- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
For years, the Elias Sports Bureau rankings that determined what kind of draft-pick compensation would be attached to free agents meant nothing to some teams. For many executives, a gained or lost pick meant little, so the rankings had little impact on the players involved.
But all that has changed, of course. Draft picks are coveted, and teams are shaping their business practices around gaining picks through losing free agents while ensuring they don't lose their own picks. So when the Elias rankings were released Monday, there was a mix of really good news and bad news for teams and players. Remember, to receive draft-pick compensation, a team must offer arbitration to a free agent.
There was bad news for: Billy Wagner. He is a Type A free agent officially, and presumably the Red Sox will offer him arbitration. That means that any team interested in Wagner would have to give up a top pick to sign him, and that could greatly affect the market for him the way Juan Cruz's market was wrecked this past winter by attachment to the Type A albatross.
Wagner is 38 years old and only 17 appearances removed from Tommy John surgery, and more than a dozen other closer candidates probably are available for teams to consider. Wagner could be a nice fit for Baltimore or Florida or many other teams, but executives will be extremely reluctant to give up a top pick for someone his age with his recent history. Wagner might have to strongly consider accepting the Red Sox's offer of arbitration and returning as a set-up man.
There was good news for: Mark DeRosa. At times it appeared DeRosa would be a Type A free agent, but his wrist injuries this past season might have actually helped his free agency, knocking him from Type A status to Type B status. That means any interested team does not have to give up a first-round pick to sign him, so offers will flood in. DeRosa won't get a contract close to what Matt Holliday or Jason Bay will receive, but his versatility, production and reputation for being a good team guy could mean he'll get two- and three-year offers.
Of course, had he been Type A, some teams might've shied away altogether. But now his market might include the Phillies and Yankees, who could both use a right-handed-hitting all-purpose player; for the Yankees, he could be a de facto replacement for Jerry Hairston, and for the Phillies, he could move around regularly to different spots, giving a day off to Ryan Howard or Chase Utley or Raul Ibanez. Or he could be a candidate to be the everyday third baseman, as the Phillies declined Pedro Feliz's 2010 option on Sunday. DeRosa would fit with the Cardinals, Cubs, Mets or any number of teams.
There was bad news for: Rafael Betancourt. He is a Type A free agent whom Colorado is clearly angling to keep, and because Betancourt was appropriately priced at $3.3 million in 2009, the Rockies might be tempted to offer him arbitration. At worst, they might have to pay him something in the area of $4 million next season. And the Rockies could use this leverage in negotiations with the right-hander on a multiyear deal, because if they offered arbitration and locked him in as a Type A free agent who would cost any other team a top pick, it would really hurt his value.
There might be bad news for: Randy Wolf. He is 33 years old, and although he is coming off an excellent season of 34 starts and a 3.23 ERA, the fact that he is a Type A free agent could chase away possible suitors. Wolf made about $5 million in 2009, so it's very possible the Dodgers will offer him arbitration at the very least. But L.A. has a lot of other pressing issues, with a huge number of arbitration-eligible players and with the current McCourt situation.
There was bad news for: LaTroy Hawkins. He'll be 37 years old next month, and because he's a Type A free agent, the Astros could wreck his market by offering him arbitration and tying him to draft-pick compensation. Hawkins made $3.5 million this past season, and other GMs believe it's a no-brainer for the Astros to offer arbitration to Hawkins and Jose Valverde, who is also listed as a Type A free agent.
There might be bad news for: Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano. Both are Type A free agents, and because both have some history of medical issues, it's very possible that teams won't be willing to give up top draft picks to land them. But it's also unclear whether the Braves would offer arbitration to Soriano, who made $6.3 million this past season and conceivably could earn something in the range of $8-9 million. Gonzalez made $3.45 million this past season.
There might be bad news for: Bengie Molina. The Giants know their catcher of the future is Buster Posey, but he has had only one season of pro ball. San Francisco could buy more time for Posey by offering arbitration to Molina, who is a Type A free agent. If the Giants do that, Molina's market will get crushed; it is very unlikely that opposing teams would give up a first-round draft pick for a 35-year-old catcher whose OPS dipped from .767 to .727 this past summer.
There was good news and bad news in the rankings for the Royals, writes Bob Dutton.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Heard this: There is no chance the Cubs and Blue Jays will make a deal involving Milton Bradley.
2. The Cubs might struggle to find a taker for Bradley even if they eat a lot of money, writes Paul Sullivan.
3. Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd won executive of the year in a vote of his peers.
4. Heard this: Manny Acta's three-year contract is for a little more than $2 million and has a one-year option for the 2013 season.
5. Heard this: Orlando Hudson has been informed that he will be the NL Gold Glove Award winner at second base. The Dodgers are not expected to retain Hudson, who is a Type A free agent.
6. Heard this: The Yankees haven't determined whether they'll pursue John Lackey or any other free agent and will not do so until they have their organizational meetings in the days ahead.
7. Tom Brookens was named the Tigers' first-base coach.
8. Jason Bay is continually being tied, through media speculation, to the Seattle Mariners. This match is very, very unlikely to happen, because the Mariners have first-round pick Dustin Ackley developing in the Arizona Fall League, and at some point next season, Seattle expects to field an outfield of Ichiro Suzuki, Franklin Gutierrez and Ackley. The same can be said with Hideki Matsui: If the Mariners re-sign Ken Griffey Jr., there really will be no place for Matsui on the Mariners. It looks as if Griffey will return for the 2010 season, and Larry Stone asks: Why not?
14. The Rangers might be willing to trade a pitcher, writes Jeff Wilson.
15. Ruben Amaro is looking to fill in the blanks at the GM meetings this week, writes Jim Salisbury. Within this piece, there is word that the Phillies remain very much in the picture for Roy Halladay. Bill Conlin has lots of praise for Pedro Feliz, who has a reputation as a total pro.
17. It was a day of change in the Boston catching department, writes Michael Silverman. Jason Varitek is expected to pick up his $3 million option with the Red Sox -- which will make for a very, very uncomfortable situation.
18. The GM meetings are noticeably different this year, writes David Waldstein.
• The Cardinals are preparing to meet with Scott Boras on Tuesday to discuss Matt Holliday. It's almost certain that they won't like what they hear, because the first meetings with Boras often result in club executives walking away and saying, That asking price is crazy. Losing Holliday would make no sense for the Cardinals, writes Bryan Burwell.
• New Padres GM Jed Hoyer did a Q&A with Dan Hayes.
• The White Sox and Cubs are not among the teams interested in Aroldis Chapman, writes Dave van Dyck.
• The Reds will open their new spring training facility with a game against the Indians.
• The Mariners have help on the way through their minor league system, writes Larry LaRue.
• A Giants prospect made bail.
• The Indians have a more wary outlook at this year's winter meetings, writes Paul Hoynes.
• The Braves' first-round pick, a Vanderbilt guy, is pitching in the AFL, David O'Brien writes.
• A judge will decide the fate of the list of 104 from the 2003 survey testing.
For some MLB players, being named a Type A free agent creates a great payday situation; for others, flexibility becomes totally limited and the option to sign with their desired teams is all but erased. The winners and losers are becoming clear.