Spring training is underway and so are arbitration hearings. Earlier this week, the Milwaukee Brewers and 2021 NL Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes had their arbitration hearing, and the three-person panel sided with the Brewers over Burnes, according to the Associated Press. He will be paid $10.01 million in 2023 rather than the $10.75 million he was seeking.
Arbitration hearings are not a pleasant experience. Each side fights for the salary number they filed, which often entails the team detailing the player's shortcomings and why he should be paid less than what he thinks he's worth. On Thursday, Burnes discussed his arbitration hearing, and said there is "no denying that the relationship is definitely hurt" by the process.
Here's what Burnes said about his arbitration hearing (via MLB.com video):
"You kind of find out your true value. You work hard for seven years in the organization and five years with the big league team, and you get in there and basically they value you much different than you thought you contributed to the organization. Honestly, it's tough to hear, tough to take, but they're trying to do what they can to win the hearing. But obviously I think there are other ways they could have gone about it. Be a little more respectful with the way they went about it.
"... There's no denying that the relationship is definitely hurt from what transpired over the last couple of weeks. There's really no way getting around that. Obviously we're professionals and we're going to go out there and do our job, and keep doing what I can every fifth day when I go out there. But with some of the things that are said -- basically put me at the forefront of why we didn't make the postseason last year -- that's something that probably doesn't need to be said. Go about a hearing without needing to do that. There was no attacking of character of a person. Just some of the stuff that was said definitely didn't need to be said."
Burnes added there were no talks about a long-term contract extension, but said the team made a "pretty poor" two-year offer in the days prior to the hearing, though it was a "pretty poor" offer. A source told MLB.com that the offer was not a new deal, but rather a club or mutual option. Either way, Burnes is two years away from free agency, so an extra year would have given the Brewers cost control of his final two arbitration years and nothing more.
As for the Brewers claiming Burnes was a reason they missed the postseason a year, that is simply nonsense. No, Burnes was not as dominant as he was in 2021, but he threw 202 innings with a 2.94 ERA and 0.95 WHIP. I contend the lack of production at third base (.220/.312/.344) and DH (.227/.306/.382) were much bigger reasons the Brewers missed the playoffs, ditto trading away their All-Star closer at the deadline.
Burnes was speculated as a trade candidate this offseason simply because he is inching closer to free agency, and it seems unlikely the small market Brewers will pony up for the nine-figure contract he will command on the open market. Much like the Josh Hader trade last year, it seems likely Milwaukee will trade Burnes for a big prospect package at some point before free agency.
Not all arbitration hearings create bad feelings between the team and player. The New York Yankees went to arbitration hearings with Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera early in their careers, and they lived happily ever after. Although Burnes said the arbitration hearing upset him, it probably won't hasten his exit from Milwaukee. His impending free agency and the likelihood the Brewers trade him before losing him for just a QO is more likely how this story ends.
The Brewers went 86-76 in 2022, finishing one game behind the eventual National League champion Philadelphia Phillies for the third and final wild-card spot.