The Scarlet Letter

Posted by Steve

If we’re learning anything from the odd 2009 off-season, it’s that this is not the optimal year to be a free agent. The truly elite players—CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and (apparently?) A.J. Burnett—are immune, but most others have been hurt by a couple factors. The most obvious one is the economy; its impact is glaring. Another one, which is having an impact on players who should otherwise be very appealing, is the scarlet letter.  In this case that’s the letter A, as in a free agent’s Type A status and the draft pick forfeiture that is required to sign him.

Type A

Manny Ramirez

Ben Sheets

Juan Cruz

Orlando Hudson

Jason Varitek

Oliver Perez

Orlando Cabrera

Those are the unsigned Type A free agents who were offered arbitration by their 2008 teams. They all declined arbitration, which means a team would need to forfeit its 2009 first round pick to sign one of them. Two amendments to this rule: 1) If a team was in the bottom half record-wise, its first-rounder is protected and would only need to forfeit a seond-rounder. 2) If a team has already signed a higher-ranking free agent, they give up the pick from the next round. You’re likely well-versed in rule #2 by now, as it was artfully illustrated by the screwjob the Brewers received by getting just a second-round pick from the Yankees for CC Sabathia. An even more nauseating thought: if the Yankees decide they just haven’t spent enough this off-season and sign Ben Sheets, the Brewers will be compensated with a fourth round pick because Sheets is ranked behind Teixeira, Sabathia and Burnett. I’m trying not to be pessimistic, so I won’t bring that up again. Back to the point…

Just looking at that list, you can see it’s full of valuable players—obviously some more than others. Yet, for most of those players there has hardly been a substantiated rumor of a team being interested.

Manny Ramirez is the obvious exception here. He remains unsigned because Scott Boras is holding out for a big offer, not because a team isn’t willing to give up a first round pick for him. Oliver Perez is only 27 and will likely get a three-year deal. The rest, though, are very interesting cases.

We know the story with Sheets. Durability concerns are preventing him from getting a lucrative, long-term deal. Despite this, you’d expect many teams to be interested in offering a one or two-year deal. This has apparently not happened yet, and I’m sure his Type A status is a factor. I can make the argument that Sheets is easily worth the risk and have several times, but the fact remains giving Sheets several million dollars is still a risk. Add in the fact that teams would need to give up a high draft pick to sign Sheets as well, and it’s somewhat understandable that Sheets is still unsigned. As an aside, this should give the Brewers an advantage if they want to sign Sheets because they would not have to give up their own first-rounder to sign him; they’d only be forfeiting another team’s pick that they don’t even have yet.

Juan Cruz is a particularly interesting case. In fact, I think this may be the most intriguing one on the list. Cruz made an interesting decision to decline arbitration from the Diamondbacks. He would have received a nice one-year salary. Instead, he’s finding himself in a pretty bad situation. Teams were willing to forfeit a pick for established closers like Francisco Rodriguez or Brian Fuentes, but Cruz is not an established closer; he’s a good-not-great relief pitcher who has not closed before. In a vacuum he’s likely to get something like a three-year deal for about 12-15 mil, but I don’t see many teams willing to give up a high draft pick to get a solid but unspectacular reliever. Doug Melvin himself has said the Brewers would have been interested in Cruz but was not willing to give up the first-round pick he would require. For this reason, I’m incredibly curious to see what happens with Cruz. He could remain unsigned for another month, if not more.

Orlando Hudson is another intriguing case. While statistics show he was really an average second baseman last season, he’s carried a reputation as one of the better second basemen in baseball for the last few years. Ordinarily there would be plenty of demand for Hudson, but not this year. It’s likely the economy is a bigger factor with him than the Type A status, but it’s not helping. Nonetheless, it’s surprising that he’s unsigned. A team like the Cardinals would have a lot to gain with Hudson replacing the Adam Kennedy/Aaron Miles/Brendan Ryan three-headed monster at second base, yet there hasn’t even been much of a buzz around Hudson.

It sounds crazy, but the case can be made that every player on that list aside from ManRam and Oliver Perez erred by declining arbitration. Sheets would have likely received around a $13 million deal for 2009 from the Brewers, and now it seems unlikely he’ll make that much. It’s designed to protect the team losing the player, but if you’re a Type A free agent, it can only hurt you. When players who won’t cost anything in draft picks (Adam Dunn, Bobby Abreu, Brandon Lyon) remain unsigned, you’re that much more likely to get overlooked if you cost a team a draft pick as well.

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3 responses to “The Scarlet Letter

  1. How is Varitek a Type A?

  2. Glenn, cmon, he’s the captain.

  3. It goes to show how flawed the free agent rankings are. It appears that Varitek made a huge mistake in declining arbitration… I’m actually surprised Boston offered it considering the season he had.

    Dave makes a good point, though. He’s the captain, so I’m sure it will work out.

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