This season, or next, the players union might ask right-hander Vinnie Pestano of the Cleveland Indians to give a talk to rookies attending their first spring training. The seminar could be called, "Anything You Say Can And Will Be Used Against You In Salary Arbitration."
Pestano lost his arbitration case Saturday, the first time the Indians even let one of their players go to arbitration since 1991. That year, left-hander Greg Swindell won his respective hearing, and utility man Jerry Browne lost his. We call it "losing," though Pestano still will be paid $975,000 in 2014, which nearly doubles his salary. He was seeking $1.45 million.
Pestano told reporter Jordan Bastian of MLB.com that he was OK with the arbitration process — which is adversarial and naturally awkward — except for one part. Pestano said the Indians used his own honesty against him during the hearing:
The pitcher fully expected to hear a stream of negative statistical analysis, and took no issue with that element. Pestano was, however, caught off guard when the Indians used quotes he gave to reporters as fuel for their case.
Quotes from a general manager, manager or player are fair game for both sides during an arbitration hearing and that tactic is relatively common. That did not make it any easier for Pestano -- one of the team's most media-friendly players -- to hear his words used to support the team's stance.
"You're being honest and accountable and saying the right things and being there," Pestano said, "and then later you find your own words in the paper, and somebody is trying to use your words against you to drive your value down. Whether that played a big role in the decision, I don't know."
Pestano is among the more engaging ballplayers on Twitter, and reportedly is effusive with the Indians reporters. He'll talk to fans like they're people (imagine that) while dropping references to "The Big Lebowski," John Wayne movies and being Italian. What more could anyone want from a pitcher? Well, his performance in 2013 could have been better, more like it was in 2011 and 2012, when he was Mr. Eighth Inning for Cleveland. And, as Pestano pointed out in postgame interviews during '13, he never found the groove of previous, more successful seasons. His first mistake was not pitching better, even getting sent down to the minors. His second was being honest about it in the media.
For example, on Sept. 8 against the Mets, Pestano returned from Triple-A exile by allowing a two-run double to Justin Turner and an RBI single to Juan Lagares. Later on, Pestano was quoted by Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
"I've been battling all year. As soon as I think I've got something figured out, I go out there and the results are the same. It's getting really frustrating. I'm still the same pitcher in my head, I'm just not throwing the same way I used to."
Is that one of the quotes the Indians used against Pestano? It might as well have been, because it makes for a great closing argument at an arbitration hearing.
Pestano doesn't think his honesty was the primary reason he lost his case — getting sent to the minors was Cleveland's "silver bullet," he said — but it sure as heck didn't help. He says it's "definitely" going to affect how he speaks going forward.
"I've got three more years of arbitration left. I don't know what they'll pick to use against me next year or two years from now."
That's too bad. And it's one of the reasons, the Indians say, they hadn't let anyone go to arbitration in so long. The only problem: They have two more arbitration hearings scheduled for this month. Close your ears, Josh Tomlin and Justin Masterson, and hope you chose your words more carefully in 2013 than Vinnie Pestano did.
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