The Arbitration Question: To Offer Or Not?

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The free agent signing period officially starts this Sunday, but free agency won’t begin in earnest until later this month when we know which players will force teams to give up a draft pick to sign them. Some are obvious; the Cliff Lees, the Carl Crawfords, the Jayson Werths, those are the ones we don’t have to think about. They’re going to cost you. But with players like Paul Konerko, Carl Pavano, and Frank Francisco, it’s not so obvious. That’s why we have to take the wait and see approach.

Quick primer on the rules: If a team offers one of their free agents arbitration and he signs elsewhere, they’ll receive two draft picks if he’s a Type-A (the signing team’s top pick and a sandwich rounder pulled out of the air) or just one if he’s a Type-B (the sandwich rounder). Of course the player has to decline that arbitration offer for the team to be entitled to that compensation, which is no longer a given these days. Salaries are coming back down to Earth and teams are shying away from older players, so the chances of these guys accepting arbitration has gone up considerably in recent years. But you knew that already.

The Yankees haven’t offered arbitration to any of their free agents in the last two offseasons, and there’s really no reason to expect them to alter that practice now. The last compensation pick they received for losing a free agent came way back in 2008, when they gained a supplemental first round pick for losing Luis Vizcaino (they used the pick on Jeremy Bleich). Yeah, it’s been a while.

Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte all qualified as Type-A free agents, and we know that it’s pretty much Yankees or bust for those three. Since the chances of them signing with another club are tiny, I don’t see the point in offering them arbitration. There’s nothing to be gained by it, and an offer would put all of the risk on the Yankees. There are worse things in the world than having those three on well, well above-market rate one-year deals, but I don’t think that’s enough of a reason to assume the risk given the tiny chances of the reward. Perhaps you feel differently.

Javy Vazquez is a no-brainer. He’s a Type-B who made $11.5M in 2010, and of course he was awful (-0.2 fWAR) due to stuff that deteriorated as the season progressed. The best course of action is to simply cut ties and walk away. I know the Yanks considered two draft picks to be part of the deal (he was a Type-A once upon a time), but things didn’t work out. No sense in trying to force the issue, let Javy walk with no stings attached. That leaves two more decisions to be made…

Lance Berkman

When the Yanks acquired Berkman at the trade deadline, he waved his no-trade clause under the condition that they would not pick up his $15M option for 2011. Usually it’s the other way around, the player wants the option picked up in exchange for agreeing to the deal. I guess that means Puma really doesn’t want to stick around and plans on exploring the open market this winter.

(AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

Under normal circumstances, there’s no way you’d offer Berkman arbitration given his bloated salary and declining production (yes, I know he was pretty good with the Yanks, but his .345 season wOBA was the worse of his career), but this isn’t a normal situation. Berkman’s demonstrated a desire to get out of town by demanding that they decline his rather lucrative option, and unless he’s had a change of heart over the last few months, I think they should offer Fat Elvis arbitration and hope he declines.

Yeah, it’s very risky given his salary and the team’s not infinite payroll, but I think there’s enough writing on the wall to risk it. Granted, it’s not my money, so what do I know. If Berkman was a Type-A instead of a Type-B, I definitely wouldn’t offer because a team is unlikely to give up a high pick to sign him. But since that’s not the case, I say go for it. Be bold.

Kerry Wood

Wood earned $10.5M this year, which is a boat load for a reliever, even a closer (which he was at the start of the year). In fact, he was the seventh highest paid relief pitcher in baseball this season, just ahead of B.J. Ryan. Yeah, the Blue Jays are still paying that guy.

Anyway, Wood (a Type-B like Berkman) will probably be able to find a job closing games somewhere, but he’s not going to sniff that kind of annual salary again. Remember, he was on the disabled list twice before the trade, and his 26 innings with the Yankees were unfathomable lucky (6.23 BB/9, .235 BABIP, 98.1% strand rate). Considering those three things (improbability of finding that much money on the market, his health track record, and unsustainably good performance), I’d wish Kerry good luck and decline to offer him arbitration. If he accepts and you’re stuck with a $11-12M setup man … yikes. The Yanks have money, but that doesn’t mean they should spend it stupidly. Sorry Kerry.

