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A Discussion About Salary Arbitration

Squawking Baseball has an excellent interview on its site with John Coppolella, Director of Baseball Administration for the Atlanta Braves.  The discussion: salary arbitration.  Here are my favorite Q&A’s:

How much do you weigh past precedent in formulating the team’s offer?

Past precedent definitely plays a role, but as any agent will tell you, the most relevant contracts signed are the most recent. According to a study by the Associated Press, this year’s group of arbitration-eligible players reportedly earned a record increase of 172 percent. There’s no doubt that salaries escalate more in arbitration than free agency. There are many reasons for this – beyond it being a flawed process – but the biggest, in my opinion, is once you tender a contract to an arbitration-eligible player the power shifts completely to that player and his agent. In free agency, until a player signs, clubs, to a degree, can still determine a player’s salary.

How important is it to the Braves to get a deal done before the hearing? Some teams seem to pride themselves on never actually going to arbitration.

I don’t think any club looks forward to going to arbitration – it’s a lose-lose proposition. Players are present for their hearings and the points you make in a case can damage the relationship between the player and the club or, worse, affect a player’s confidence and mindset at the very beginning of a season. As our General Manager Frank Wren says, “you win the battle but lose the war.” And if you lose the case, after pointing out in detail every single shortcoming of a player, it’s a real double-whammy.

That being said, we won’t buy players out of hearings. Our Assistant General Manager, Bruce Manno, and I had our suitcases packed and flights booked for two hearings this year and our cases were ready. We don’t look forward to hearings, but if it has to happen we will always be prepared.

How do you build your case? What key points do you usually center it around?

In a typical year I will begin looking at player comparables for potential arbitration-eligible players during the last month of the season. Almost immediately after our season ends, I will finalize these comparables and discuss them with Frank and Bruce. Once we feel good about those comparables we discuss them with our arbitration practitioners, Mark Rosenthal and Alex Tamin. As the process develops, and negotiations evolve or stagnate, Mark and Alex begin preparing massive outlines and presentations on the remaining arbitration-eligible players. If we end up in a hearing, they present the case on behalf of the Braves. Mark and Alex consult with a number of clubs, have tons of experience, and do an outstanding job.

After talking through each player and potential case with Frank, Bruce, Mark, and Alex, the key points for each case become apparent. Like I said earlier, each player is his own individual case. Depending upon who the player is and what type of season he had, we structure key points in a strategic manner to best fit our argument. It’s the same way agents build their cases. In the end it’s all about performance and the players who have performed the best will get paid the most.

How does the player’s agent affect your preparation?

Very little. Like I said, we are going to prepare a case that puts the Braves in the best possible position whether the player’s agent is Scott Boras or Scott Baio. As you work in the industry you develop relationships with agents that might help to facilitate an agreement more easily or make negotiations more amicable, but in terms of preparation it makes no difference.

Some great insight from John Coppolella, but there is no way that he is going to negotiate with Scotty Baio the same way that he would with Boras!  Scott Baio is 46…and Pregnant!

By Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner created Sports Agent Blog as a New Year's Resolution on December 31, 2005. Originally titled, "I Want To Be A Sports Agent," the website was founded with the intention of causing Heitner to learn more about the profession that he wanted to join, meet reputable individuals in the space and force himself to stay on top of the latest news and trends.

Heitner now runs Heitner Legal, P.L.L.C., which is a law firm with many practice areas, including sports law and contract law. Heitner has represented numerous athletes and sports agents as legal counsel. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University Bloomington from 2011-2014, where he created and taught a course titled, Sport Agency Management, which included subjects ranging from NCAA regulations to athlete agent certification and the rules governing the profession. Heitner serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he teaches a Sports Law class that includes case law surrounding athlete agents and the NCAA rules.