Arbitration doesn't mean as much as it used to. Before this year, the arbitration deadline was the final chance for a team to say they wanted to resign a player who might leave the team through free agency. If they didn't offer arbitration, they would no longer be able to negotiate with that player. As of this season, a team can decline arbitration, but continue to negotiate with him.
The side of arbitration that still exists is how it affects compensation. If a team offers a player arbitration, but he still signs elsewhere, the team can receive compensatory picks in the next year's draft if the player qualifies.
But arbitration can still be a tricky thing. If a team offers arbitration just for the draft picks, but really doesn't want the player back, they could get stuck if the player agrees to arbitration. Then the team is stuck with a guaranteed one year contract, no matter what.
One note about arbitration: The arbiter does not, as the name might suggest, give a salary of some arbitrary number. The team and the player each submit a number, and present cases as to why its offer is fair. The arbiter then must choose one or the other: it can not pick its own number.
With that, these are our suggestions for the San Francisco Giants for arbitration:
Barry Bonds – Let's get the big one out of the way. The Giants are not expected to offer him arbitration, and it's the right move. It has nothing to do with the draft picks, where Bonds is a valuable Type A free agent that would net the Giants 2 picks, but rather the expectation of signing Bonds. One of the intriguing rules about arbitration is that the Giants would have a lower limit on a contract submission, which would be at least 80% of Bonds' salary in 2006. That would be $14.4M being the lowest that Bonds could be paid. However, if Bonds signs as a free agent, the Giant could go lower than that number.
This little detail makes arbitration a very expensive risk. With so few teams apparently interested in Bonds, his price is dropping to around the $10M-12M range. There is also little chance the Giants will lose much, as the Giants will still most likely resign Bonds one way or the other. If they do, this move means the Giants can save money. If they don't however, this move may look bad.
Jason Schmidt – Another Type A free agent, the talk around Schmidt has been muted, which has been true of every American pitcher it seems. However, Schmidt is still one of the top right handed pitchers on the market. For the Giants, the rotation has a number of young options to fill the spots out, and a couple of interested mid-level free agents. But the Giants would still love to have the experience and potential dominance of Schmidt back. If Schmidt took arbitration, no one would cry. And Sabean actually said, mid-season, that he felt that taking the picks was worth more than any rumored trades of Schmidt. So expect the Giants to offer arbitration so they can take the picks, if Schmidt does leave. And again, it's the right move.
Ray Durham – The last of the Giants remaining Type A free agents, and a tougher decision. The Giants have all but signed one infielder (Rich Aurilia) and have two more who also require arbitration decisions (Shea Hillenbrand, Pedro Feliz). They also have young second baseman Kevin Frandsen coming up and seemingly ready to go after a big-time performance in the Arizona Fall League. The surprising thing is, you'd expect a 35 year old coming off of a career year to be seeking one last big multi-year deal, but Durham isn't. Rumors have suggested he'd even take a one year deal for one more go around with the Giants, which makes little sense for Ray-Ray. Still, with the San Diego Padres and the Boston Red Sox known to be interested, Durham will probably get a better deal elsewhere, and if he did accept arbitration, the pop in his bat might be welcome on a team that has lost a few sluggers. And it's two top picks. We say yes, offer him arbitration.
Shea Hillenbrand – Hillenbrand wasn't a Giant for too long, and didn't really do much to overwhelm anyone while he was in San Francisco, putting up what would be career low averages in his time in the City by the Bay. Ultimately, this is a corner infielder who just for the first time hit more than 20 home runs in a season and who has been inconsistent everywhere else he's played. He's also got an attitude problem. That said, he is being courted by other teams (the New York Yankees have been rumored to have been talking with him), and his distaste for ‘sinking ships' makes his accepting arbitration unlikely. A Type B Free Agent, he'd get back a pick. We hesitantly say yes, and then advise saying some prayers he doesn't return.
Pedro Feliz – The last of the compensation eligible players. Feliz has been a bit of a bane of Giants fans' existence with his frustrating techniques at the plate, or lack thereof. But, finally playing third regularly for the first time, he showed off skills at the hot corner defensively for most of the season (he had some bad mistakes later in the year). Feliz started the offseason with some hefty demands, but the market has humbled him, and he too has offered to take a one year deal to return to the Giants. We say offer him arbitration, if only to make getting a one year deal likely instead of two or three. Feliz is not a good third baseman, but the market nor the minors have any better replacements right now. If Feliz accepts arbitration, he'll get a realistic price, and if nothing else, will play above average defense at third to help out a young pitching staff.
Steve Finley – He's the best triple-hitting 40 year old we know, but that's about all we can say. Clearly, the Giants pursuit of other center fielders has been an indication they don't like Finley as a starter this year, and Finley wants to start somewhere. There's no picks at stake, and the Giants do need at least someone in their thirties. And as backups, the Giants have two young players who are competent at backing up: Jason Ellison and Fred Lewis. Fins is a nice enough guy, but pass.
Todd Greene – You'd have thought that when Matheny went down, Greene would've had a shot a starting, but Eliezer Alfonzo blew that out of the water. No word if Greene has any hard feelings about that. Greene's performance in SF was nothing to shout about, but it was nothing to complain about either. With Matheny's return doubtful, but up in the air, Greene is the type of guy who'd be good for the Giants. A veteran with consistent performance who can battle with Alfonzo for the majority of the starts. Give him arbitration.
Jamey Wright – Wright sure had a great start to the season, but he had problems as the season started the summer, up to being removed from the rotation. Wright will probably get at least a minor league deal somewhere, but there's nothing to gain here. Say no to him.Steve Kline – Again, no picks at stake here. Kline didn't have a bad year, persay, but it wasn't a good one either. That said, he's a solid veteran situational left handed pitcher, and the Giants could use one to pair with talented but inconsistent Jack Taschner in the bullpen. Offer him arbitration. If he accepts, he'll fit in well in the bullpen. If not, it's not a huge loss either. Chances are, he'd improve with a different manager than Felipe making the calls to the bullpen.
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