B. J. Upton lost his arbitration hearing with the Rays today. He’ll receive $3.0 million in 2010, instead of the $3.3 million he requested.
That this dispute went to arbitration is puzzling, even more so than the Corey Hart arbitration. Where the parties are only $300,000 apart, a settlement at the midpoint ($3.15 million) seems too obvious to even merit much discussion. Each side is only giving up $150,000, which is only 5% of the contract amount and about a third of the major league minimum. That’s just not worth fighting about at this level.
In this case, one or both parties really acted unreasonably. Even if it was Upton, and even though the Rays won the arbitration, the team has likely shot itself in the foot. Despite a bad year with the bat in 2009, Upton is still only 25 in 2010 and already has more than 2,000 major league plate appearances. Also, his defense is generally considered outstanding.
Upton is the kind of player you build a winning team around, but now there’s a good chance there will be acrimony between the two over the next few seasons, and it’s even more likely that the Rays will lose Upton as soon as he reaches free agency.
It really doesn’t matter who was at fault in this case going to arbitration. If it was the Rays, then Upton has a reason to be aggrieved. If it was Upton (or both), then we can expect that Upton will feel aggrieved whether or not he has a right to feel that way.
The Rays are a small-market team that has to watch its budget. However, it looks to me like they were penny-wise and pound-foolish on this one. Upton is one of the the team’s core of young talent that could keep the team in the hunt in the AL East for years to come. Alienating him now over a couple hundred thousand dollars doesn’t seem wise to me.