Taylor's Twins Talk

Focusing on the Twins, with a few ramblings on other things that catch my attention

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Arbitration Eligibles, Non-Tenders, and More

Some of the important dates and deadlines of the off-season are creeping up on us now that Thanksgiving has passed, and it seems like a good time to go through those dates and discuss what, if anything, may be about to happen with the Twins.

December 1 - Arbitration Offer Deadline
For players who have become free agents, but have not yet signed with a new team, December 1 is the deadline for the player's former team to offer arbitration for the next year. There are several possible reasons for teams to offer arbitration, but things have become a bit simpler under the new CBA. For starters, a team may be interested in bringing the player back, and offering salary arbitration is one way to increase the options - the player may decide that accepting arbitration and sticking around for a year isn't such a bad option. In the past, teams had to offer a former player arbitration in order to continue negotiating with him (or else lose the right to sign the player until May 1 of the next year). That requirement has been eliminated, so that consideration is no longer relevent when deciding whether or not to offer arbitration. The single biggest remaining reason, however, would be to preserve the ability to get draft pick compensation for the player if he should choose to sign elsewhere. With the reduction in draft pick compensation (no compensation is now given for "Type C" free agents), the incentive to offer arbitration has been reduced in a significant number of cases - and this is especially true with the Twins.

The Twins have 4 (and really, just 3, if you believe that Brad Radke's career has ended) free agents. Of the three primary free agents (Shannon Stewart, Phil Nevin, and Rondell White), all are classified as Type C free agents. As a result, there is no reason to offer any of these players arbitration by the December 1 deadline. Even if they wanted to bring one of these guys back (and there are some rumblings about Rondell's imminent return), the elimination of the May 1 date makes offering him arbitration unnecessary.

As a result - expect no offers of arbitration to be offered at the deadline (with the possible exception of Brad Radke, if the Twins decide to take a stab at convincing him to return).

December 4-7 - Winter Meetings
Expect a lot of significant deals to be made during the Winter Meetings - and expect the Twins to possibly be involved in one or two. The rumored Jason Jennings trade may be consummated at the Winter Meetings, and there may be another, less expected, move up Terry Ryan's sleeve as well. He'll undoubtedly listen to offers - the question is whether there will be anything good enough to force him to pull the trigger.

December 7 - Rule 5 Draft
I'm going to talk more about this in a separate post later in which I'll discuss players who could possibly be drafted from the Twins. As for whether the Twins will draft anyone - there's a good chance they will. The odds of that player actually making the opening day roster (and thus staying with the Twins) is very slim, however.

December 7 - Arbitration Acceptance Deadline
This is deadline by which free agents who have been offered arbitration have to accept or decline the offer. Since the Twins are unlikely to make any offers of arbitration, this isn't a significant deadline for Twins fans.

December 12 - Contract Tender Deadline
Arbitration eligible players have to be offered a contract by this date, or they become non-tendered free agents. The Twins have 7 players eligible for arbitration this off-season:

RP - Juan Rincon
C - Joe Mauer
1B - Justin Morneau
3B - Nick Punto
RF - Michael Cuddyer
OF - Lew Ford
OF - Jason Tyner

Of those, the first five are clearly going to be kept around by the Twins. Mauer, Morneau, and Cuddyer are all due for significant raises through arbitration, and the Twins likely will try to sign at least one of them to a long-term deal rather than go through the arbitration process - however, there is no question that they will keep these guys around as long as they can, and money is not going to be a factor leading to a non-tender for any of them.

The more interesting question is what happens with Ford and Tyner. We'll start with Ford, and the signs don't look good. After posting back-to-back seasons of over 500 at-bats in '04-'05, Ford regressed significantly last year, and it showed up in his playing time - he was given just 234 at-bats. His batting average fell to just .226, which means that over the course of his 4 season career, his batting average trendline looks like this: .329 ('03), .299 ('04), .264 ('05), .226 ('06). Every significant offensive stat has suffered a similar fate. In other words, Ford is regressing - and drastically so. He's also now 30 years old - so it's rather unlikely that he's going to get any better. Ford made just $425,000 last year, but even with his poor performance, he's likely to get a raise through arbitration. With young alternatives like Josh Rabe (or even Denard Span) available, the Twins should not offer Ford a contract. He's a popular player, but he's a bad popular player. It's time to cut him loose.

Jason Tyner is a more interesting question. He was signed as a minor-league free agent last off-season, and seems to have finally acquired enough service-time to become arbitration eligible. He probably would cost as much as Ford would, but Tyner at this point is a better, more valuable player for the Twins to keep around. For one thing, he's about 6 months younger - that's not a huge difference, but it's something. More importantly, however, is the fact that Tyner hit .312 for the Twins last season. He doesn't exactly have a serious Major League track record - but I'd be much more willing to give a contract to a guy that seems to be on his way up as opposed to a guy on his way down. The Twins don't need both Ford and Tyner, but having at least one of them around would be a positive. Tyner is clearly the best choice for the Twins in that regard, and they should keep him around.


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