Arbitration madness about to begin
Here it comes. We're warning you now. It's the arbitration class of 2009, potentially the most expensive, most sport-rattling arbitration class ever. And it's about to leave a mark on this sport the size of Bryce Canyon.On Thursday afternoon, we'll see the names of everyone who filed. Then on Tuesday, we'll learn the exact dollars at stake. And that's when this saga will get really interesting. Ryan Howard's name is on this list. Prince Fielder's name is on this list. And once we catch a glimpse of the humongous dollar amounts for which they filed, it won't be just their 2009 salaries we'll be wondering about. It will be which teams they'll be playing for next. Howard's Phillies teammate Cole Hamels will appear on that list. So will Jonathan Papelbon and his Red Sox compadre Kevin Youkilis. They all are centerpiece players on teams that could win the World Series. Yet the Phillies and the Red Sox, for all their resources, haven't found ways to get them signed. And there are other names, names you know well: Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander and Dan Uggla, among others. As their service time mounts and their paychecks inflate, their places in the fabric of their franchises could be shifting before our eyes. So this is not just another arbitration class. This is a group that will change the sport, change franchises, change the future. How? Let's take a look -- at the 2009 Arbitration All-Stars: RYAN HOWARD Meet the man responsible for all this. Howard has made only one trip through the arbitration jungle. But he walked away last year with the most landscape-altering arbitration payout of all time.
He's getting ready to make his first foray into arbitration. And he's a Scott Boras client. So speculation is already building about how bold Fielder and Boras will be in approaching Howard's dollars from last year.You just wonder, one agent mused, "how close can a slugger get to Howard's [salary] number of last year without the awards?" He makes a good point. Fielder, although he seems like a similar player, has NOT had Howard's career. Howard already has a rookie of the year award, an MVP award, a second-place MVP finish and (once they measure his ring size) a World Series ring. Fielder owns one third-place rank in the 2007 MVP voting. Period.
OTHERS TO WATCHFELIX HERNANDEZ The Mariners' last regime got nowhere trying to sign King Felix to a long-term deal. Now it's new GM Jack Zduriencik's turn. But Hernandez hasn't seemed real amenable in the past. And now he has to be wondering about the direction of the franchise as he sits three years from free agency, heading for his first shot at arbitration. So his filing numbers will be fascinating, because even though he still hasn't achieved his seemingly inevitable stardom, one executive describes him as "a market-class changer."
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.