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So assuming the Yanks offer arbitration to Berkman and Berkman only, they’ll receive one extra draft pick next year if/when he declines. Not much, but it’s better than nothing in a stacked draft class, especially when the Yanks are expected to forfeit their first round pick to sign a Type-A free agent of some kind. The deadline to offer arbitration is Nov. 23rd and players then have seven days to accept or decline, so this is going to sneak up before we know it.

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Berkman, Wood, Vazquez qualify as Type-B free agents

This winter’s Elias rankings are out, and MLBTR provides the goods. Lance Berkman, Kerry Wood, and Javy Vazquez all qualify as Type-B free agents, meaning the Yankees will receive a supplemental first round pick in next year’s draft if they sign elsewhere. Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera unsurprisingly check in as Type-A’s, so in the unlikely event that they sign elsewhere, the Yanks would receive both a first rounder and a supplemental first rounder.

Of course, the Yankees have to offer each player salary arbitration to receive those compensation picks. The Yanks haven’t offered anyone arbitration in the last two years, and there’s no reason to expect them to start now. Berkman might accept given his salary ($14.5MM), ditto Wood ($10.5M). They’re unlikely to get that big of a payday on the open market, and regardless of how good they were down the stretch in New York, that’s just too much for spare parts. Forget Javy, no chance they offer him arbitration. Just sever ties and move on.

As a reminder, our 2011 Draft Order Tracker is up and running, so check back in throughout the offseason as picks change hands during free agency.

Yankees decline options for Wood, Berkman, and Johnson

The Yankees have declined their 2011 options for Kerry Wood ($11M), Lance Berkman ($15M), and Nick Johnson ($5.5M), the club announced today. Puma gets a $2 million buyout, Johnson $250,000. As far as I can tell, Wood gets nothing. None of these should come as surprises, and in fact one of the conditions of Berkman’s accepting the trade to New York was that the team had to decline his option. I guess he really didn’t want to stick around. The Yanks could try to bring Wood back, but that salary is far too rich for a setup man.

The Yanks did pick one option today: Andrew Brackman‘s. I have no idea what the money is on that, but it’s not substantial. Even if they would have declined it, he’s still under team control for five more years. They also hold options for 2012 and 2013 as part of the big league deal Brackman signed out of the draft in 2007.

Spare parts, but now so much more

When the Yankees extended their season by taking Game Five yesterday, they did so thanks to the performances of their star players. Robbie Cano hit his fourth homer of the ALCS, Alex Rodriguez doubled to set-up a rally and drew two walks, Jorge Posada drove in the first run of the game and then came around to score, CC Sabathia provided six hard-fought innings, and Mariano Rivera was there to close things out in the ninth. The team’s best players were their best players in the most important game of the season, but let’s not understate the contributions they received from their deadline pickups.

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Mark Teixeira‘s season came to an abrupt end in Game Four when his right hamstring popped running down to first, so Lance Berkman is now stepping in as the Yanks’ full-time first baseman. I don’t know about you, but I’d have called you crazy if you woulda told me in April that Berkman would be the team’s everyday first baseman in the ALCS. Does not compute.

Anyway, Fat Elvis dusted off his first baseman’s mitt and took to the field for just the eighth time in forty games as a Yankee. I know he had some adventurous plays down in Tampa early on and even had that nasty spill yesterday, but overall Berkman is a solid defensive first baseman (his +13.1 UZR over the last three years is basically identical to Tex’s, for what it’s worth) capable of making all the routine plays plus a little more. He won’t make the flashy plays or the throws that Teixeira can, but it’s not like the Yankees had to resort to trotting Jason Giambi out there in the postseason.

Despite batting righthanded, by far his weaker side this season (.236 wOBA), Puma managed to contribute some offensively in Game Five, drawing a walk and driving in a run with a well-struck sac fly. His approach was rather simple; he just took everything not in his happy zone, which resulted in 22 pitches seen in just four plate appearances. The potential was there for zero offensive contribution, but Berkman’s been a great hitter for a long time and he found a way to chip in anything he could from his weak side. That’s all you could ask for from your backup first baseman.

