Joe Sheehan dissents. I quote at length:
The choice for the club is pretty simple. If the player is valuable enough to warrant a one-year contract, offer him arbitration. You will get draft-pick compensation if he signs elsewhere, and if he does not, you will have a good player signed to a one-year deal…
The Yankees made a mistake by not offering arbitration to either [Bobby Abreu or Andy Pettitte], the biggest mistakes any team made in this round of decisions. For a team with the Yankees’ revenues, especially as they move into an ATM with foul poles, to decline the services of above-average players or draft picks in the event of their departure is a stunning waste of resources. Bobby Abreu projects as a five- or six-win player, Pettitte a bit below that…
Certainly there’s no baseball reason to not want either player. In Abreu’s absence, the Yankees nomnally have an outfield of Xavier Nady, Johnny Damon, Melky Cabrera and Hideki Matsui, with Nick Swisher at first base. Abreu is better than all of those players, and if having him would create a logjam, it does so by forcing inferior talent to the bench, the waiver wire or the trade market. Pettitte was the team’s #3 starter last year, and would project as the #4 even if the Yankees were to sign multiple starters in the free-agent market.
All of that assumes, of course, that the players accept arbitration, foregoing multi-year contracts at market salaries to take a one-year contract with the Yankees. The more likely scenario is that both players would sign elsewhere (or in Pettitte’s case, retire), allowing the Yankees to collect two draft picks for each, either a #1 and a sandwich pick or a #2 and a sandwich pick. Even with the Yankees’…mixed…record in the draft of late, forfeiting the right to those picks is an enormous waste
Two days ago, the Yankees had assets in Abreu and Pettitte that could have been considered short-term investments with minimal risk and fairly certain benefit (were they to rejoin the club), or long-term investments with more risk and uncertain benefit, but higher upside (were they to become draft picks). Now, they have nothing. How a team with the cash reserves of the Yankees can make a choice like that is inexplicable, and recalls the decision to forego the services of Carlos Beltran three years ago, a decision also motivated by short-term cash concerns.
I think Sheehan is underestimating roster flexibility and the economic impact the market conditions have on baseball. I see that Abreu may be above average even in decline, but if he accepts arbitration and earns $18 million, that’s a hefty payday and money the Yanks could be using elsewhere.
I also think he’s overvaluing Abreu. PECOTA ’08 pegged Abreu at a 14.7 maximum VORP and a comparable salary of $7,300,000. Granted, Abreu in 2008 reached his 75 percentile in PECOTA. So we’d probably have to adjust upward by a bit for 2009. He’ll probably end up with more than that stingy salary projection, but should the Yanks risk paying him more than double his relative worth just for the chance of some draft picks?
In the end, we’ll never know if the Yanks made a mistake. By declining arbitration to Abreu, they made him a more attractive free agent. I still think it’s likely that Abreu would have accepted the Yanks’ offer. Pettitte is a tougher argument, but I expect him back in the Bronx in the end. Just something to think about right now though.