Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Love Me Tender

Tonight at midnight is the non-tender deadline, and the Nationals have some tough decisions about some of our favorite players.

First the background... Players who have more than three, but less than six years of service time are arbitration-eligible. When a player goes to arbitration, he and the team each submit salary requests for the upcoming season. The adjudicator looks at the salary, compares the player to others with similar levels of service time, and decides which of the salaries is more fair. This isn't Solomon though. It's one or the other, so both parties have an incentive to come up with reasonable requests -- and typically most players split the difference with the club before the hearing comes anyway.

If the team wants the player back, they must tender him a contract offer by the end of the day. The player can either accept the offer, or fight to the death through the arbitration process. What happens in most cases, though, is that the it gives the two parties a few extra weeks to negotiate. The arbitration hearings aren't until February.

The danger of this to the club is that arbitration means a substantial raise in 99% of the cases. Most of the non-tenders are simply salary dumps.

When a team doesn't tender the player a contract, he becomes a free agent. He's free to re-sign with the club, but the other 29 clubs can take a crack at him, too.

So what does it matter to us? We've got arbitration-eligibles coming out our wazzoos: Alfonso Soriano, Nick Johnson, Brian Schneider, Luis Ayala, Jamey Carroll, Junior Spivey, and TJ Tucker are definites.

Two players might qualify as Super-2 arbitration eligibles. For players with between 2 and 3 years of service time, the top 17% (in terms of service time) also qualify for arbitration. John Patterson and Marlon Byrd both stand a good chance of being eligible under this wrinkle in the rules.

TJ Tucker was also eligible, but he has already agreed to a minor-league contract with the team. Alex Escobar (remember him!) also should qualify, but he'd be a likely candidate for a minor league deal as well.

Soriano, Johnson, Schneider, Ayala and Patterson and Byrd (if eligible) are no-brainers to be offered arbitration. It's Carroll and Spivey that complicate things.

It's a virtual certainty that Spivey will be non-tendered. He made $2.125 million last year, and would stand to make at least that much via arbitration. Given the presence of 14 or so second baseman on the roster, there's simply no room for him at that salary. I wouldn't object to bringing him back on a minor league deal. He smacks the hell out of left-handed pitching, and would be useful for when the inevitible injury occurs.

Jamey Carroll is a heckuva guy. Good hustler, versatile, chaste -- everything you'd want your son to be. But he's not an especially good player. And he'd be set to make $700K or so through arbitration. Is Jamey Carroll worth that much? Not to this team. He seems to enjoy playing here, so I'd hope he'd accept a lesser deal to stick around. But tonight, I'd expect his name to pop up on the non-tender list. Besides, our all-second base lineup needs a catcher!

Baseball Primer is keeping track of the non-tenders as they come in. There could be some interesting names popping up tonight, and some bargains. It's too bad that Bowden squandered all the money and roster spots on Marbert Fickerson.

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