Which Free Agents Will Be Offered Arbitration?

As the clock ticks down toward tonight's free agent arbitration offer deadline at 11pm central time, we at MLBTR reminisce about all the good times we had deciphering the Elias ranking system.  

Things will be simpler in 2012, as traded players won't be eligible for draft pick compensation, arbitration offers will come much earlier, and there will be only one group of free agents subject to compensation.  Instead of players being designated as Type A based on lame statistics chosen by MLB and the players union decades ago, it'll just be a question of whether the former team offers a guaranteed one-year contract with a salary equal to the average salary of the 125-highest paid players from the prior season.  That seems to equal $12.4MM at present, but it'll surely rise each year.  The bottom line: a team has to be willing to risk a sizeable one-year commitment to have a shot at draft pick compensation.  Gone are the days of Scott Downs and Grant Balfour costing or providing a team draft picks.  Perhaps more significantly, there's no Type B equivalent.  In 2011 alone the Padres, Rays, and Blue Jays gained 10 picks between the first and second rounds as a result of losing middling free agents like Yorvit Torrealba, Brad Hawpe, and Kevin Gregg.

We still have Elias rankings to consider for this offseason, however.  We have a good idea of what will happen with the 20 current Type A free agents.  Matt Capps, Francisco Cordero, Octavio Dotel, Ramon Hernandez, and Darren Oliver will be treated as Type B players, and don't require arbitration offers for their teams to receive a supplemental draft pick as compensation.  This modification is a win for the Twins and Reds, who probably weren't going to offer arbitration to Capps and Cordero.  It's also, of course, a win for these players, who don't come with the draft pick cost attached.

Another change helps Type As Heath Bell, Michael Cuddyer, Kelly Johnson, Ryan Madson, Francisco Rodriguez, Josh Willingham, and their teams: these six players will not cost a draft pick for their new teams if they turn down arbitration offers, yet the former teams still receive two picks.  All these players are seeking multiyear deals, so all figure to receive and turn down arbitration offers, except for perhaps Rodriguez.  I have a feeling Scott Boras clients are a bit less open to handshake agreements to turn down arbitration, as the Rays couldn't pull that off with Carlos Pena last year.  With K-Rod earning $11.5MM in 2011, the Brewers still risk him accepting and taking a one-year deal for 2012 at a higher salary if they offer arbitration.  Still, if Boras feels there's three years, $30MM, and a closing job out there for Rodriguez, I imagine he'll still advise his client to turn down an arbitration offer.

As MLBTR's Ben Nicholson-Smith noted yesterday, remaining Type A free agents Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, C.J. Wilson, David Ortiz, Roy Oswalt, Jose Reyes, and Jimmy Rollins are still under the old rules, while Takashi Saito and Carlos Beltran contractually cannot be offered arbitration.  Of the first seven, the Phillies may choose not to offer arbitration to Oswalt given his salary.  I think an arbitration offer for Ortiz from the Red Sox is likely, but less certain than the others.

We also have 32 Type B free agents for whom decisions are due tonight.  Those with a good chance of receiving an arbitration offer, in my opinion: Aramis Ramirez, Alex Gonzalez, Mark Buehrle, Jason Kubel, Frank Francisco, Bruce Chen, Edwin Jackson, Kerry Wood, Freddy Garcia, Jose Molina, and Shawn Camp.  There will probably be others, with the unpredictable element of players privately agreeing to decline, as we saw with Hawpe, Trevor Hoffman, and Javier Vazquez last year.



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