Mike Edwards played just 4 seasons in the
Majors but his salary arbitration filing figure
Hear that? It’s the sound of a well-oiled machine. Baseball’s off-season is a dizzying array activities. Free agent salary arbitration offers and declines; FA player accepting or declining club offers; tendering contracts; free agent signings; the Rule V Draft, salary arb for 3-6 year MLS players; salary arbitration hearings… next thing you know, it’s Spring Training.
And yet, with all this activity, the dance between players and clubs runs fairly smooth, a by-product of oversight and assistance of the league and MLBPA with the clubs and player agents.
It wasn’t always as such.
On Monday, Marvin Miller will once again be up for the Hall of Fame. The former Exec. Director of the union for the players first substantial victory ahead of free agency was getting salary arbitration introduced. From 1974, with some minor adjustments, it has remained a cornerstone of baseball’s off-season.
When the process started, it was a new dynamic that GMs certainly didn’t exactly embrace. Now, there would have to be research into how much a player was worth based on their service time in relationship to players of a like position and the salary they landed through the process. Players understood that they would need help in the process, and thus was born the player agent.
As mentioned, now the process is well controlled. The process of player asking and club offering salary figures are monitored closely. After all, those numbers set the market for not only a given year, but can be used in years to come.
It makes sense that a player is going to seek more than a club is looking to offer. Thousands of players have run through the system, and each year, it’s the process of finding compromise between the two to reach a contract agreement.
That doesn’t mean salary arbitration has rules saying players have to ask for more than clubs offer.
Each year, I get emails asking if there’s ever been a case of a player asking for less than a club has offered in salary arbitration. Logic says that there’s probably been an instance since 1974, and I had heard that had been the case, but I didn’t know for sure, and didn’t know the details. Who was the player? What were the salary figures? If there were a case, how was it resolved.
This year, I got 3 emails, but it wasn’t until Peter Gammons contacted me that the pieces of sorting it out came into place.
Gammons mentioned that he thought that the original super-agent Jerry Kapstein had filed a lower figure than Charlie Finley with a player named “Edwards” on the Oakland Athletics.
Finley has been portrayed as a maverick around his marketing ideas, namely pinch runners, and his suggestion that the use of orange baseballs would make them easier to see during night games, but he was a fantastic talent evaluator, acting as the GM of the A’s.
Jerry Kapstein had made his mark with several A’s players in the 70s. He prepared Ken Holtzman’s first salary arbitration case in 1974, and while working on that case, landed Darold Knowles and Rollie Fingers. So, it made sense that Kapstein might represent “Edwards”.
Research showed that there have been two “Mike Edwards” that have played for the Athletics, one for 4 games in 2003, but it was Michael Lewis Edwards who played four seasons from 1977-80, with the last three being with the A’s that would fit Gammon’s claims of “Edwards”. Searching The New York Times historical database landed the answer.
While the article does not mention Kapstein, in 1980 Mike Edwards became the first player to submit a salary arbitration figure below what a club was offering. Thomas Rogers in his Sports World Special capsules wrote under “Sign Language” that Edwards must not “have been thinking properly” or that he was focused on his 1979 .233 batting average, 41 points below his rookie-year average and 22 errors at second base, the most in the AL that year. Whatever the case, salary arbitration asking figure of $50,000 was submitted up while Charlie Finley offered up a $58,000.
The article adds that Finley and Edwards were able to resolve the matter without having to have an arbitrator sort it out. The financial terms aren’t disclosed, but it’s certain Edwards landed more than he asked for. Carl Finley, the Exec. VP of the A’s at the time said, “I’d say Mike was very happy with his contract.”
So, Gammons’ question had been answered, but here’s the thing: Edwards isn’t the only player to have gone lower than a club’s offering figure in salary arbitration.
Indeed, it’s happened in one other instance, this time in 1982 with Orioles pitcher, Mike Flanagan.
The Feb. 8, 1982 edition of Sports Illustrated tells the tale (thank you SI.com for the Vault).
In this instance, Flanagan had an asking figure of $485,000 while Hank Peters with the Orioles had offered $500,000. Oops, Part II. While the Edwards instance was resolved by the sides reaching a contract agreement, according to Robert W. Creamer’s “Scorecard” capsule for SI, Flangan’s dilemma was resolved by the arbitrator canceling the case and awarding the Orioles pitcher Peter’s $500,000 offering salary for the 1983 season.
Could It Happen Again?
Two “oops” cases since 1974 where a player asked for less in salary arbitration than their club offered? Pretty incredible track record. There have been many cases where the player and club have set the same exact figures, most recently with Matt Garza in the last salary arb cycle in January of this year when the two landed on $3,350,000. The reason? Nine times out of 10 it’s because the club and player have settled on contract terms but haven’t finalized it before the figure exchange deadline. In other words, the figures being exchanged are simply a formality solidifying the contract for the upcoming season.
But, the chances of any player being in the select group that includes Edwards and Flanagan seems exceptionally thin. While the process doesn’t make it impossible, it seems improbable. With so many eyes on the process, a “below club offer” gaffe seems a footnote in baseball history. Thanks, Edwards and Flanagan.
Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey, as well as a contributor to FanGraphs and Forbes SportsMoney. He is available for hire or freelance. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.
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