Today marks a Sedona Red letter day on the off season timeline. It marks the final day teams can offer salary arbitration to their free agents. The significance of this sometimes has very little to do with whether a team actually wants to re-sign the player.
When salary arbitration was first negotiated as part of the collective bargaining agreement between owners and the players union, it was designed to provide a mechanism where a player and his agent would have a place to settle potential compensation issues. No one could have imagined the other nuances of the process and the implications it allows.
In an effort to safeguard the smaller teams from having their talent be funneled off to the larger market teams, there was a stipulation placed on the process whereby teams are awarded compensatory draft picks in the subsequent year’s amateur draft when their best free agents are signed by another team.
The trigger for whether a team receives these picks is that the player’s former team must have offered the player an opportunity of an arbitrator setting the player’s value in a one year contract. This does not apply to every free agent, only the very best performers.
The eligible players are grouped into two groups referred as Type A and Type B. In a simplistic sense the Type A players represent the top 20 percent at their position while Type B are the top players in the 21 to 40 percent by position. These values are determined by the Elias Sports Bureau.
At first glance it would seem like a no-brainer that teams would always offer arbitration to their free agents to ensure they get additional draft picks the following year. It’s not always that easy.
There may be circumstances where the player may not want to sign elsewhere or they feel like an arbitrator would award them a one year contract above market value that they could not get otherwise through free agency.
The Arizona Diamondbacks find themselves in exactly that situation. First baseman Adam LaRoche signed a contract before the 2010 season with an option for 2011. Towards the end of the season LaRoche hinted he would like to return to Arizona next season. The Diamondbacks declined his option making him a free agent.
It would therefore be a gamble on the team’s part to offer LaRoche arbitration as he very well may accept it leading to a larger contract than what the team was willing to pay for a first baseman.
Relief pitcher Aaron Heilman is another Type B free agent who may find the market for his services thin at which point he might opt for arbitration hoping for a larger one-year contract than he would otherwise receive.
From the Diamondbacks perspective they may feel like the risk of a player accepting arbitration out weighs the value they would receive in compensatory draft picks. Based on that thinking, look for the Diamondbacks to decline to offer either of their Type B free agents salary arbitration when the deadline comes.