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Josh Hader files for record salary in first year of arbitration eligibility

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Josh Hader is looking to surpass Jonathan Papelbon’s record of $6.25 million for a first-year arbitration-eligible reliever

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Cincinnati Reds David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

After avoiding arbitration with Corey Knebel, Ben Gamel and Omar Narvaez (also Orlando Arcia, if you want to count the apparent sign-or-get-non-tendered deal he signed), the Brewers were unable to reach deals with Brent Suter and Josh Hader before today’s deadline to exchange figures.

Since the Brewers (and generally the entire league at this point) are considered a “file and trial” team -- meaning no negotiations after exchanging arbitration figures -- it appears both are headed for arbitration hearings that could be very interesting for different reasons.

Suter was able to return from Tommy John surgery in September and was about as good as anyone could be out of the bullpen, earning the National League’s Reliever of the Month honors after allowing just one earned run (on a solo home run in his first appearance) in 18.1 innings while striking out 15 and walking just one in 9 appearances.

His case is interesting, since he may be looking to get paid like a starter, with more than half of his 65 appearances being starts. The Brewers, however, may be looking at him more as a multi-inning reliever -- similar to the way they’ve used Hader over the years -- going forward. That would, understandably, lead to a bit of a disagreement over value.

Speaking of Hader, his unexpected designation as a Super Two player not only likely threw a wrench in David Stearns’ plans for the offseason, but could lead to an MLB record. Considering Hader’s two-year run of dominance, Jonathan Papelbon’s record of $6.25 million for a first-time arbitration-eligible reliever could be in jeopardy. Hader has a good case for being baseball’s best reliever, having won back-to-back NL Reliever of the Year awards, but he does lack the traditional “closer” save numbers that helped Papelbon set that mark in 2009.

Dellin Betances’ contentious arbitration case with the Yankees in 2017 -- in which he sought $5 million in his first year of arbitration, while the Yankees were offering $3 million -- might be a close comparison, but Betances was also still largely considered “just” a set-up man at the time, whereas Hader was the Brewers’ undisputed “closer” in 2019.

Those factors might just make Hader’s arbitration case the most interesting in baseball over the next few weeks, and that uncertainty over what he’ll be making in 2020 may end up influencing David Stearns’ decisions over the next few weeks -- if it hasn’t already influenced his decisions.

UPDATE:

Jon Heyman reports the gap between Hader and the Brewers is significant, with the two sides about $2 million apart in their offers. Hader is in fact looking for a record-breaking salary, while the Brewers came in much lower.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference