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Could Type-A Status Hurt Scott Downs?

As we've seen in recent years, Type-A free agent compensation can be a double-edged sword. The team loses a player but gains two draft picks, though the player's value on the open market may decrease because of that attached compensation, especially if he isn't among the game's elite. 

Perhaps the best example is Juan Cruz two years ago. Despite consecutive seasons with a strikeout rate north of 12 K/9 and no worse than a 3.10 ERA, Cruz was unable to land a job until late in the offseason because teams simply did not want to surrender a high draft pick to sign him as a Type-A free agent. The Royals eventually bit, sacrificing a second round pick since their first rounder was protected. Just last winter we saw Rafael Soriano avoid a similar situation by accepting Atlanta's arbitration offer, leading to the salary dump trade that sent him to the Rays.

Aside from Soriano, the best relief pitcher available on the free agent market this winter will be Scott Downs of the Blue Jays, who (you guessed it) comfortably projects to be a Type-A free agent. Performance is not an issue, as the 34-year-old Downs has posted a 2.23 ERA with a 7.9 K/9 in baseball's toughest division since becoming a full-time reliever in 2007. His $4MM salary this season is more than reasonable given his performance, and a raise is certainly in order when he hits the market.

But again, the problem is free agent compensation. Will a team be willing to sacrifice a high draft pick for a middle reliever? Downs does have some closing experience, mostly coming last season, so perhaps there's a club out there that values him in that capacity and is willing to pay the price. If not, it's not impossible that he could be stuck looking for a job come February since everyone wants to keep their first round pick in this age where young players have become more important than ever*.

The Jays claim that they will offer Downs (and his free agent-to-be teammates) arbitration after the season, which makes sense given Alex Anthopoulos' dedication to building from within. When Soriano accepted arb last winter, he received a $1.4MM raise, so an increase to a $5MM salary next year could be possible for Downs if he chooses to take matters into his own hands. 

Given the dearth of quality relievers in the game, especially lefthanders, I suspect Downs won't have any trouble finding a job this winter even if the signing team has to surrender a first round pick. If a big market team like the Yankees or Red Sox sign another Type-A free agent (someone like, say, Cliff Lee), forfeiting a second or even third round pick to sign Downs becomes much easier to stomach.

* It's worth noting that next year's draft class is considered to be one of the deepest and best ever, which could lead to teams being even more reluctant to surrender draft picks as part of the free agent signing process.








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