Tony Watson loses arbitration hearing against Pirates
February 16, 2017 3:22 PM
Tony Watson works out Thursday in Bradenton.
Justin Berl/Getty Images
Pirates closer Tony Watson gets a handshake from Francisco Cervelli after the final out Sept. 7, 2016 at PNC Park.
By Stephen J. Nesbitt / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
BRADENTON, Fla. — Closer Tony Watson was relieved to discover Wednesday his salary arbitration hearing wasn’t as uncomfortable as he anticipated. The bad news came Thursday when a three-person arbitration panel ruled in favor of the Pirates, so Watson will make $5.6 million in 2017, his final season under contract, rather than the $6 million his representatives sought.
Watson was excused from workouts at Pirate City Wednesday as he attended the hearing in St. Petersburg, Fla. The sides made their cases, and the decision was delivered Thursday. Back in camp Thursday, Watson said he “would have liked to win,” but the ruling wasn’t a curveball.
“It's just a couple hours sitting across the table from them and then a handshake,” said Watson, the 31-year-old left-handed reliever. “We’re all on to a common goal now trying to win this thing.”
This thing — this next thing — is a World Series, not a money matter.
“It’s over now,” Watson said.
Watson, a ninth-round pick in 2007, has a 2.56 ERA in 403 career appearances for the Pirates. After consecutive seasons with a sub-2.00 ERA in 2014 and 2015, working primarily as the set-up man to closer Mark Melancon, Watson assumed the closer’s role when Melancon was moved at the trade deadline. He had a 3.06 ERA and 15 saves in 67⅔ innings last season.
When Watson agreed to a $3.45 million salary last winter, it left him only one more arbitration opportunity. The way he said it, “It’s something I’ll never be able to do again.” Once his representatives failed to find common ground with the Pirates last month, they filed for arbitration.
In the arbitration process, the players’ reps and the team each submit proposed salaries. The panel decides in favor of one or the other; it does not simply split the difference. By nature, the hearing can create a scene in which the team is arguing against the value of one of its finest players.
“It’s all factual,” Watson said. “It’s all stuff you already knew.”
The process, manager Clint Hurdle said, “is not to demean or attack the player. I believe in the past guys have come back in a pretty good frame of mind. I don't expect anything different from Tony. I think more than anything he'll be glad it's over."
Watson was the sixth player to take the Pirates to an arbitration hearing during general manager Neal Huntington’s tenure. The Pirates previously won cases against Garrett Jones (2012) and Neil Walker (2015). They lost to Ross Ohlendorf (2011), Pedro Alvarez (2015) and Vance Worley (2015).
The Pirates entered the offseason with eight arbitration-eligible players and spent $23.2 million to sign seven of them. They let left-hander Jeff Locke walk at the non-tender deadline and avoided salary arbitration by agreeing to one-year deals with six others, all but Watson.
Surely Watson, set to become a free agent this fall, will miss the arbitration experience. Right?
“Hah!” Watson responded. “No. I'm done now. The arbitration system is a good system to have in place. I was able to go in a room and fight for myself, and my agency was able to put together what we thought was a good case. Just came up short.”
At least Watson pounded the table and defended himself.
“I didn’t say a word, actually,” he clarified.
Sometimes it’s best to leave the talking to the professionals.
Josh Bell (knee) is progressing toward being fully cleared for baseball activities. The rookie first baseman hit off a tee in the batting cages Thursday. ... Hurdle said infield prospect Alen Hanson, out of minor league options, will play some shortstop, his natural position, again this spring. Hanson said he plans to be an all-around utility player, capable of playing most infield and outfield spots.
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to
email@example.com and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner.