Elias Rankings For Relievers Headed For Free Agency

Like it or not, the Elias rankings affect players’ free agent value. Signing unranked or Type B player doesn’t cost a thing, even if they turned down offers of arbitration. But signing a Type A player who turned down arbitration is different. Teams have to surrender a high draft pick to sign those free agents and, especially when it comes to relief pitchers, that’s a definite deterrent. So Type A relievers who turn down arbitration have fewer suitors, less leverage and, often, less money. 

The Elias rankings also matter to teams assessing a player’s trade value. Acquiring a Type A player has different consequences than acquiring an unranked player, so a player’s value depends, in part, on his ranking. I’ve taken the relievers heading toward free agency who could be traded and grouped them by free agent type so we can gain some insight into their summer trade value:

Type A: Koji Uehara (vesting option), Matt Capps, Heath Bell

  • Teams could obtain two draft choices for these pitchers if they maintain their ranking and turn down offers of arbitration to sign elsewhere. Bell will probably obtain an offer of arbitration from his new team, assuming he’s traded. Would teams be willing to give up a top pick to sign Capps, who has seen his strikeout rate, ground ball rate and fastball velocity drop this year? Prospective suitors might prefer a Type B ranking for Capps and the same goes for Uehara, who has had trouble staying off of the disabled list.

Type B: Jason Frasor (club option), Octavio Dotel (club option), Jon Rauch (club option), Shawn Camp, Frank Francisco, Michael Wuertz (club option), Kerry Wood

  • Offering arbitration to a Type B player is simpler, since other suitors don’t have to give up a draft pick. A major consideration for teams offering arbitration to Type Bs: what if the player accepts and sets himself up for a raise through arbitration? It’s a risk many teams are willing to take for the possibility of a draft pick. Plus, it’s not unheard of for players to agree to turn their former clubs’ offers down (after all, it doesn’t affect their free agent value).

Unranked: Chad Qualls (club option), Tim Byrdak, John Grabow, Jason Isringhausen

  • The Elias rankings are subject to change, so these relievers could be ranked by the end of the season, but at this point there’s no chance of obtaining draft picks as compensation losing for Qualls, Byrdak, Grabow or Isringhausen. There's no hidden value to trading for these pitchers; what you see is what you get.

Click here for a primer on free agent compensation, here for details on the Elias Rankings and here for a look at the history of the rankings.

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