The Astros will head to arbitration for the third time in four years after they were unable to reach an agreement with outfielder Hunter Pence by the club's Tuesday deadline.
Pence will either receive $5.15 million, the club's offer, or $6.9 million, his request. A panel of independent arbitrators chooses one figure or the other; there is no option to choose a middle ground. Major League teams are permitted to negotiate all the way up to the beginning of a hearing, but the Astros operate with a January deadline. If no deal can be reached before that deadline, the club and the player go to arbitration.
"It doesn't say anything about how we feel about the player," general manager Ed Wade told reporters Tuesday. "It's the mechanism that's in place in our game when two parties can't get together and come to a negotiated settlement. There is no reflection on how we feel about Hunter, or I'm assuming on how Hunter feels about us."
Pence, who will turn 28 in April, batted .282 with a .325 on-base percentage and a .461 slugging percentage in 2011, his fourth big league season. He set new career highs with 91 RBIs, 93 runs scored and 18 stolen bases, and equaled his career best with 25 home runs (reaching that exact number for the third straight year). He made $3.5 million in 2010, avoiding arbitration by settling on a figure closer to the club's offer than his request.
Responding to fan questions on his Twitter account, Pence seemed unfazed by the development. Asked if he had hard feelings, he tweeted: "No, this is just part of the business side of the game."
A year ago, the Astros went to arbitration with left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, who agreed to a new three-year contract on Tuesday rather than going through the process once again. The club also won its cases against Jose Valverde and Mark Loretta in 2008.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.