Major League Baseball players scored what they considered a long-sought victory when the final collective bargaining agreement ahead of the 2022 season was ratified. For the first time, one-year contracts for arbitration-eligible players — which includes most players with more than 2 1/2 and less than six years of service time — would be fully guaranteed.

But there was a loophole. And it didn’t take long for a team to take advantage.

The Giants were that team. Third baseman J.D. Davis was the entangled party.

In a dramatic reversal of fortune, the Giants placed Davis on unconditional release Monday, severing ties with a player who won a $6.9 million salary when he defeated them in an arbitration hearing in February. Because the provision in the CBA specifically does not guarantee arbitration salaries determined through a hearing, the Giants only owe Davis 30 days of severance pay, which amounts to just over $1.1 million.

It is an unusual decision that will be seen as ruthless and cold-blooded by many in the industry. Others will see it as a pragmatic decision that is well within teams’ rights under the CBA. What’s not in dispute is that Davis, who played in a team-high 144 games last season but became redundant after signing free-agent third baseman Matt Chapman, has found himself in a precarious position two weeks before opening day: without a team and suddenly receiving only 16 percent of the salary an independent panel had just determined he was worth.

Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, appearing on a hastily arranged Zoom call with reporters Monday, said the team tried to trade Davis without any traction. The Giants placed Davis on outright waivers last weekend in hopes another club would claim him and speed up the process.

“As soon as we heard that he had not filed a claim for outright waivers, we decided to take this step,” Zaidi said. “It just comes down to the role and other guys we had for JD in terms of at-bats. If we had a squad of 28 or 30, we would keep everyone. But given the reality of our scheduling constraints, this was exactly the move we decided to make.

“Everything we have done in this case is within our rights as a team,” Zaidi continued. “And that is recognized. It is very rushed in the CBA.”


JD Davis became redundant on the roster when the Giants signed Matt Chapman. (Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press)

The question will be how actively the Giants have exploited these rules, and how much of it has been premeditated.

The Giants recently defaulted on what has become an industry-wide “file-and-trial” policy between teams, in which all negotiations stop after the deadline for clubs and players to exchange salary figures to be presented at a hearing. The policy is intended as a deterrent to negotiations reaching the hearing stage, Zaidi said. Davis said last month that he would have happily accepted the Giants’ filing amount of $6.55 million prior to the hearing. But the team was unwilling to reopen negotiations after the exchange.

Zaidi said Monday that the Giants are “negotiating all of our arbitration matters in good faith” and that Davis could have accepted the club’s offer prior to the exchange of figures.

Davis’ agent, Matt Hannaford, disputed that characterization. Hannaford said the Giants made an offer to Davis that GM Pete Putila sent a text message that arrived an hour before the filing deadline. The club’s offer was “hundreds of thousands” less than what the team submitted, Hannaford said.

“In my 22 years in the industry, I have never seen a club in arbitration make their only offer less than an hour before the trade deadline, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars under their filing number,” Hannaford said. “The way the Giants negotiated gave JD no choice but to go to a hearing, which he did and we won.”

Industry sources indicated it was unlikely Davis, who is now an unrestricted free agent, would have grounds to file a complaint.

“It’s unfortunate that the club has gone about things the way it has, but I have confidence in the player that JD is and the value he will bring to his next team,” Hannaford said. “I know he will be in a better situation when all is said and done.”

Zaidi, asked to confirm Hannaford’s story, said the Giants formally offered Davis “just under $6.4 million, which represents the increase in what we believe was one of the most relevant shares in the case.” Zaidi said the club did not consider it a best-and-final offer, but Davis’ representatives did not respond until ten minutes before the deadline, nor did they make what club officials considered a formal response, saying only that the number “must start with a 7.”

“They then filed for $6.9 million, and just hours after the deadline they called to negotiate a settlement,” Zaidi said. “We said that, in fairness to our other negotiations and to preserve the credibility of our future policies, we were not in a position to negotiate once the exchange deadline had passed.”

