Toronto’s Josh Donaldson, Baltimore’s Manny Machado, Washington‘s Anthony Rendon and the Chicago Cubs’ Kris Bryant were among the more than 170 players headed to the exchange. But most are likely to reach agreement Friday, the busiest day of the offseason.
Machado and Donaldson can become free agents after this season and are expected to command one-year deals approaching or exceeding $20 million. A three-time All-Star, the 25-year-old Machado hit. 259 with 33 homers and 95 RBIs last year, when he made $11.5 million. He has been mentioned in persistent trade rumors.
Donaldson, 32, is a three-time All-Star and the 2015 AL MVP. He rebounded from an injury-slowed 2016 to hit .270 last season with 33 homers and 78 RBIs. Donaldson earned $17 million last year in the final season of a $28.65 million, two-year deal.
Rendon set career bests with a .301 average, 25 homers and 100 RBIs for the Nationals and made $5.8 million. The 27-year-old is eligible for free agency after the 2019 season.
Bryant could break the record for highest salary among players eligible for arbitration for the first time, a mark set when first baseman Ryan Howard was awarded a raise from $900,000 to $10 million by a three-person panel in 2008 instead of Philadelphia’s $7 million offer. Bryant, who turned 26 last week, was an All-Star in his first two big league seasons, hitting .292 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs and a major league-leading 121 runs in 2016, when the Cubs won the World Series for the first time since 1908.
Bryant agreed last March to a $1.05 million, one-year contract, a record for an unsigned player under club control with less than two years of major league service, and batted .295 with 29 homers and 73 RBIs.
Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu, Houston pitcher Dallas Keuchel and newly acquired St. Louis outfielder Marcell Ozuna also are among the stars set to swap.
There were 189 players eligible for arbitration after teams offered contracts on Dec. 1 to unsigned players on their 40-man rosters, and 173 remained set to swap as of Thursday evening. Among those reaching agreements Thursday were New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Hicks ($2,825,000), Cleveland reliever Zach McAllister ($2.45 million), Detroit catcher James McCann ($2,375,000), Houston outfielder Jake Marisnick ($1.9 million), Los Angeles Angels reliever Blake Parker ($1.8 million) and New York Yankees reliever Tommy Kahnle ($1,312,500).
For players and teams who fail to reach agreements, hearings will be scheduled for Jan. 29-Feb. 16 in Phoenix.
Teams won eight of 15 decisions last winter, the most hearings since clubs went 10-6 in 2004. Several clubs refused to negotiate after the exchange of proposed arbitration salaries, a so-called “file and trial” strategy.
Teams have a 302-224 edge since arbitration started in 1974.