but the deadline for all such hearings is Feb. 20.
So it’s coming soon.
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Here are the basics:
This is Wilhelmsen’s first year of arbitration eligibility, and he filed for $2.2 million, while the Mariners countered at $1.4 million. He made made $528,800 a year ago while going 3-2 with a 2.27 ERA in 79 1/3 innings over 57 games.
The three-member arbitration panel must select one of the two submitted figures — no compromise is allowed — but a negotiated settlement is possible until the moment the panel issues a ruling.
That ruling usually comes within 24 hours of the hearing’s conclusion.
The process is purposely onerous for both sides in order to encourage a negotiated agreement. For one thing, the player is required to attend the hearing, which means he gets to hear club officials detail his shortcomings.
In that sense, the process has, generally, been successful. Few cases actually went to a hearing in recent years.
“Look,” one veteran club negotiator explained, “both sides know the numbers; both sides know what players with similar stats are making. It’s usually not that hard to get a deal because nobody wants to go through this.”
When snags occur, the process encourages both sides to submit defensible salary bids because anything beyond the comparative-stats norm is likely to push the panel in the other direction.
What makes Wilhelmsen’s case so interesting is the issue won’t necessarily hinge solely on a simple comparison to players with similar service time and stats.
The argument — at least the argument as the Mariners will want to frame it — is one dealing with Wilhelmsen’s role. They see him, and want to pay him, as a middle reliever.
That was his role last year, which tends to hold the greatest sway with arbitrators, although the process does permit consideration for a player’s career contributions (in comparison to players with similar service time).
And that is likely to be Wilhelmsen’s argument.
Not only does he have a 2.85 ERA while averaging 63 appearances over the last three seasons, he also has 54 saves in that span (although he had just one save in 2014).
Closers make more money, generally, than middle relievers.