Avoid arbitration? Autry’s horse left barn long ago

The flurry of contract signings on Friday all included the same, misleading advisory: So-and-so reached agreement “to avoid arbitration.”

No. What the players and teams settling avoided was an arbitration hearing. As for “avoiding arbitration,” club owners only wish. Arbitration is a hammer that has been pounding owners since it was negotiated in good faith into the Collective Basic Agreement in 1973 — as a “tradeoff” for the fresh phenomenon of free agency.

As Pirates GM Neal Huntington has noted, “The Players Association fought hard for [salary arbitration] as the best way to avoid salary conflict.”

Many, many years ago, Gene Autry, the original owner of the Angels, warned fellow owners that arbitration is a hazardous tool.

The Singing Cowboy had seen how arbitration had undermined Hollywood’s studio-contract system. He couldn’t strike the right notes for his fellow owners, who overwhelmingly approved the process (only the Cardinals’ Gus Busch and Oakland’s Charlie Finley wound up voting against it).

The 135 players who had filed for arbitration and have settled did so for an average 2015 salary of $3,279,200.

Numbers exchanged for the remaining 54 arbitration-eligible players average $3,421,389 on the low end — that is, the clubs’ offers, not the players’ requests.

Very few of them might get to a hearing. As for avoiding arbitration … too late.

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