After the Yanks had built up their lead and gotten all they could out of Sabathia, they handed the ball over to another July 31st pickup in Kerry Wood. The Yankee bullpen, a strength the entire second half, had faltered in a big way during Games Three and Four, allowing 11 runs and 16 baserunners in just five innings of work, but Wood was not involved in that disaster. The first batter he faced, the pesky Elvis Andrus, reached base on his eleventyith infield hit of the series, but some pitches and pickoff throws later, Wood caught him straying too far off second. Kerry had one pickoff since the 2006 season, but Andrus was his second of the ALCS. Lucky? Yes. Do you need luck to dig out of the three games to one hole? Also yes.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Wood went to work against the heart of Texas’ order with the Andrus pickoff mixed in. He struck out both Michael Young and Josh Hamilton to end the seventh, and then came out to retire Vlad Guerrero, David Murphy, and Ian Kinsler in order in the eighth. David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, and Boone Logan were horrifically ineffective during the past two games, but Wood stepped up in the must-win situation and give his club two big innings to bridge the gap between Sabathia and Mariano Rivera.

Berkman and Wood were ideal deadline pickups for many reasons off-the-field, such as low cost to acquire and short commitment, but on-the-field they made perfect sense. Both are veteran players with playoff (and in Berkman’s case, World Series) experience, but more importantly they bought into their role. Berkman’s a hero in Houston, where he played every single day and hit in the middle of the order for the last decade or so. With the Yankees, he was just a platoon designated hitter now pressed into a more important role. Wood was saving games for a last place team in Cleveland, and saves equal money on the free agent market. He joined the Yanks as just another cog in their deep bullpen, but emerged as someone much more important than that.

When the Yanks acquired these two guys at the deadline, none of us expected them to be this important with the season on the line. If you’re going to lose a player of Mark Teixeira’s caliber to injury, Lance Berkman’s a pretty damn good replacement to have. Should the regular relievers falter, having a hard-throwing strikeout machine like Kerry Wood to back them up is more than you could ask for. Neither player will be with the Yanks next season, but right now they’re doing everything asked of them and then some to help this team try to win a World Championship, and we appreciate that.

Ride ‘em while you’ve got ‘em

Lance and Kerry in their younger and more vulnerable days. (AP File Photo)

The New York Yankees playoff roster reads as one from a mid-2000s All Star Game would. Somehow, some way, both Kerry Wood and Lance Berkman landed on the 2010 New York Yankees, and while those two players aren’t nearly as good as they once were, they’ve each made their impacts felt during the first two games of the American League Division Series.

For Berkman, coming to the Bronx hasn’t been easy. A Texas man with Rice University in his blood, Berkman spent 12 years and played 1592 games for the Astros. At age 34, his health is failing him, but he can still hit right-handers. The Yankees picked him up in a salary dump for Mark Melancon, and while Berkman moved from the bottom of the NL Central to the top of the AL East, he was hesitant about the trade. He didn’t want to leave Texas and had no idea what New York held for him.

His regular season stint in New York wasn’t a booming success. In limited duty, he hit .255/.358/.349, and he didn’t power his one home run over the fence until his 32nd game in pinstripes. Yankee fans grew to despise Berkman when he made some fielding flubs in Tampa Bay and later hit A-Rod on the shin with a line drive during batting practice. Berkman’s two months on the Yanks resembled something out of the Murphy’s Law Handbook to Baseball.

Yet, with four at-bats on Thursday, Lance put the bad will behind him. He went 2 for 4 with a double and a home run and two runs batted in. His fifth inning home run put the Yanks up 2-1, and his seventh inning double put the Yanks on top for good as Jorge Posada scored from first. A week ago, Lance was an after-thought. Today, we love him.

With Lance’s bat providing the offensive thunder, Kerry Wood’s once-golden right arm has given the Yanks a solid set-up option in front of Mariano Rivera. We all know the Kerry Wood story — 20 strike outs at age 21, an arm injury, some good years a starter, overuse, more injuries, a move to the bullpen. After burning out in Chicago, Wood found success in the pen, but he seemed to flounder in Cleveland.

