Surveying the Free Agent Landscape

Now that the deadline has passed for teams to offer arbitration to their former players it clears the landscape slightly in the free agent market. Players who have been offered arbitration have until Monday to decide whether to accept but at least now teams know which players will cost them draft choices if they decide to sign them.

Rather than attempt to list all of the players who were denied arbitration, let’s instead take a look and see which players may now be on the Arizona Diamondbacks radar. Going into this off-season the Diamondbacks identified three areas they hoped to address: starting pitching, relief pitching, a power hitter with some position flexibility.

I am going to add a fourth need to the list – second base. I can appreciate that the Diamondbacks feel as though some combination of Tony Abreu, Ryan Roberts, and Augie Ojeda will fit the bill but I do not share their confidence.

In an earlier entry I offered my recommendations for candidates for the Diamondbacks starting pitcher opening. My preferences were: Jason Marquis, Randy Wolf, Ben Sheets, Brad Penny, Joel Pineiro, and Rich Harden. Let’s see how many of these were offered arbitration.

The Colorado Rockies also saw the value of Marquis and although it seems unlikely he will return to Denver, the team was not about to not get anything in return. Marquis was therefore offered arbitration and it is widely assumed he will decline before Monday.

Like Marquis, Joel Pineiro was offered arbitration. The St. Louis Cardinals are still attempting to sign Pineiro and would be content if he would accept arbitration. It is looking more and more like Pineiro will return to St. Louis. If not, the Cardinals will at least get a draft choice out of his departure.

The Los Angeles Dodgers find themselves in an unfamiliar position of not being among the big-market spenders. With the ownership going through a messy divorce and several of their young players now reaching arbitration age, the Dodgers are acting more like a mid-market team. They were conservative in their arbitration approach. Pitcher Randy Wolf was not offered arbitration meaning the team signing him will not have to give up a draft choice.

The Chicago Cubs declined to offer pitcher Rich Harden arbitration making his departure from the Northside all but assured. Harden had been listed as a “Type B Free Agent” meaning the Cubs will not receive a supplemental draft choice if Harden signs elsewhere.

Brad Penny was not offered arbitration by the San Francisco Giants which was expected since Penny did not figure in either the Type A or Type B criteria. Ben Sheets was not under contract last season and therefore he is exempt from the process meaning the teams would not lose any draft choices if they decided to offer Sheets a contract.

Starting pitchers that were offered arbitration included Los Angeles Angels’ John Lackey, Minnesota Twins’ Carl Pavano, Oakland A’s Justin Duchscherer. Relief pitchers being offered arbitration include Atlanta’s Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano, Colorado’s Rafael Betancourt, Detroit’s Brandon Lyon and Houston’s Jose Valverde.

It is interesting to note that the two most important components of the Diamondbacks 2007 play-off bound bullpen are both available in Lyon and Valverde. There will be clamoring by the Diamondbacks faithful to bring them back but their return seems highly unlikely.

With the trade for Aaron Heilman there are questions of whether the Diamondbacks will be interested in signing another reliever. If so, I expect them to target Houston’s LaTroy Hawkins or possibly White Sox reliever Octavio Dotel. Both Hawkins and Dotel are veterans with a lot of experience something Josh Byrnes covets.

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises for me was the fact that the Dodgers did not offer arbitration to any of their seven free agents – Randy Wolf, Orlando Hudson, Ronnie Belliard, Jon Garland, Guillermo Moto, Will Ohman, and Vincente Padilla.

Second baseman Orlando Hudson is a “Type A Free Agent” so not offering him arbitration cost the Dodgers two draft choices. I still believe the Diamondbacks should explore bringing O-Dog back to solidify the middle of the infield and add a veteran to the clubhouse.

While Hudson does not fit in the Diamondbacks plans for a veteran off the bench he does give them a switch hitter who is very comfortable in the National League West and has had success against divisional pitchers. And while his defense may not be as good as it was earlier it is still a far cry better than Roberts, Abreu, or Ojeda.

Now that the players have been identified and teams know which free agents come attached with draft pick compensation, it is time for the off-season wheeling and dealing to finally begin.

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