Today is the deadline for teams to offer arbitration for their free agent players. The Marlins have two such free agents who are eligible for arbitration offers, reliever Kiko Calero and first baseman Nick Johnson. However, as Joe Frisaro reports, the Marlins are not looking to offer arbitration to either player. This holds significance for one major reason: the Marlins will be passing up draft picks by not offering arbitration.
The question here is why the hell not?
In many cases involving arbitration, there is a significant need for caution on the part of the incumbent team due to the free agent status of the player. For those who don’t know, all free agents are placed in three bins based on archaic Elias rankings (they’re awful): Type A, Type B, and none of the above. Players who are not either Type A or B do not get offered arbitration because there isn’t any incentive to do so. However, Type A and B players, if offered arbitration, allow incumbent teams to receive draft pick compensation if they sign with another team. Type A players give out first round draft picks if the signing team is in the bottom half of the draft order for the following year (teams receive a second round pick from clubs in the higher end of the draft order) and a supplemental pick after the first round. Type B players offer only supplemental round draft picks (typically referred to as “sandwich” picks).
The only reason teams do not offer arbitration is because players can and will occasionally take it. Arbitration salaries are, at this point, higher than the market for a few players, and teams do not want to be saddled with those salaries for players they did not plan on keeping. This is an especially difficult risk with Type A arbitration players because, if another team signs the player, they will have to relinquish a first or second round draft pick as part of compensation. This price is at times too high for teams to sign certain Type A players (relievers come to mind), and as a result many Type A’s get stuck having to accept arbitration.
The Type A issue is not a problem for the Marlins, however. Both Johnson and Calero are Type B free agents, so signing teams would not have to give up anything for their services other than money. As a result, offering arbitration allows the Fish to get a free supplemental round draft pick if they sign elsewhere.
Of course, the question then becomes whether Johnson or Calero would sign elsewhere. Calero is expected to make something along the lines of $2M if he went to arbitration, while Johnson might collect $6-7M in salary. Neither number is attractive to the Marlins, and so the team would prefer not to have either player accept and be saddled with the deal. The problem is that Johnson is perhaps in line to get a better figure in the market, at least in terms of years. If another team offers more years at a slightly lower salary, Johnson would be likely to take it, especially given his injury risk. For Calero, he likely would not receive a better deal in the market.
But this considers those players unmovable after they accept arbitration, which is simply not true. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs offered up this piece yesterday detailing the potential of offsetting the costs of offering arbitration. Consider that Johnson and Calero already would have markets for them even if they accepted arbitration. If either of their arbitration salaries are too high compared to market rates, the Marlins could easily chip in some of their salary to make up the cost of the one-year deals. At that point, teams that were already interested in either player could acquire them for little to no cost via trade. If the Marlins make up the deficit in salary, then they can take a Player To Be Named Later of minor worth and essentially end up in a similar boat but a few million dollars down. The Marlins can do one better by trading arbitration eligible talent that would come on the cheap along with either Calero or Johnson. Since those players may not have been tendered or expected to stay anyway, trading them would come out as little to no cost to the Marlins anyway.
With the two eligible players the Marlins have, there is no reason that offering arbitration would be a bad thing. The team will either get the supplemental pick or be forced to find a market for Johnson and Calero in a year where such markets may be plausible. I suspect that the team would have to chip in $1-2M for Johnson’s one-year salary and $500K for Calero. Are the Marlins so risk averse that they wouldn’t put that kind of value down on the potential of getting two supplemental picks next year? Do they honestly feel that they will be entirely strapped with the costs? If so, then this is another hit on the supposedly “brilliant” management of the team’s resources.
What do you fellow Maniacs think? Should the Marlins offer arbitration?