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Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Some players in compensation-pick purgatory

The prices for free agents are dropping far enough that suddenly teams that haven't made moves in the offseason may be in a position to nab a player they might've thought of as out of their price range a month ago.

But there remains a group of players residing in compensation-pick purgatory -- Type A free agents who rejected arbitration offers last month. Among those: shortstop Orlando Cabrera, reliever Juan Cruz, catcher Jason Varitek and starting pitcher Ben Sheets. Any team interested in signing one of those players would have to give up a draft pick that probably would fall among the top 100 choices in this year's draft -- and at a time when teams are locking down budgets and placing an even greater premium on young players, this is a problem.

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For example: Cabrera is a productive major league veteran who might fit with any number of teams, particularly the Toronto Blue Jays, and he won't demand a high salary. But Toronto would have to give up a draft pick to add Cabrera, and the Jays won't be inclined to do that -- which gashes Cabrera's market value. "I like Cabrera, and think he could help us," one highly ranked Blue Jays executive said. "But I cannot justify giving up a pick for a 34-year-old shortstop on a one- or two-year deal. It makes absolutely no sense for us. None."

Another example: The Florida Marlins have a talented young pitching staff and a need at catcher. On paper, Varitek would fit them perfectly, with the Marlins perhaps even willing to go above and beyond their typical expenditure to sign him. But Florida is a team that must live and breathe on the power of its player development, and surrendering a first-round draft pick to sign a 36-year-old catcher whose best days are behind him is simply not logical for a small-market team. One team recently had internal deliberations about possibly opening its negotiations with Varitek with an offer of $5 million in salary for 2009 but quickly tabled the idea after weighing the cost/benefit of signing the catcher and losing its top draft pick.

There would be reason for Cruz to be the most coveted reliever on the market after he put up big numbers in 2008. But he's a Type A free agent who turned down arbitration and will cost a club a draft pick if it signs him, so he's less attractive to any interested teams.

There are varying opinions on why the prices for some free agents have fallen this winter. Team executives talk about the impact of the worsening economy, while some agents believe this is part of an organized effort by Major League Baseball to depress prices.

Either way, by winter's end, there will be a group of players -- including some Type B free agents such as Jon Garland and Paul Byrd -- who probably would have made more money had they accepted arbitration.

We've heard a lot of rumblings from the management side about implementing a salary cap in the next round of negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement in three years. From the union's viewpoint, there might be a push to change the draft-pick compensation system, because it's evident that the perceived value of draft picks has risen beyond what anyone envisioned when the current agreement was struck. The system was not designed primarily to depress and perhaps even destroy the market for guys like Varitek, but that's precisely the impact it's having.

A look at the 22 players who rejected arbitration offers (and we'll update this list as the winter progresses), along with a guesstimate of what they might've made in arbitration (I tried to be conservative) and their current signing status.

Type A free agents

(A) 2008 salary; (B) what the player might've gotten in salary for 2009 through arbitration; (C) offseason status:

A.J. Burnett, RHP: (A) $12 million; (B) $14 million; (C) Signed five-year, $82.5 million deal (will make $16.5 million in '09)
Orlando Cabrera, SS: (A) $9 million; (B) $10 million; (C) Unsigned
Juan Cruz, RHP: (A) $1.9375 million; (B) $3 million; (C) Unsigned
Brian Fuentes, LHP: (A) $5.05 million; (B) $7 million; (C) Signed two-year, $17.5 million deal (will make $8.5 million in '09)
Orlando Hudson, 2B: (A) $6.25 million; (B) $8 million; (C) Unsigned
Raul Ibanez, OF: (A) $5.5 million; (B) $8 million; (C) Signed a three-year, $31.5 million deal (will make $8.5 million in '09)
Derek Lowe, RHP: (A) $10 million; (B) $11 million; (C) Unsigned
Oliver Perez, LHP: (A) $6.5 million; (B) $8 million; (C) Unsigned
Manny Ramirez, OF: (A) $20 million; (B) $22 million; (C) Unsigned
Francisco Rodriguez, RHP (A) $10 million; (B) $12 million; (C) Signed three-year, $37 million deal (will make $10.5 million in '09)
CC Sabathia, LHP: (A) $9 million; (B) $18 million; (C) Signed seven-year, $161 million deal (will make $23 million in '09)
Ben Sheets, RHP: (A) $11 million; (B) $12 million; (C) Unsigned
Mark Teixeira, 1B: (A) $12.5 million; (B) $18M; (C) Signed eight-year, $180 million deal (will make $25 million in '09)
Jason Varitek, C: (A) $9 million; (B) $10 million; (C) Unsigned

Type B free agents

Casey Blake, 3B: (A) $6.1 million; (B) $6.5 million; (C) Signed three-year, $17.5 million deal (will make $5 million in '09)
Milton Bradley, OF: (A) $5 million; (B) $8 million; (C) Signed three-year, $30 million deal (will make $10 million in '09)
Paul Byrd, RHP: (A) $7.5 million; (B) $8.5 million; (C) Unsigned
Jon Garland, RHP: (A) $12 million; (B) $13 million; (C) Unsigned
Mark Grudzielanek, 2B: (A) $4 million; (B) $4.5 million; (C) Unsigned
Dennys Reyes, LHP: (A) $1 million; (B) $2 million; (C) Unsigned
Brian Shouse, LHP: (A) $2 million; (B) $2.5 million; (C) Unsigned

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