Of the 34 remaining cases, only a handful will make it to the arbitration hearings, scheduled to begin Feb. 1. Last year, only eight hearings took place. The reason is that neither side wants to go in front of the three-person panels, not as much for the fear of losing, but more because of the process.
Deals can be made up until the point the parties enter the room, but once there, it's one number or the other, there's no more compromise or negotiation.
Once that door closes, a front-office member who has told me, it can get pretty nasty and hurt the relationship between a team and a player for years to come. Here's the three pending cases that could get the most contentious in this process:
1. Josh Hamilton, Rangers -- Hamilton has requested $12 million, while the Rangers have offered $8.7 million. No player, perhaps, in the history of the game has done more to make the case for both sides easier. Hamilton can point to his MVP and associated numbers, while the Rangers don't have to do too much digging to get into Hamilton's past and find some demons. They can even point to his recent five-day stay in the hospital for pneumonia as a concern that he can stay healthy considering his past drug use and his own admitted depleted immune system.
2. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays -- Bautista has requested $10.5 million, while the Blue Jays have offered $7.6 million. Ryan Howard's $10 million decision in 2008 is the record judgement in arbitration, but he already had an MVP under his belt and was coming off a fifth-place finish in the award the season he became eligible for arbitration. Bautista has nowhere near the same track record, breaking out in 2010. There have been questions about the methods he used to improve so drastically in one season, and they will certainly be brought up in a hearing.
3. Edinson Volquez, Reds -- Volquez has requested $2 million, while the Reds have offered $1.3 million. The fact that the difference is so small makes it even less likely the Reds and Volquez go to arbitration -- and the fact that Volquez was suspended 50 games for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs last season would make it more interesting than either side would like. The team publicly supported Volquez during his suspension (and coming off of Tommy John surgery, he didn't actually miss any time he would have played and actually ended up saving the Reds money because they didn't have to pay him during his suspension), but they may sing a different tune in an arbitration hearing.
Others to watch: Astros lefty Wandy Rodriguez has asked for $10.25 million, while the Astros countered with $8 million. Rodriguez lost his hearing last season. The process has already gotten some teeth with the Brewers and second baseman Rickie Weeks, who has asked for $7.2 million, with the Brewers offering $4.85 million.
Update: Volquez and the Reds agreed to a one-year contract worth $1,625,000 on Monday, Jan. 31.
Rodriguez and the Astros reached an agreement on a $34 million, three-year contract on Tuesday, Jan. 25.
-- C. Trent Rosecrans
To see the full list of exchanged numbers, check out the CBSSports.com arbitration scoreboard .