December 1st, 2009

Polanco could've made a cash grab

Talked with Dave Dombrowski this afternoon about their decisions on arbitration to free agents, and his remarks echoed the sentiments that were out there. While Dombrowski isn’t bidding farewell to Polanco and plans to keep in touch with his agents, the Levinson brothers, he indicated there was a real chance — maybe more than a chance — that Polanco might have accepted an arbitration offer and gone to a hearing.

Good deal, right? The Tigers would get Polanco on a one-year contract.

Actually, it’s not that simple.

The risk, Dombrowski said, was that Polanco would go to a hearing and ask for more money than the Tigers would be comfortable doing. It sounds unlikely in this market until you consider long-term contracts last winter for other All-Star second basemen, such as Brian Roberts ($10 million per year) and Dustin Pedroia (6 years, $40.5 million, including $31 million over the final three seasons). They also could’ve used other free-agent infielders as a reference point.

No fault in doing so; I just wanted to use the term “cash grab” in a headline.

As it is, Polanco instantly becomes a hotter commodity on the market now that teams don’t have to give up a first- or second-round Draft pick for him.

The relievers, Fernando Rodney and Brandon Lyon, were a different story. Dombrowski essentially confirmed what others such as agent Barry Meister have suggested, that Rodney and Lyon are looking for multi-year deals and stand a decent chance to get them.

“I would be very surprised if either of them accepted [arbitration],” Dombrowski said.

That said, interestingly, Dombrowski didn’t write off Detroit’s chances of re-signing them, either. He’ll keep in touch with their agents — Rodney is also a Levinson client — and see where it goes. Even as Meister fully expects to get a multi-year deal for Lyon, he said there’s mutual interest from the two parties in re-signing.

Could the Tigers be open to a multi-year contract to keep a reliever? I don’t think you can write that off quite yet. But they might have to clear some payroll space to do it.

Rodney, Lyon offered arbitration, Rodney not

The Tigers decided to offer arbitration to Type B free agent relievers Fernando Rodney and Brandon Lyon, but not to Type A free agent Placido Polanco.

The announcement ahead of Tuesday night’s midnight ET deadline sets the stage for the Tigers to receive compensation picks in next year’s First-Year Player Draft if Rodney and/or Lyon sign elsewhere, but nothing in exchange for Polanco.

Though the Tigers had to be tempted by the potential for two compensation picks, there was a logical chance Polanco would have considered arbitration if offered. While a multi-year deal is obviously a huge appeal for the 34-year-old second baseman, arbitration would’ve almost surely hurt his value on the market. Any other team would’ve had to give up a first- or second-round Draft pick to sign him, and that would’ve slowed the market on him. The other pick would’ve been sandwiched between the first and second rounds.

Moreover, the one-year salary Polanco could’ve earned in arbitration could have been very tempting. Polanco earned $4.6 million in each of his four full seasons in Detroit as part of an extension he signed in 2005, but contracts signed last offseason for such All-Star second basemen as Boston’s Dustin Pedroia and Baltimore’s Brian Roberts have come at much larger salaries.

The Tigers are prepared to promote Scott Sizemore, their Minor League Player of the Year, to second base. Sizemore underwent surgery in October after breaking his ankle while playing in the Arizona Fall League, but he’s projected to be ready for the start of Spring Training. The Tigers are still free to negotiate with Polanco’s representatives and try to re-sign him.

The risk is far less on Lyon and Rodney, since any other team that signs them won’t have to give up a draft pick. The compensation picks on them would come at the end of the second round.

Both Rodney and Lyon are looking for multi-year deals and attracting interest along those lines, even in a relief market that can be unpredictable.

Rodney and Lyon have six days to accept or reject arbitration. Given their situations, they’ll likely to reject the offers. That won’t necessarily close off the Tigers’ interest, but it sets the challenge of multi-year offers, something that could require the Tigers to do some of their much-rumored maneuvering to free up payroll.

Lyon’s agent, Barry Meister, indicated he has stayed in touch with the Tigers, though talks won’t likely progress until teams and agents gather in Indianapolis next week for baseball’s Winter Meetings.

“We’ve each expressed mutual interest,” Meister said. “Well have a chance to sit down with them and talk about him at the Winter Meetings.”

Detroit’s last compensation pick was a first-round sandwich selection for reliever Jamie Walker, who signed quickly with the Orioles following the 2006 season before the Tigers had to decide on arbitration.

Detroit’s other three free agents this offseason — Adam Everett, Aubrey Huff and Jarrod Washburn — were not offered arbitration. They didn’t qualify as Type A or B free agents, so they wouldn’t have brought any compensation picks in return

My guesses on arbitration

Everyone else seems to be playing the guessing game on which free agents the Tigers will offer arbitration, so I figure I might as well chip in with my two cents before the news comes out later today. As much of a financial hit as it could be for the Tigers if Placido Polanco accepted arbitration, I’m just not sure that it’s enough to justify passing up on a sandwich pick in next year’s draft and possibly a first-rounder if Polanco signs elsewhere. Polanco is at the point where multi-year security looks better than a one-year deal, and I’m not sure his chances at that become much clearer in six days. If there’s a concerted drive for the Tigers to bring in more young talent, this might be the simplest way they can do it this winter, so long as they believe Polanco wouldn’t accept the offer. But then, that’s the big question, isn’t it? In the end, it might still be too much of a risk.

Brandon Lyon and Fernando Rodney carry much less risk, since any team that signs them wouldn’t have to give up a pick. It’s just a supplemental pick or two after the second round in this case. And if you believe that multi-year contracts are big for both of them, there’s good reason to believe they wouldn’t want it. Everything Lyon’s agent, Barry Meister, has said indicates his client will get a multi-year contract. Rodney should, too, but in his case, he’s hitting free agency off one big year. If he were to accept arbitration off a 37-save season, the payout could be huge. I like Lyon’s chances of being offered arbitration more than that of Rodney, but I’m not sure the Tigers still wouldn’t offer it to Rodney.

In the end, the Tigers might offer Lyon and Rodney, but pass on Polanco. Again, just my opinion. We’ll see what happens.

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