During the filing period, the club and player talk enough to get a sense of the other side's position, but the framework for serious negotiations is firmly established on Jan. 18, when the two sides exchange salary figures for binding arbitration.
Billingsley is coming off a salary of $3.85 million, Kuo of $975,000 and Loney of $3.1 million. Based on last year's comparisons, Billingsley is likely to wind up with something in the $5.75 million to $6.25 million range, Kuo in the $2.1 million to $2.5 million range and Loney in the $4 million range. Loney was offered a multiyear deal last year, but those talks went nowhere.
All three players have four-plus years of service time, meaning they also will be eligible for salary arbitration in 2012 before being eligible for free agency after the 2012 season.
A multiyear deal for Billingsley would make the most sense, mostly because of the short supply and heavy demand for front-line starting pitching. He went 12-11 with a 3.57 ERA last year, bouncing back from a second-half slump in 2009. His career and 2010 stats are similar to Angels starter Jered Weaver, who earned $4.265 million last year and whose 2011 salary is still to be determined.
Kuo, even though he's coming off a record-breaking season, is difficult to compare to anyone. An All-Star, he set a franchise record and led all Major Leaguers with a 1.20 ERA and he inherited the closer job when Broxton wobbled. But Kuo doesn't have typical closer stats and his brittle elbow prevents him from being projected as a closer or earning like one.
Loney has a tough case to make for any sizable raise. His power numbers are on the low end for his position in the best of seasons, but in 2010 his average and on-base percentage slid during a dramatic second-half slump, when he hit .211.
Since the inception of salary arbitration 35 years ago, the Dodgers are 14-6 in cases decided by a hearing and 6-1 in their last seven cases dating to 1991. That includes the most recent wins over Joe Beimel in 2007 and Eric Gagne in 2004 by assistant general manager Kim Ng, who is in charge of the club's cases.
The last player to beat the Dodgers in a hearing was Terry Adams in 2001. The club's first arbitration case was in 1975, when Ron Cey was awarded a salary of $56,000 instead of the club's submission of $47,000.