Arbitration is that curiosity of MLB life where star players end up arguing in front of an arbitrator that they’re worth more money than their team is offering them in what essentially amounts to baseball’s equivalent of the restricted free agency you find in other sports for players who do not have the service time for unrestricted free agency.
The adversarial nature of arbitration puts teams in a position where they have to tear down their own players and effectively convince an arbitrator that a player to whom they have made a counteroffer isn’t good enough to get what he’s asking for.
It is against this backdrop that Oakland A’s All-Star closer Blake Treinen just earned a record raise via arbitration.
Treinen and his agent, Matt Sosnick, were asking for $6.4 million after Treinen made $2.2 million in 2018.
The A’s countered with an offer of $5.6 million.
And per a text message sent by Sosnick to ESPN Saturday, the player won this particular round of Litigation Derby, convincing arbitrators Steven Wolf, Allen Ponak and Phillip LaPorte of the merits of the $6.4 million demand.
The $4.25 million raise Treinen will get this year is the highest ever earned by a second-time arbitration-eligible reliever, according to MLB.com.
Sosnick’s firm tweeted news of the victory.
?Breaking News?: Congratulations to client Blake Treinen for his arbitration victory!!
A historic season capped off with another win for one of the best pitchers and best people in the game!!
— Sosnick Cobbe & Karon (@SosnickCobbe) February 2, 2019
Treinen went 9-2 with an 0.78 ERA and 38 saves in 43 chances last season, striking out 100 and walking just 21 in 80.1 innings.
It was the first time in baseball history that a reliever saved 30 games, posted a sub-1.00 ERA and notched a hundred strikeouts in a regular season.
For comparison’s sake, New York Yankees legend Mariano Rivera, the gold standard for closers, struck out 100 batters in the regular season only once and never posted an ERA better than 1.38.
Of course, Rivera had 42 saves, 110 strikeouts and a 0.70 ERA in the postseason, which is why he was the first unanimous choice for the Hall of Fame.
While Treinen did his work under much lower stakes, that’s still one heck of a comparison. Plus, Treinen only needed 80 innings compared with Rivera’s 141 in October’s extra games.
So maybe persuading an arbitrator to tell his team to quit lowballing him wasn’t quite the challenge it could have been.
The raise makes him the fourth-highest-paid player on the A’s roster, behind Khris Davis ($16.5 million), Stephen Piscotty ($7 million) and Joakim Soria ($6.5 million.)
And none of those guys drew comparisons to Mariano Rivera.
The 30-year-old closer managed 4.3 wins above replacement, a frankly ludicrous total for a closer. Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw had just 4.0 WAR in 2018, and he got twice as many innings (161.1) to compile numbers for what is a cumulative stat.
Tampa Bay’s Blake Snell, the AL Cy Young Award winner, had 7.5 WAR; extrapolate Treinen’s performance out to 180.2 innings and he’d end up with 9.7, fully two more wins than the guy deemed the best pitcher in the league.
Put simply, Treinen had a monster season.
It’s good to see the arbitrators recognize that and see to his financial reward.
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