Scenario 1: The market for corner outfielders isn’t strong, and while Bobby Abreu wants a three-year, $45-million deal, no club, for a variety of reasons, would dole that out right now. The Yankees offer arbitration, and Abreu accepts. All of a sudden, the Yanks will have to pay a 35-year-old corner outfielder in the declining phase of his career at least $16 million and probably closer to $18 or $19 million. Not only does Abreu occupy a spot on the 40-man roster, but his decision to accept arbitration means the Yanks cannot go after a younger and cheaper or older but better and more expensive alternative.
Scenario 2: The market for corner outfielders past their prime isn’t strong. In fact, baseball executives feel that Abreu could command just a multi-year deal but only at an AAV of $8-$10 million. The Yanks know that, with this parameter in place, Abreu would do better to accept arbitration. So they don’t offer it to him. They know this makes Abreu a bit more attractive in the eyes of his potential suitors because he won’t cost a draft pick, but they’re willing to make that move in the name of fiscal and roster flexibility.
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If you’re the General Manager, what do you do? To me, the answer is simple, and the Yanks made the right move. They picked scenario two. In doing so, they forfeited the potential to receive two draft picks, but right now, it seems as though Abreu would have been in a position where arbitration was the better option. The Yanks knew and didn’t want to take that chance.
In the RAB piece for Newsday’s On the Yankees beat blog, Joe made a similar point yesterday, and it’s worth delving into the aftermath of this decision. It’s not easy to replace Bobby Abreu’s production, and I don’t think the Yanks are expecting Nick Swisher and Xavier Nady to produce at Abreu’s past levels.
But now without Abreu around — and it seems like he is definitely not coming back — the Yanks have options. They can take a good, long look at Manny Ramirez; they can explore Adam Dunn or Pat Burrell. They can spend on pitching and hope that their offense is good enough if their starters can be outstanding. No matter what, they aren’t locked in to an outlandish obligation to Bobby Abreu.
These days, we tend to overvalue draft picks, and yes, compensation picks can be rewarding. After all, the Yanks wouldn’t have Joba Chamberlain without them. In the end, though, they’re just draft picks that may or may come due in a few years’ time. The Yanks looked at the seemingly weak 2009 draft, they looked at where they needed to be right now, and they determined that Bobby Abreu and arbitration did not go hand-in-hand this year. It was the right decision.