On December 1, 24 players were offered arbitration. Only two of them — Darren Oliver and David Weathers, both relievers — accepted. Of the remaining 22, six have signed, three with the Yankees. We’ve heard names like Manny Ramirez, Brian Fuentes, Derek Lowe, and Milton Bradley discussed, but nothing seems imminent. Would some of them have fared better by accepting arbitration and re-entering the free agent pool next winter?
Fred Claire tackled the topic at the end of his latest article. It deals with the free agent class of 2009, noting that it’s not nearly as top-heavy as this year’s talent. The top pitcher, John Lackey, might not even make it to free agency. Matt Holliday is a very good hitter, but after him there’s not much unless Vlad Guerrero can stay healthy. That is, unless you count Chipper Jones, who is a decently safe bet to stay with Atlanta.
So why didn’t a few more free agents accept arbitration this year and hope for better conditions next year?
“I was particularly surprised that so many ranking free agents refused arbitration,” observed a general manager. “It would seem that next offseason would be a better marketplace from a player’s perspective. I think a few agents didn’t offer the best advice to their clients [at the arbitration deadline on Dec. 7.]”
Is it really going to be a better market, though? There might not be as high end talent available after the 2009 season, but for the most part the unsigned guys who declined arbitration either are getting on in years or aren’t top-tier guys. The older guys want their final multi-year contracts, and the second- and third-tier guys don’t necessarily stand a better chance next winter. Maybe economic conditions improve and teams can spend a bit more. But with attendance forecasted to take a hit next year, is that a likely scenario?
No, for the most part I don’t blame these guys for declining arbitration. It’s worked for CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Mark Teixeira, Raul Ibanez, Casey Blake, and Francisco Rodriguez. I’m sure Ben Sheets, Derek Lowe, Orlando Hudson, Oliver Perez, etc. will find buyers for their services.