At certain points in the off-season we learn something definitive about a team’s plans. A week and a half ago teams had to protect players not on their 40-man rosters from the Rule 5 draft. We learned then that the Yankees valued certain players. Today the Yankees must decide whether to offer arbitration to their three compensation-eligible free agents: Johnny Damon, Andy Pettitte, and Xavier Nady. We’ll soon learn what they’re thinking in regards to those players, and perhaps the whole market.
The Yankees surprised many last winter when they declined to offer arbitration to any of their free agents. This meant that they would not collect any draft picks when Bobby Abreu, a Type A free agent, signed with another team. From the Yankees perspective, however, it meant that they had no obligations to these players. Abreu and Pettitte both earned $16 million in 2008, and that would have essentially added $32 million to the 2009 payroll. They decided those funds would be better used towards contracts for CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett (and later, Mark Teixeira).
Pettitte and Damon this year are different than Abreu and Pettitte last year. After his incentives, Pettitte earned around $10 million this season. The Yankees could offer him arbitration and work with that as a starting point, rather than $16 million. Unlike Abreu, it appears the Yankees would like Damon to return, or are at least considering the option. There’s a far greater chance they’ll offer him arbitration than it was for Abreu, whom they didn’t want back in the first place.
By offering Damon arbitration, the Yankees are accepting that he’ll accept. That wouldn’t be a completely bad thing, as it gives him and the team a couple of options for a 2010 contract. They could work out a one- or two-year deal, or they could go to an arbitration hearing. If they choose the latter, they’d end up with one year of Johnny Damon for, say, $15 million. It’s not ideal, but it’s not terrible for a one-year solution.
Scott Boras does not advise his players to accept arbitration under most circumstances. If Damon declines, the Yankees get a first round or second round draft pick if he signs elsewhere. That reward might not be worth the risk of offering arbitration to a player you don’t want back, but if the Yankees want Damon back it’s probably worth it. With Boras, chances are he declines anyway.
All winter we speculate about what a team might do. Today we get to find out something that they actually do. It’s one of the cooler parts of the off-season. The Yankees will reveal to us a little of what they think when they announce their decisions later this afternoon. The talk about Halladay and Holliday is fun and all, but this is the Yankees actually doing something.