Major League Baseball’s new Basic Agreement, now in effect, mercifully stripped a lot of red tape out of the free agent process. Arbitration offers are still a part of the process, however, and midnight tonight is the deadline for teams to offer salary arbitration to their declared free agents. This deadline is far less significant than it used to be, however, since players not offered arbitration will still be able to resign with their former teams (under the previous Agreement they couldn’t do so until May 1 of the following season).
There are really just two remaining factors for teams to consider when deciding whether or not to offer arbitration. The first is that teams are only eligible to receive compensation for departed free agents to whom they did offer arbitration. Of course, with the elimination of compensation for Type C free agents and the reclassification of Type A and Type B players to the top 40 percent of the field (was the top 50 percent), this applies to a much smaller group of players. For example, the only Yankee free agent who falls within that top 40 percent is Ron Villone, who is a Type B (Mike Mussina was a Type A, but having resigned, that’s moot). For those players, however, the old catch remains. If you offer a player arbitration in the hope that he’ll sign with another team and bring you a compensation draft pick, you run the risk of that player accepting salary arbitration, which guarantees him a contract with your team for the following season.
Take the case of Villone, an undistinguished aging middle reliever who pitched way over his head for the first half of 2006 before bottoming out so severely that he ended up with an ERA below his already below league average career mark (how Elias subsequently placed him in the top 40 percent of all eligible free agents remains a mystery to me, though I believe playing time is a factor, and Villone did pitch in 70 games last year). Recent rumors have had Villone close to a contract with the Cleveland Indians, which suggest the Yankees may want to offer him arbitration in order to land a supplemental round pick in next June’s amateur draft. Then again, Villone is also a New Jersey native who grew up a Yankee fan and is thus a prime candidate to accept the Yankees’ arbitration offer, thus requiring them to pay for his age-37 season. In the David Parrish and Drew Henson era, the risk of Villone accepting arbitration wouldn’t be worth the shot at a draft pick, but now that the Yankees are making the most of their draft picks, the shot at an extra pick is awfully tempting.
According to Peter Abraham, there are a few free agent deals on the table that are just waiting for tonight’s deadline to pass in order to find out if compensation will be part of the cost. Those deals must be for Type A players, as the picks given in compensation for Type B free agents are supplemental round picks only, meaning they are not picks taken away from the signing team, but additional picks added to the draft specifically for compensation purposes. Remarkably, nine Type A free agents have already been signed, guaranteeing that their old teams will offer arbitration in order to receive that compensatory pick.