How did you spend your Wednesday? Josh Rojas spent his at a courthouse in Florida, listening to a legal battle over how much money he is worth.
No matter how unpleasant, the salary arbitration process is — for now — a necessary part of Major League Baseball’s business operations. When players become arbitration-eligible (typically after three years of service), their salaries are determined by a negotiation with their teams. When the two parties are unable to come to an agreement — as was the case for Rojas — an arbitration hearing results.
According to a report from MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, the D-backs filed at $2.575 million and Rojas filed at $2.875 million, a difference of $300,000. The arbiter ruled in the Diamondbacks’ favor, meaning that Rojas will earn $2.575 million in 2023.
“I would have taken a win,” Rojas said, “but it was a good experience.”
“It wasn’t an arbitration case where I was going in and feeling like they lowballed me and I deserved more,” he added. “It was a situation where I felt like the low amount was … a good offer and there was a chance for me to win more.
“I’ll take that bet every time.”
Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen was among those in attendance at the hearing in Florida.
“That’s a rarity,” Rojas said. “GMs and front office people try to stay away from that situation just because it’s tough to bash a player when you’re paying them to perform on the field.”
Hazen also made it a point to meet with Rojas one-on-one after the fact.
“Every player that we’ve gone to arbitration with I’ve met with the next day to debrief on the situation and explain my accountability in what was presented,” Hazen said. “I ultimately am in charge of that, and so what gets said is coming from me.
“Through that process, if there are disagreements on what was said, how it was said, all of those things, then I need to own up to those things.”
As would be expected, Rojas disagreed with the case that was made against him, and he was given a chance to voice his disagreements in his meeting with Hazen. At the same time, he is not holding any grudges.
“[Hazen] basically just gave me the chance initially to tell him any hard feelings that I had, but I told him I didn’t have any,” Rojas said. “I knew what I was signing up for when I went there.”
During the hearing, the two sides use statistics to support their case. While any statistic is fair game, not all that are used are necessarily in line with how the team — and even the player — really view that player’s value.
“There’s some things that were said on their side that [Hazen] disagreed with,” Rojas said. “But that’s their job. And there’s some things that I knew that we said on our side that were a bit of a stretch.
“If you go to any court case, whether it’s a baseball arbitration case or … a trial where there’s prison on the line, both sides are trying to stretch the limits, and we did that and they did that.”
“The job is to go in there and win the case, and his job is to go in there and win the case. So, you know, you do what you’ve got to do.”
Despite Rojas’ disagreement with the case that was made against him, he also said that the team did not go over the line with anything that was said. That runs in stark contrast to the Milwaukee Brewers’ recent hearing with star pitcher Corbin Burnes, who deemed some of the remarks made against him disrespectful.
According to Burnes, the case against him involved “basically putting 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,” he added.
Although the Diamondbacks’ case with Rojas appears to have ended peacefully, there is no getting around the fact that salary arbitration hearings are an ugly part of the sport. Major League Baseball is one of two major sports leagues in the United States that use the process, the National Hockey League being the other.
There has been some discussion in recent years of removing the process from baseball altogether. Early in last year’s collective bargaining negotiations, the owners presented a proposal that would have replaced the system with a more objective salary calculation based on player WAR. When asked about the possibility of a change, Rojas was open to the idea, but he also said that WAR does not tell the whole story.
“There’s so many numbers in this game, and there are so many ways you can grade a player and there are so many different things that make a guy valuable,” he said. “I don’t know what that process would look like, and it’s probably why it’s still the same because both sides can’t come up with a new way.
“But yeah, if there’s a better way that required you to sit through a little less scrutiny, maybe I’d sign up for it.”
For now, major-league teams will continue settling salary disputes the way that they have for 50 years, with players sitting in courthouses in mid-February, listening as their teams tell them why they aren’t as good as they think they are.
“Frankly,” Hazen said, “it stinks.”
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Top photo: Kelley L. Cox/USA TODAY Sports