For the first time in their tenure in Milwaukee, Doug Melvin and Gord Ash look to be headed to arbitration. As you probably know, this year it'll be with two players, Tomo Ohka and Brady Clark. In Ohka's case the gap is pretty large: Milwaukee offered $4.25m and Ohka asked for $5.2m. It's less substantial for Brady: he asked for $3.5m and was offered $3m. Then again, I wouldn't mind an extra half mil myself!
For those of you who don't know exactly how arbitration works, it runs something like this. There's a meeting of team representatives, the player and his representatives, and a three-person panel appointed by MLB as arbitrators. Each side presents their case: the player's agent explaining why the player is worth as much as they say he is, and the team saying why he isn't.
It puts the team in a rather unfortunate position: Doug Melvin doesn't seem like the kind of guy who'd ever say to a player, "you know, you are getting older, and you can't be expected to cover the same ground out in center." That's why some teams work so hard to avoid arby, and in some cases--Milton Bradley and the A's this year come to mind--it might be a better idea for the team to suck it up and pay the extra money than to deal with that strain on the relationship.
After hearing both sides of the case, the arbitrators pick a winner. It's all-or-nothing--the arbitrators can decide in favor of the player's figure of the team's figure, but cannot choose a number in between. That's one of the reasons you see so many players settle before going to a hearing: Ohka might prefer to get, say, $4.7m than run the risk of only getting $4.2m.
As to the merits of these cases, both players will certainly be worth whatever they make, barring injury or complete disaster. Compared to what it would've cost to replace them on the free agent market, $8.7 million (the total of Clark's and Ohka's figures) is pocket change, and what's more, it's only a one year commitment. And given the generally collegial atmosphere around the Brewers clubhouse, I'm surprised, at least in Brady's case, that there hasn't been a settlement.
For Clark, though, the issue might be a long-term deal. He, or his agent, may have decided that if they played hardball in arbitration, he might get a multi-year deal out of the club, recognizing that Brady's not getting any younger and his days as a $3+ million starting centerfielder are numbered. Of course, with Corey Hart, Nelson Cruz, and possibly "Bonehead" Krynzel on the way, the Brewers aren't about to make that kind of commitment.
In Ohka's case, I'm surprised the Brewers haven't done what's necessary to make a long-term (even just two-year) deal. It might be that Ohka's demands are just too high, but if he could be signed for anything under $8 mil a year for three years, that's a tradeable contract. As we've seen this offseason, with league-average or slightly better starters getting insane contract, Ohka would be a marketable commodity if Dave Bush, Dana Eveland, and Zach Jackson all crammed Ohka out of the rotation for 2007. In other words, it seems like a relatively low-risk deal to give Ohka lifetime security right now.
But, of course, I'm not privy to these negotations any more than you are, so I can only speculate on what issues are at play here.
Looking ahead, I see that Ohka's hearing is scheduled for Februrary 16th, but I couldn't find the date for Clark's. I'm sure we'll be reading more about them as we get closer to the big day.