Thursday was deadline day around the Majors, the final day for teams to come to an agreement with their arbitration-eligible players for the 2024 season — and avoid a potentially contentious showdown in front of a third party.
(For those unaware of how exactly the arbitration process works, here’s a quick refresher. For their first three years of MLB service time, players make something close to the league minimum of $720,000. After six years of service time, they hit free agency. For the three years in between, however, they have their salaries decided in part by arbitration: Team and players enter negotiations at the start of the offseason, but if the two sides can’t reach an agreement, the matter is sent to a third-party arbitrator to decide which side “wins.” There’s no compromise if it gets to that point; either the player gets his number or the team gets theirs.)
There were plenty of big names eligible for arbitration, but none bigger than one Juan Soto. Soto is off to a historically unprecedented start to his career, with three All-Star nods, three Silver Slugger Awards, a World Series ring and a ridiculous .284/.421/.524 slash line, all before his 25th birthday last October. A historically unprecedented player deserves a historically unprecedented contract, and that’s exactly what Soto and the Yankees have agreed to: Per Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the outfielder will be making a whopping $31 million in 2024, the highest number ever for an arbitration-eligible player.
Sorry, Soto's deal is $31M not $31.5M. Still a record. https://t.co/fqrVuUI45f— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) January 12, 2024
Soto’s $31 million figure breaks the previous record held by, who else, Shohei Ohtani, who earned $30 million in his final year of arbitration last season. Here’s the full, updated list:
- Juan Soto, 2024 Yankees: $30-plus-million
- Shohei Ohtani, 2023 Angels: $30 million
- Mookie Betts, 2020 Dodgers: $27 million
- Nolan Arenado, 2019 Rockies: $26 million
Soto may not be quite the player that Ohtani is, but a couple factors combined to help him break the two-way star’s record. The first is something called Super Two status: Basically, Soto broke into the Majors so early that he hit his first year of arbitration after just two-plus years of service time rather than three. That means this is Soto’s fourth trip through the process, rather than his third, meaning he had one extra year to build up his value.
The other reason is far less technical. As you may have heard by now, Soto is set to hit free agency next winter — and after giving up a small ransom to acquire his services, the Yankees are obviously keen on keeping him in New York for the long haul. That means doing everything they can to get and stay in Soto’s good graces, and that starts by not insulting him during the arbitration process. Brian Cashman and Co. had zero incentive to push back on the number that Soto thought he was worth; agreeing to a record salary now almost certainly won’t keep the superstar from hitting the market, but it’ll help when it comes time to weigh offers from a variety of teams.
Of course, while Soto was the biggest arbitration-eligible name this year, he certainly wasn’t the only one. You can keep track of all the signings (or failures to sign) right here, including stars like Mets first baseman Pete Alonso and Braves ace Max Fried.