Law students, Atlanta Braves make winning moves

By Lisa Ashmore | Emory Report | Feb. 18, 2014

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Emory Law students Matt Wilson and Greg McMillin win the 7th Annual National Baseball Arbitration Competition. Courtesy photo.

About a week before Major League Baseball's salary arbitration hearings officially opened in February, Emory Law students Matt Wilson '15L and Greg McMillin '15L were in a New Orleans classroom, strenuously arguing that Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer deserved a raise.

Had Hosmer really been their client, he would have left happy with a $4 million salary.

Wilson and McMillin beat out 36 law school teams to win the 7th Annual National Baseball Arbitration Competition in late January. They posted a perfect 6-0 record during the mock trials at Tulane University Law School.

While their victory was moot, the arbitrators were real. Final round judges were Zack Rosenthal, director of baseball operations for the Colorado Rockies; Nick Krall, director of baseball operations for the Cincinnati Reds; and Alex Winsberg, director of legal affairs and risk management for the Los Angeles Angels.

"Salary arbitration hearings in baseball revolve around the midpoint between the player's requested salary and the team's offer," McMillin said. "If the arbitration panel finds that the player is worth even $1 above the midpoint, then they will rule in the player's favor. And vice versa — if they find the player is worth even $1 below the midpoint, the team's offer stands."

Last year, Hosmer earned $528,500. To prepare for hearings, Wilson and McMillin compared his performance against other players of similar age, experience and ability.

In the real world, Hosmer agreed in January to a one-year, $3.6 million contract with the Royals, $400,000 less than Wilson and McMillin won for him in their mock hearing.

Arbitration and the Atlanta Braves

McMillin provided real-world perspective on a situation involving first baseman Freddie Freeman and the Atlanta Braves. The Braves offered Freeman an eight-year, $135 million contract, in an effort to avoid actual arbitration.

It was a record-breaking salary for the Braves, but a win for all involved, McMillin says.

"It was a smart, forward-thinking move by the Braves with minimal risk," he said. "The great thing about the extension is that Freeman is only 24 now and should only get better over the course of the contract.

"If the team had waited another season or two, it probably would have cost them several million dollars more to buy out Freeman's first five seasons of free agency," McMillin added.

Both Wilson and McMillin plan to work in sports after graduation next year. The six teams they competed against were from Tulane University, Thomas Jefferson School of Law, New York Law School, University of Ottawa Law School, Indiana University Maurer School of Law and Chicago-Kent College of Law.