Watson's arbitration case settles in Bucs' favor

Closer will make $5.6 million in final year of eligibility

Watson's arbitration case settles in Bucs' favor

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates won their arbitration case against closer Tony Watson, setting the left-hander's 2017 salary at $5.6 million.

In his third and final year of arbitration eligibility, Watson and the Pirates were separated by only $400,000 when they filed their respective salary figures. Watson asked for $6 million.

The Bucs are a "file-and-trial" organization, so they ceased negotiating a one-year deal last month and went to a hearing. The three-person arbitration panel ruled in favor of the club. The hearing took place on Wednesday, and the decision was announced on Thursday.

"I thought it was a good experience. It wasn't as bad as what I thought it could have been," Watson said. "It's good to go through. It's something I'll never be able to do again. To go through it and fight for myself, I thought it was worth it."

Outlook: Watson, RP, PIT

Watson, 31, took a slight step backward after three straight years as one of the Majors' best setup men. The left-hander posted a 3.06 ERA -- 37 percent better than league average when adjusting for ballparks -- in 67 2/3 innings over 70 appearances, his fifth straight season of at least 67 outings.

In late July, Watson took over the closer role after the Pirates traded Mark Melancon to the Nationals. He logged 15 saves in 20 chances, his most notable blown save a three-homer barrage by the Cardinals on Sept. 6. Home runs hurt Watson last season, as he allowed a career-high 10 after giving up only three in 2015 and no more than six in a single season since his debut in '11.

"It was location more than anything else. We didn't have that conversation for five years, which is pretty remarkable," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Just a speed bump. … [I] don't anticipate those challenges again."

This marked the fifth arbitration hearing for the Pirates since 2012, and they are 3-2 in those decisions. Pittsburgh won its case against Garrett Jones in '12 and Neil Walker in '15. Pedro Alvarez and Vance Worley won in '15.

The arbitration process can be awkward for some, as clubs must point out the player's flaws in order to make their case. Watson attended his hearing Wednesday in nearby St. Petersburg, where his representatives made his case while president Frank Coonelly and general counsel Bryan Stroh spoke on behalf of the Pirates.

Watson will be Pirates' closer

"We're of a mindset as an organization that we're going to go in and present a case based on the information that we have. It's not to demean the player or attack the player," Hurdle said. "I believe in the past, guys that have gone through it have come back in a pretty good frame of mind. I don't expect anything different from Tony."

Watson will become a free agent at the end of the year, so this was his first and final trip through the arbitration hearing process.

"It's all factual. It's all stuff you already knew," Watson said. "It's a couple hours sitting across the table from them, then a handshake, and we all have a common goal now, trying to win this thing. It's over now. Would have liked to win, but can't do anything now."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.