Whether or not the Giants steered toward this particular outcome so that Davis’ salary wouldn’t be guaranteed, they essentially bought themselves a cheap insurance policy in case they were unable to reach an agreement with Chapman, a four-time Gold Glove third baseman and Scott Bora’s client who played for manager Bob Melvin in Oakland. It could have made for a heartwarming story when the Giants signed Chapman on March 3 to a three-year contract worth $54 million that included a pair of opt-outs as he and Davis were teammates at Cal State Fullerton. But with Jorge Soler and Wilmer Flores taking all the right-handed at-bats at first base and being designated hitters, it was clear that Davis’ days on the roster were numbered after Chapman joined the team.

Zaidi was unapologetic about Monday’s announcement, but acknowledged that the protracted negotiations with Chapman had an unfortunate impact on the club’s ability to find a taker for Davis’ salary.

“If the wheels had been set in motion on this earlier this season, maybe it would have been different, but it wasn’t and that’s just the reality,” Zaidi said. “It’s harder (for teams) to take on significant portions of the payroll when you’re so far down the road. In that sense, it’s not much of a surprise. We’ve seen it in some of the free-agent deals in recent weeks. It is a different market now than in the off-season.”

If the Giants had released Davis within 15 days of the season opener, they would have had to pay 45 days of severance, or $1.66 million. By releasing him for 17 days, they saved about another $500,000.

It is rare, but not unprecedented, for teams to cut arbitration-eligible players before opening day. The San Diego Padres released infielder Todd Walker in the spring of 2007, less than a month after an arbitration panel awarded him a $3.95 million salary. Walker instead received $971,311 in severance pay. Atlanta Braves left-hander James Russell and Chicago Cubs right-hander Justin Grimm are other recent examples of players who lost the majority of their salaries in the $2-3 million range when their teams released them in the spring. The then-Anaheim Angels blindsided catcher Todd Greene when they released him before Opening Day in 2000, paying out $180,556 of his $650,000 salary.

By losing nearly $6 million, Davis becomes perhaps the most famous example ever.

It’s possible that if the late-developing nature of free agency persists in the coming years, it could lead to more teams mixing up the cards in spring training and creating subpar rosters with arbitration-eligible players who might have been more firmly in the team’s plans. in the winter. Although Zaidi claimed that the “file-and-trial” policy is intended to discourage hearings, it is now clear that teams gain a significant advantage even if they lose their cases.

Even if Davis becomes the only player in this loophole, it is language that the Players Association will almost certainly try to change in the next negotiations.

For now, the Giants have eliminated nearly $6 million in payroll obligations and are now roughly $13 million below the first luxury tax threshold of $237 million.

Zaidi disputed the idea that the abrupt nature of the Davis decision would damage the Giants’ reputation among both their own players and free agents.

“I absolutely disagree,” Zaidi said. “Talk to the players on our team about how the organization treats them, about communication with the manager, technical staff and front office,” said Zaidi, who also was on defense this spring after critical comments from longtime short stop Brandon. Crawford.

“I take this point back very strongly. When you say goodbye to a player, regardless of the circumstances, it is often difficult and often feels personal for the player. I’ve been to three organizations and seen this a lot. It’s just the reality of the business side of things. As a front office person you can shout from the rooftops that it’s never personal, but I understand that from a player’s standpoint it’s always going to feel personal. It’s their life and their career.

“To some extent if there is dissatisfaction, frustration, disappointment, the feeling that there is mistreatment, my general feeling is that players have the right to express that and we should not go back and forth about things like that in public start talking. . At the same time, to generalize that as a statement about the organization, I would come back to that very strongly. If my word isn’t good enough, talk to players in our organization about how they feel the organization is taking care of them, about the level of communication. These are things that are very important to us.”

(Top photo of Davis earlier this spring: Rick Scuteri / USA Today)

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