Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Late to the party.


So I probably don't need to tell you that the Dodgers didn't offer a single departing player arbitration. While folks around the 'net are most upset about the non-offers to Will Ohman, Ronnie Belliard, and Guillermo Mota, I'd like to discussed the oft-overlooked cases of Orlando Hudson and Randy Wolf.

What's that you say? Oh, you've heard of them. So we don't need to talk about the four draft picks which would have come back. Or the fact that even if the players had accepted the offers, they would be terrific values in 2010 (Wolf in particular). Or just how gosh-darned valuable those four draft picks are. 

No, I suppose I don't need to go over all that. Not when you have Jon Weisman calling the day "discouraging" and "depressing." Any of you who read Jon know that's about as gloomy as he gets over baseball. Phil Gurnee says that while we should be disappointed, we shouldn't exactly be shocked. MSTI envies Royals fans. And let me tell you, having spent over four years in and around Kansas City, that's quite a statement.

But it's Eric Stephen who addresses the most ominous aspect of this development. After being rendered temporarily speechless, Eric notes:
Could it be that the Dodgers are so strapped for cash that they can't accept even the slightest risk of paying two talented players for one season?
Or is it worse than that?  Do the Dodgers not want the burden of having four extra draft picks in 2010, the burden of four extra signing bonuses, possibly totaling somewhere in the $4 million range? 
Yeah. To me, that’s simply terrifying. From my angle, there are really only three-and-a-half possible explanations for this debacle.

1. It was a baseball decision.

This is almost unfathomable. I mean, we all are relatively hip to the arbitration offer and compensatory draft pick system now, right? And we’re not the ones paid to know these things. Purely on a baseball level, what could Colletti be afraid of? I don’t know about you, but I’d love to have Randy Wolf and Orlando Hudson back on one-year deals. And heck, they’d probably be Type A’s next winter as well.

I don’t need to go further. You go elsewhere for your hardcore analysis, and that’s not my aim here. I’ll leave it at this: if this was a baseball decision, I’d be more confident in a squadron of 12-year-olds who have simmed through multiple seasons in baseball video games than I am in the current leadership.

2. The Dodgers couldn’t afford the risk of either player accepting.

We’re getting closer to reasonability here, especially in Hudson’s case. But come on…he left on bad terms and will probably get a nice deal somewhere. And Wolf was no threat whatsoever to accept the offer. At least with this reason, I could understand the decision, even though I would still condemn it.

3. The Dodgers can afford neither the one-year deals (in the case of acceptances) nor the draft picks.

This is almost unspeakably awful. $4 million spent on early round draft picks is a better investment than $4 million in player payroll many, many times over. I promise you that this will be brought up when the Dodgers spend $4 million this winter on a nondescript reliever and a Juan Castro replacement. The failure to invest in young talent is the dead canary in the coal mine. This is horrible.

Okay, so I just crushed the Dodgers for not offering Hudson and Wolf arbitration. Me and everyone else (and rightfully so). But while I can’t claim to have Weisman-like levels of optimism, I will at least allow for the possibility of a mitigating circumstance:

3.5. Wolf and Hudson had handshake agreements that the Dodgers would not offer arbitration if they were Type A’s.

Last winter, in the midst of Hurricane Dow, the Elias rankings and draft pick compensation structure cannibalized itself. Instead of benefitting small-market teams losing pricy talent to big-market clubs, the system drove the marginal cost of Type A free agents so high that only the premium players were attractive. Remember that, generally speaking, free agency dollars are inefficient to begin with. Add the cost of draft picks (and the growing understanding of their true value), and the Type A label was a scarlet letter on all but its best wearers. Hudson, you might recall, had been seeking a multi-year deal with an average annual value in the $10 million range. Because of the declining economy and that scarlet A on his chest, he got a one-year deal worth just $3.38 million in guarantees.

Both Wolf and Hudson signed with the Dodgers in February, well after the system imploded. By that time, agents and team executives had seen how damaging the Type A label was to good-but-not-great players on the open market. In fact, just two weeks after Hudson signed, Orlando Cabrera inked a deal with the A’s which prohibited them from offering him arbitration—thus sparing O-Cab the dreaded Type A designation. Indeed, Cabrera achieved Type A designation this season but hits the market unencumbered by the added cost of two draft picks.

Is it possible that the concerns which motivated Cabrera’s agent, Dan Lozano, to get that agreement in writing also affected Wolf and Hudson’s negotiations with the Dodgers?

It’s a long shot, but I have to hope so.

It’s clear that Colletti’s hands were tied with respect to arb offers. The question is: by what? The answer is probably finances. But the implications of such a conclusion are so distressing as a fan that I’m going to hold out just a little bit of hope that there’s more going on here than we know. 

Also, for those of you subscribed to the feed, sorry for the double post. Formatting disasters.


  1. Josh - First off, love the site. Keep up the good work. I can't wait for you coverage starting on the 15th.

    I proposed the idea of some sort of agreement made with these players to not offer arb on Dodger Thoughts and was met with a high level of doubt, more than likely justified. I had originally thought that MLB would not allow for such a clause to be written into a contract because it seemingly circumvents the rule. However, I was directed to the contracts of Cabrera and Drew as evidence that this can, and in fact was, being done. So why would Coletti (and even more so the players agent) accept an unwritten agreement instead of having it written into the contract? Unless the Cabrera contract set a precedent that they did not think was a possibility it just doesn't add up. Like you, I hold on to that possibilty because it is easier to accept that the probable reality of such a dire situation.