Dealing with some minor injuries, Wood’s first 23 appearances this year were less than impressive. As the trade deadline rolled around, Kerry was 1-4 with a 6.30 ERA, but he had 18 strike outs in 20 innings. Yankee scouts liked what they saw, and for cash, the Yanks got Kerry.

Since arriving in the Bronx, Wood has been revelation. He walks too many guys — 6.2 per 9 innings in 26 innings — but he’s striking out over 10 per 9 IP. His ERA in the Bronx was, with a little bit of luck, a minuscule 0.69. He’s inherited the role left, with little confidence, to Joba Chamberlain, and he came through in a big spot on Thursday. With the Yanks up 4-2, the Twins sent up J.J. Hardy, Denard Span and Orlando Hudson in the 8th. To strike out Hardy, Wood threw a literal knee-buckling breaking pitch. Span grounded back to Wood, and Hudson struck out on pure heat.

Wood and Berkman are the ideal deadline pick-ups for the Yanks. They’re veteran players with playoff experience and success who were toiling away on bad teams. For dollars, the Yanks could augment their roster and build up a bullpen and a bench. That’s how Brian Cashman, with the Yanks’ deep pockets at his disposal, should run his team.

The future for these two current playoff heroes remains hazy. Lance Berkman says he wants to play everyday next year. “I don’t like to platoon,” he said. “If I was the manager I would platoon me because I’ve been so bad righthanded this year. But I don’t think that’s a permanent problem. I like to play every day. The DH role is great but I also like to play the field. I feel like I’ve got something to offer still defensively.”

Kerry Wood’s deal features a club option for $11 million in 2011. That’s closer money, and unless Mariano Rivera unexpectedly retires, Wood will seek employment elsewhere. He has the mentality for the 9th inning and indications are that he wants to close. He and Berkman will be just a pair of rent-a-Yankees.

The Yankees certainly know that Wood and Berkman probably won’t return. They know that these two key cogs are fleeting, and they’re going to ride them for all they can. Girardi will give Wood the ball for the 8th, and he’ll let Berkman take his hacks against right-handers. Bring in the mercenaries with money, push them for the playoffs, and ride their coattails to victory. So far, it’s a winning formula.

Link Dump: Brown, Berkman, Lee

Running out the clock on the work day, aren’t you? Here’s some links to help pass the time…

Yankees Sign Breland Brown

Via Baseball America’s minor league transactions, the Yankees have signed outfielder Breland Brown to a minor league deal. Based on what I can find, the 25-year-old hasn’t played in affiliated ball and has just been bouncing around between independent leagues for the last few years. It’s just a minor league depth move, but if nothing else, Brown has a pretty active Twitter account. He’s even got some pics of his contract posted there.

Blast From The Past: Lance Berkman

In honor of his big game yesterday, Baseball America posted a scouting report of Lance Berkman from 1999, when he was the Astros top prospect. Most people don’t realize how dominant of a player he was at Rice, when he hit .431 with a 1.032 slugging percentage during his draft year, scoring 109 runs with 41 homers and 134 runs batted in in a whopping 68 games. Amazing, he was only the second Rice player taken that year before first overall pick Matt Anderson. Anyway, my favorite part of the retro scouting report was when they talked about Puma’s big league debut depending on the status of … wait for it … Derek Bell. Too funny.

Cliff Lee Wants CC Sabathia Money

This one is completely unsurprising, but MLBTR passes along a report indicating that Lee will seek something like the $161M the Yankees gave Sabathia two years ago. There’s no doubt that Lee is every bit as good, if not better than CC was when he hit free agency, but his track record isn’t nearly as long and he’s also two years older. Shooting for Sabathia money is just good business on their part, but I expect him to sign for something well below that.

Five-run first powers Yanks to second straight

It was an up and down night for Phil Hughes. The Yankees staked him to an early lead, and while he was shaky in a few innings he ultimately kept things in order. There were a few troubling walks, but in the end his line looked just fine. The offense did their jobs, knocking in the runners who reached scoring position. The result was an 8-3 win and a 2.5 game lead in the division.

