The Brewers' remaining eligibles are relievers John Axford and Burke Badenhop, starter Marco Estrada and center fielder Carlos Gomez. All four have accrued enough Major League service to qualify for arbitration, a process whereby their salaries are set commensurate with others with similar tenure and production, but not the six years in the Majors required to qualify outright for free agency.
The next step comes Friday, when arbitration-eligible players and their teams exchange proposals for one-year contracts.
But first, a reminder of how salary arbitration works:
Eligible players are generally those with at least three years of Major League service but less than six, though a select group of players with between two and three years of service also qualify as "Super Twos" -- Gomez was one in 2010. These players are still under team control, but unlike players with zero to three years of service, whose salaries are set at the whim of their teams, arbitration-eligibles are paid relative to similar players in terms of performance and service time as governed by Article VI of MLB's Basic Agreement. Among the considerations are a player's performance in his most recent -- or "platform" -- season, the length and consistency of his career contribution, his "leadership and public appeal" and the recent performance of the team. Representatives from both sides seek to establish "comps" -- comparable players -- to support their proposals.
This year and for the next four years, players formally file for arbitration on a Tuesday and exchange proposed figures Friday. The parties then continue negotiating until the date of an arbitration hearing, which are scheduled this year from Feb. 4-20. In the vast majority of cases, the sides avoid a hearing with a settlement near the midpoint of figures.
But if a case goes all the way to a hearing, each side presents its case to a three-member panel of judges. The player attends, so teams often hire outside counsel to argue its case in an attempt to lessen hard feelings.
The judges weigh the evidence and, 24 hours later, chose one salary proposal or the other. They do not explain the decision.
Only twice since 1998 have the Brewers gone all the way to a hearing with a player. Outfielder Corey Hart took his case to a panel of judges in St. Petersburg, Fla., in 2010 and won a $4.8 million salary. In 2012, the Brewers beat reliever Jose Veras in a hearing. The player still earned $2 million.
Overall, the Brewers have gone to the hearing room five times.
They will attempt to avoid more hearings by negotiating with Axford, Badenhop, Estrada and Gomez in the coming months. Like past seasons, Brewers general manager Doug Melvin has assigned a point man -- either himself, assistant GM Gord Ash or senior director of business operations Teddy Werner -- to each player.
Here is a breakdown of those cases:
Axford ($525,000 salary in 2012) is arbitration eligible for the first time, as a Super Two player. Of the Brewers' four cases, Axford's could be the most extensive, even though he briefly lost the closer's job last season. He still managed to accrue 35 saves, a valuable commodity in arbitration negotiations -- sixth-most in the National League. MLBTradeRumors.com's Matt Swartz, who predicted with some accuracy the results of last winter's arbitration cases, projected a $5.1 million salary for Axford.
The Brewers and Axford's representatives at the Beverly Hills Sports Council engaged in discussions about a long-term contract to buy out some or all of Axford's arbitration seasons, but could not find common ground. It appears the sides are only discussing a one-year deal at this time.
Estrada ($486,000 last season) is also eligible for the first time, with three-plus years of service. He has pitched both as a starting pitcher and a reliever in his tenure with the Brewers but pitched mostly as a starter in 2012 while going 5-7 with a 3.64 ERA and 4.93 strikeouts for every walk, the third-best ratio for an NL pitcher who logged at least 100 innings.
Badenhop ($1,075,000 last season) has four-plus years of service and is arbitration eligible for the third time. The Brewers acquired the right-hander in early December from the Rays as a cost-effective replacement for sinkerballer Kameron Loe. Badenhop had a 3.03 ERA in a career-high 66 appearances for the Rays last season.
Gomez has more than five years of Major League service and is arbitration eligible for the final time before reaching free agency next winter. He earned $1,987,500 million last season (including a $25,000 bonus for topping 450 plate appearances) and set career bests with a .260 batting average, a .305 on-base percentage, 19 home runs and 37 stolen bases.
As a "five-plus player," the rules allow Gomez's representatives, led by agent Scott Boras, to compare Gomez to an array of players outside of his narrow service class.
The Brewers already settled with another arbitration-eligible player, left-hander Chris Narveson, and more deals could come. But Melvin would not be surprised to see a case or two get close to a hearing.
"Sometimes it's all about the deadlines," Melvin said. "If you're an agent, your DNA seems to say you have to go up to the deadline to make it seem like everybody did something."