More than one expert has said it wasn't free agency that turned baseball's economics inside out and upside down; it was the owners' agreeing years ago to a system of salary arbitration.

With that in mind, I took a long look at the chart appearing in Wednesday's Chicago Tribune. It listed the 56 unsigned, arbitration-eligible players, their '06 salaries, '07 asking prices and the clubs' offers.

Of course, around here, the big arbitration-related news was that Carlos Zambrano is looking for $15.5 million in '07, an $8.85 million, 133% bump over his '06 salary. (The Cubs are offering a little over $11 million.) But Zambrano is an established star on the verge of free agency and what that in mind, the numbers are a little less breathtaking.

Here are some of the more breathtaking numbers:

On average, each of the 56 arb-eligible players earned about $1.35 million last season.

On average, each player is seeking a raise to $3.3 million (a 144% increase).

On average, the players' clubs are offering salaries of $2.51 million (an 86% increase).

If the players and their teams settled in all 56 cases on a salary halfway between the asking and offered prices--a strategy the Cubs have employed for years to successfully stay out of any actual arbitration hearings--their average '07 pay would still rise to around $2.91 million per man--a 116% increase over '06.

Along with the fact that Josh Paul is asking the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for a 98% raise to $940k a year, that just blows me away.


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