Arbitration finds little acceptance in 2009

Arbitration finds little acceptance in 2009

INDIANAPOLIS -- The current market of free agents may be a tentative one, a ring for shadow boxing, but it did not serve as the catapult for a suspected retort by those offered arbitration by their 2009 clubs.

Only three of the 19 ranked free agents who pondered the decision up to Monday's 11:59 p.m. ET deadline renewed their vows by granting their acceptance.

Accepting were three pitchers -- starter Carl Pavano, with the Twins, and relievers Rafael Soriano (Braves) and Rafael Betancourt (Rockies).

Though that is on the historic high end, both in terms of numbers and percentage, it fell considerably short of the projections of analysts who foresaw free agents wrapping themselves in arbitration as protection against a chilly market.

The motive for rejecting arbitration is faith in being able to garner a multiyear contract. So players, with their agents' encouragement, cast a loud vote of confidence in the baseball economy.

One, Ivan Rodriguez, instantly cashed in his vote. Pudge agreed to a two-year, $6 million deal with the Nationals, and if a two-year contract for a 38-year-old catcher is an indication of what this market will bear, it will be quite bullish.

Rodriguez's pending signing means that 15 others untethered themselves on the unknown open market.

Leading that exodus -- no surprises here -- were outfielders Jason Bay and Matt Holliday, and right-hander John Lackey: the market's Three Tenors.

It also means that 13 clubs heaved great sighs of relief for having had their intuitions upheld with the arbitration rejections, and now are positioned to receive Draft compensations when the players in question are signed away.

Deal or no deal
Of the 23 free agents offered arbitration by their former clubs, three accepted before Monday night's deadline. Five of the players who rejected arbitration either have a new deal in place or are closing in on a contract with a new team.
Player Former team Decision
Rod Barajas TOR Rejected
Jason Bay BOS Rejected
Adrian Beltre SEA Rejected
R. Betancourt COL Accepted
Marlon Byrd TEX Rejected
Mark DeRosa STL Rejected
J. Duchscherer OAK Rejected
*Chone Figgins LAA Rejected
Mike Gonzalez ATL Rejected
Matt Holliday STL Rejected
John Lackey LAA Rejected
Brandon Lyon DET Rejected
Jason Marquis COL Rejected
Carl Pavano MIN Accepted
Joel Pineiro STL Rejected
Fernando Rodney DET Rejected
*Ivan Rodriguez TEX Rejected
*Marco Scutaro TOR Rejected
Rafael Soriano ATL Accepted
Brian Shouse TB Rejected
Jose Valverde HOU Rejected
*Billy Wagner BOS Rejected
*Gregg Zaun TB Rejected
*Has either signed or is near a deal with a new club
The Cardinals (Mark DeRosa, Joel Pineiro and Holliday) and Tigers (Brandon Lyon and Fernando Rodney) were the two clubs with multiple rejections.

Ultimately, Monday's late activity conformed to the historical rejection pattern of free agents.

A year ago, only two (Darren Oliver and David Weathers) of 24 accepted the arbitration offer. In 2007 it was three (Andy Pettitte, Michael Barrett and Mark Loretta) of 17, and in 2006 it was two (Tony Graffanino and Todd Walker) of 25.

Looking back even farther, the trend is unchanging: two (Greg Maddux and Terry Adams) of 24 in 2002, and three (Barry Bonds, Bret Boone and David Bell) of 21 in 2001.

Of the 23 ranked free agents originally offered arbitration on Dec. 1, four had no decisions to make, having already signed with new teams during the week since the arbitration offers were made:

• Southpaw reliever Billy Wagner (formerly of the Red Sox) signed a $6.75 million deal with the Braves that includes a $6.5 million 2010 option with a $250,000 buyout.

• Catcher Gregg Zaun (Rays) agreed to a $1.9 million contract with the Brewers that includes a $2.25 million option for 2011 with a $250,000 buyout.

• Shortstop Marco Scutaro (Rays) inked a two-year, $12.5 million deal with the Red Sox that includes club ($6 million) and player ($3 million) options for 2012, with a $1.5 million buyout.

• Third baseman Chone Figgins (Angels), though not yet formally in the fold, is undergoing a physical to confirm his three-year deal with the Mariners for a package in the $30 million-$36 million range.

Wagner, Scutaro and Figgins were all Type-A free agents whose compensation price tags -- first-round plus sandwich picks in the Draft -- did not scare off the signing teams.

Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik voiced the caution-to-the-wind attitude that drove him.

"If the right Type-A free agent came up and you knew it would help your club for the next several years. ... We all know lot of Draft picks fall flat on their face," Zduriencik said before having closed in on Figgins.

The decisions by Betancourt and Soriano might have been concessions to a market glut of setup relievers, arguably the most loaded category.

Both come off solid 2009 seasons, and now are in position for healthy raises through binding salary arbitration.

Betancourt's $5.4 million option for 2010 had been rejected by the Rockies -- who now face a raise from $3,350,000 for the right-hander, who fashioned a 1.78 ERA in 32 appearances following his July 23 acquisition from the Indians.

Soriano's case is far more interesting, and curious. He had already attracted considerable interest on the basis of his 27 saves and 2.97 ERA in 77 appearances for the Braves, foremost from the Yankees, Orioles and Astros.

Perhaps those preliminary discussions indicated to him and agent Peter Greenberg that a multiyear contract with an annual value superior to the $6.1 million he earned in 2009 just wasn't out there. So the right-hander cornered the Braves, who only a week ago had brought in Wagner as their new closer.

Pavano's choice spoke loudly of the comfort level, and of both individual and team potential, he found with the Twins. As one of the few starting pitchers on the market with a winning record (14-12) in 2009, Pavano could have expected enthusiastic bidding for his services.

He'd gone down that road in 2004, leading to the Yankees, a trip that did not turn out so well.

"Carl just really thinks that team is ready to win now," his agent, Tom O'Connell, said in explaining the decision. "He thinks it's a tremendous group of guys. He loves the coaching staff, and we felt it was the best opportunity for Carl Pavano [a member of the Marlins' 2003 rotation] to win another World [Series] championship."

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Change for a Nickel. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.