11/30/2006 9:25 AM ET
Salary arbitration decisions loom large
New CBA offers more flexibility for everyone in negotiations
By Jim Molony / MLB.com
For some free agents and teams, December can feel like it does for last-minute shoppers counting the number of days left until Christmas.
Is time running out to get what they want?
The calendar's 12th month usually means tough calls for both sides, and this December should be no different -- especially with tweaks in the labor agreement which could make for more aggressive shopping than baseball has seen in recent Decembers.
One change begins on Friday, which is the deadline for teams to offer salary arbitration to their players who became free agents. The players have until Dec. 7 to accept or decline. Previously, the deadline to offer was Dec. 7, and players had until Dec. 19 to accept or reject arbitration.
The process will have an impact on the Hot Stove landscape as some of the top names on the market like Tom Glavine, Barry Bonds, Barry Zito, Dave Roberts, Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Jason Schmidt, Gil Meche and Jeff Suppan will get a clearer picture of the 2007 landscape after the arbitration choices are known.
Unlike previous years, when free agents not offered arbitration couldn't sign with their previous teams before May 1, under the new rules the two sides can continue negotiations and, if a player is re-signed, he would be eligible to play for the team on Opening Day.
Free agents offered arbitration and then signed by another team could potentially cost the signing team a draft choice if the free agent is a Type A. But the Type A pool is smaller this year, as it has been reduced from the top 30 percent at each position (according to the Elias Sports Bureau rankings) to the top 20 percent. And unlike previous years, teams no longer lose a draft choice for signing a Type B (players ranked between 21-40 percent) free agent. Teams losing Type B free agents will receive an extra draft pick next June.
Of course, teams can offer arbitration to top free agents they believe will sign elsewhere to make sure they get that extra draft pick.
Oakland, for example, is expected to offer arbitration to Zito even though it is unlikely the Type A left-hander will return to the A's next season. Suppan, who is being targeted by a number of teams, could receive an arbitration offer from St. Louis. Similarly, free agents like Schmidt (San Francisco), Joe Borowski (Florida), Julio Lugo (Los Angeles) and Roberts (San Diego) are other candidates for arbitration.
In such situations, the risk making an offer, from a team standpoint, is the possibility that a player could accept arbitration, which would then lead to a financial obligation the team wasn't counting on. Since fewer players qualify for Type A and with fewer draft picks attached, it will likely mean fewer arbitration offerings.
The decision on whether to offer arbitration or not can be extremely difficult for general managers.
The Astros would love to have Clemens and Pettitte back for 2007, but Houston GM Tim Purpura hasn't decided whether the club will offer arbitration to either player.
The Astros did not offer arbitration to Clemens last year, opting instead to negotiate a deal that returned the right-hander to the team in June. This time the Astros won't have to wait until May 1 for either player, should they decide not to offer arbitration and then re-sign them.
"We've been up against those dates a couple of times the last few years," Purpura said. "With Carlos [Beltran in 2005] and with Roger. We'll have a little more flexibility [with the new CBA rules] than we've had, but it's basically the same with regards to arbitration. You still have to look at it essentially as, 'How much do you want a guy back?'"
The Mets want Glavine back, but so does Atlanta.
Glavine, another Type A free agent, will find out whether the Mets will offer arbitration and the other team pursuing the veteran lefty, the Braves, will know whether bringing Glavine back to Atlanta will cost the club a draft choice next summer. If the Mets offer salary arbitration and Glavine accepts, it means the pitcher will return to New York for 2007 and the Braves will have to look elsewhere for that starter they are seeking.
Braves general manager John Schuerholz still isn't making any public comments about Glavine. During a late Tuesday afternoon phone conversation with MLB.com, he said, "I will not talk about it."
Other free agents of note whose market value could be impacted by whether an arbitration offer is attached include Eric Gagne, Mark Loretta, Cliff Floyd, Mike Lieberthal, Jay Payton, Kenny Lofton, Ted Lilly, Aaron Fultz, Vicente Padilla and Bengie Molina.
Over the next seven days, the offers and answers will help shape the market further and trigger either more deals or a change in direction by teams looking to fill their roster needs. The full free-agent picture will be known when another key date -- Dec. 12, the deadline to offer contracts -- rolls around. Last year the non-tender date was Dec. 20.
By then, the GMs will know exactly who is on the market and who isn't, and just in time for some holiday shopping.
"There's more [flexibility] than we had under the old rules, but the [free agent] also has more time to negotiate with another team," Mets GM Omar Minaya said. "It's better for everybody."