Soto ($23M) leads MLB stars avoiding arbitration

    ESPN MLB insider
    Author of “The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports”

Outfielder Juan Soto and the San Diego Padres agreed Friday on a one-year, $23 million contract to avoid arbitration, sources told ESPN, in what is expected to be the richest deal on a day when hundreds of players settle on their salaries for the 2023 season.

The arbitration process allows players with more than three years of major league service time to negotiate their salaries with teams for the upcoming season. In cases where the sides cannot come to terms on a deal by the Friday deadline, they exchange numbers that they then take into an arbitration hearing, where a three-person panel listens to a case and chooses a side.

Soto, 24, is in his third year of arbitration, as he was one of a handful of so-called Super 2s — players who qualify after two-plus seasons in the major leagues — and previously made $8.5 million and $17.1 million in the system. With one more turn through arbitration remaining, Soto has a good chance to pass Shohei Ohtani, who agreed to a $30 million deal this winter, for the largest-ever salary for an arbitration-eligible player.

Ohtani, 28, is set to reach free agency after the 2023 season and could demand the first $500 million-plus deal in baseball history. Soto, who turned down a 14-year, $440 million contract from the Washington Nationals before they traded him to San Diego before the July deadline, can reach free agency following the 2024 season and could find himself in the same financial neighborhood.

Among others who reaped large paydays as the deals were finalized in the late morning and early afternoon Friday:

  • Padres closer Josh Hader at $14.1 million, a record for a relief pitcher;

  • Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins at $12 million;

  • Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Brandon Woodruff at $10.8 million;

  • Chicago White Sox right-hander Lucas Giolito at $10.4 million.

While players who do not reach a settlement by Friday often do wind up at hearings in February, they are free to negotiate with teams and come to terms beforehand. The Seattle Mariners announced they had failed to reach agreements with three players, including slugger Teoscar Hernandez, whom they acquired in a trade this winter.

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