Biggest Hit: Berkman keeps the rally going

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

While there was plenty of action in the following eight innings, most of the action took place in the first. Nick Swisher homered on a fastball that James Shields laid right over the heart of the plate. After Mark Teixeira walked and Alex Rodriguez singled on a ball that nearly got through the hole between third and short, James Shields seemed to recover by striking out Robinson Cano on five straight curveballs. But he fell behind Jorge Posada and got burned on a 3-1 fastball for the game’s second run.

That brought up Lance Berkman. After having his fastball knocked around in the inning Shields started with a curveball. He went back with the fastball 0-1, but it didn’t look like he intended to throw it for a strike. Two changeups, a called strike and a ball low, followed. Shields then mixed things up with a cutter, but it caught a bit too much of the plate. Berkman reached down and drove it over B.J. Upton’s head. It was deep enough to score Posada from first and give the Yankees a 4-0 lead. Curtis Granderson followed with a single of his own to open up a 5-run lead, but it was Berkman’s double that gave the Yanks their biggest advantage of the night.

Biggest Pitch: Hughes escapes unscathed

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

With a run in both the second and the third, the Rays had closed the lead by the fourth. By this point Michael Kay and John Flaherty couldn’t shut up about how the momentum of the game had shifted. The Rays only fed their narrative by loading the bases with two outs. Hughes would have to get past Ben Zobrist to get out of it.

Hughes delivered the first pitch, a cutter, with precision, hitting the low-outside corner. He then went back to the four-seamer, delivering it waist high on the outside edge. Zobrist rolled over it and bounced it to Teixeira, allowing Hughes to escape the inning without damage. The inning was mostly his own doing — he did walk two batters — but Hughes rose to the occasion when his team needed it the most.

Honorable Mention: Joba gets out of the eighth

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The fourth inning wasn’t the only time the Rays loaded the bases. Javier Vazquez relieved Hughes in the seventh and allowed an inherited runner to score. He then came out for the eighth and allowed two of the first three batters to reach. With the righties Upton and Jason Bartlett due up, Joe Girardi opted to have Joba Chamberlain finish off the inning.

Joba immediately got himself into trouble, allowing a single to Upton. That loaded the bases with just one out. Predictably, Joe Maddon pinch hit with Brad Hawpe, meaning Joba had to retire two straight lefties. He got ahead with a fastball away and was eventually up 1-2. After a slider in the dirt and two more fastballs, Joba faced a crucial 3-2 count. Most pitchers, I’m sure, would have gone to the fastball, but Joba threw a slider that probably would have hit the low-inside corner. It didn’t matter, though; Hawpe swung and hit only air.

Facing Jaso, Joba didn’t even bother with his secondary pitches. He just dealt fastballs away, eventually inducing a fly out to center. He then came out for the ninth and retired the Rays in order. This definitely ranked among Joba’s finest performances of the season.

Miscellany

Siddown, Hawpe (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees left six men on base, which isn’t all that bad considering they had 14 base runners. They were also 5 for 10 with runners in scoring position.

The only hitless starter was Teixeira, who missed a homer by just a tiny bit. He did put a few good swings on balls, if you’re looking for a silver lining

Hughes allowed just one homer, though it was his 20th of the season at Yankee Stadium. I think I heard a commentator say that the last pitcher to do that was Scott Sanderson. Memories.

Javy Vazquez didn’t allow a run, but he didn’t do himself any favors by allowing an inherited runner to score and then putting two on with none out in the next inning. Hopefully he gets more work down the stretch, because he’s destined for the bullpen in the playoffs.

The Yanks did miss a chance to get James Shields out of the game way early. But he settled down and gave the Rays 5.1 innings. Still, they needed five relievers to finish the game. That’s never good when there are two games remaining. Then again, the Yanks got away with it on Monday, so it might be no big deal.

It’s always a joy when half of the team’s hits go for extra bases.

Graph and box

Gotta love it when the line stays that high.

More at FanGraphs, and here’s the box score. Watching the highlights will also be fun.

Up Next

A.J. Burnett continues his road to recovery tomorrow night. Wade Davis takes the hill for the Rays.