Baseball isn’t so recession-proof after all.
Until about an hour ago, no one really knew how the American economic slump would impact baseball. Now that the arbitration decisions are in, it’s clear that teams are being far more cautious than usual and that the free agent market for lesser players may not be as robust as those free agents had hoped.
To me, three players and their teams’ respective decisions highlight this economic issue. Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell and Adam Dunn were not offered arbitration by, respectively, the Yankees, Phillies and Diamondbacks. In all three cases, the teams are not actively looking to retain their former players, and in any other year, these three players would have been offered arbitration. This year, though, the specter of an arbitration acceptance looms large.
Leaving aside Bobby Abreu for now — because we’ll get to him later today — the most glaring example is Pat Burrell. I don’t think the Phillies expect to re-sign Burrell, and entering the off-season, Burrell didn’t expect to re-sign with the Phillies. As the economy has tanked, though, mid-30s outfielders who aren’t Manny Ramirez must not be in high demand.
If the Phillies, Diamondbacks and Yankees all declined to offer arbitration to these players, the teams’ GMs must feel that there is a better-than-usual chance these players would accept binding arbitration. Either the market for corner outfielders isn’t there or it is not as strong as these players would hope. After all, it would behoove these three, expecting large contracts, to ride out the economic tide for one more year while playing at a salary equal to or exceeding their 2008 total.
So Brian Cashman said no. Ruben Amaro, Jr. said no. Josh Byrnes said no. It makes sense on the one hand, and it doesn’t on the other.
Of course, now, these three players are slightly more attractive targets and more so Dunn than the other two. Teams who sign them won’t have to surrender money and draft picks, and the three of them are now at the whim of market forces. Those forces, by the way, as the Cubs’ decision not to offer arbitration to Kerry Wood shows, don’t figure to be too strong. Teams just can’t run the risk of saddling themselves with last year’s merchandise and last year’s price in this year’s economy.
In the end, this won’t impact the deals that Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and Manny Ramirez get. Those guys have tens of millions of reasons to feel good, and the players at the top will get their deals. But everyone below them must looking at the arbitration carnage tonight in fear. Now we know, at least, why the Hot Stove has been so cool lately.