The Marlins, man.
Before a player reaches the green, green pastures of arbitration, his contract is essentially set by his club. For the first three years of a player's career, the club can pay him the minimum salary. But teams usually throw in a little something on top as the player accrues more playing time. Pablo Sandoval, for one example, made $402,000 in his rookie year, $465,000 the next, and $500,000 in his final year before arbitration. They might seem like modest increases until you compare the increases to your total salary for a year. It's no small thing for a player to get these raises.
But they're not enforced. They're given to the players by way of the teams' goodwill, almost like a holiday bonus. The teams can always enroll the player in the Jelly of the Month club instead of giving them the raise. And the Miami Marlins aren't even bothering with the jelly. From Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi:
The Marlins intend to automatically "renew" the contracts of virtually all their 0-to-3s at the new minimum, a move that might prompt the players’ union to file a grievance, contending that the team did not operate in good faith, sources say.
The minimum increased from $414,000 to $480,000 with the new collective bargaining agreement, and the Marlins didn't like that. So it's minimums for all!
The good-faith increase in salary is supposed to differentiate the greenest rookies from the guys who have been through 300 or 400 games with the team. The Marlins -- who gave over $150 million to Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle this offseason, remember -- don't feel like it. This charming strategy might be part of the reason why the Marlins are legendarily bad in the arbitration process -- they're the only team to lose cases (two) this year, and they've won just a single case out of six in the past five years. Arbiters might be giving a bonus for time served.
The Rosenthal/Morosi article quotes former Marlin Cody Ross, who was extremely annoyed with the team when they gave him the minimum in his second year of service time, and he cited the minimum salary as one of the main reasons he went to arbitration (and won) when he got the chance.
Now, is probably a good time to read up on Jeffrey Loria, if only to warm your heart. He turned a $12 million stake into a controlling interest of the Expos, ran them into the ground, then purchased the Marlins (with the help of a no-interest loan from MLB) and the team then bamboozled the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County into paying for most of a shiny, new stadium. That's leaving out a lot of the gross stuff he did to help get the Expos out of Montreal. He's a peach.
The policy will likely anger some good players, too. Don't think this is about Josh Booty and Yorkis Perez. Both Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison are a part of the pre-arbitration group, and if the Marlins are really going to avoid the $100,000 raise or so, they might be building enmity with players they'd probably prefer to keep around for the better part of a decade.
Just focus on Mike Stanton. He is one of the most covetable players in baseball, a preternatural talent who is doing things that people his age don't do. If he were putting up his numbers in A-ball, he'd still be one of the top prospects in baseball. He's doing it in the majors. He's one of the brightest young stars the team will ever have. But where every other team in baseball would give him a slight bump over the minimum salary to acknowledge all this, even if only as part of an unspoken agreement that teams have with their young talent, the Marlins will give him the minimum.
Step three is profit, of course.
The Marlins, man. Even when they're not cheap, they're cheap. It's an interesting strategy by an interesting team with an interesting owner. Yep. Interesting.