The non-tender deadline is tonight, Thursday night, at midnight. Teams must decide whether to tender their arbitration eligible players contracts, or non-tender them and allow them to become free agents. This can lead to some potential trades, as one team’s non-tender candidate can be another team’s treasure. The Pirates shouldn’t have any big surprises with their internal decisions, but don’t be surprised if there’s trade talk for a shortstop upgrade over Ronny Cedeno. Here is a preview of what we can expect tomorrow.
The Pirates entered the off-season with nine arbitration eligible players on their roster. They reached a one year deal with Wilfredo Ledezma for $700,000, and designated Zach Duke, Andy LaRoche, and Delwyn Young for assignment. They ended up trading Duke to Arizona for a player to be named later (which will probably happen after the Rule 5 draft), and LaRoche and Young declared free agency. The five players that remain are Ross Ohlendorf, Joel Hanrahan, Ronny Cedeno, Lastings Milledge, and Jeff Karstens.
Ohlendorf is Super Two eligible, and is a guarantee to be tendered a contract. Hanrahan is in his first year of arbitration, and is also a guarantee to receive a tender. Milledge also seems like a lock, since he made it through the round of cuts with Duke, LaRoche, and Young. There’s also the fact that Milledge wasn’t bad at the plate last year, and is an interesting option against left handers in a platoon situation.
Karstens and Cedeno could be another story. Dejan Kovacevic mentioned yesterday that the Pirates have approached some players with offers to settle before the deadline, and that Karstens is believed to be one of those players. Kovacevic also mentioned that Karstens could be on the bubble. Karstens had a decent season in 2010, helping out in the starting rotation, which was a disaster all year. However, Karstens really didn’t pitch much better than a number five starter, and his “success” was more a statement of the production from the rotation for most of the year. Karstens wouldn’t be a bad guy to hang on to as a long reliever/6th-7th starting option, but he’s easily replaceable so the price shouldn’t be too high. I could see Karstens getting non-tendered if the Pirates don’t reach a deal with him, similar to the way they worked out a deal with Ledezma.
As for Cedeno, lately things have started to look bad for his chances of being tendered an offer. The Pirates have been looking at external options for shortstops. If they added an external option before the deadline, it would only make sense that they would non-tender Cedeno. They’ve got Pedro Ciriaco and Argenis Diaz as possible defense-only backups in the middle infield, which means paying Cedeno $2 M to serve that role doesn’t make sense, especially if they add a starter making $4-6 M. That brings me to the next topic.
The two guys who are getting the most attention from the Pirates are J.J. Hardy of the Minnesota Twins, and Jason Bartlett of the Tampa Bay Rays. Both players are entering their final years of arbitration, and their respective teams are looking elsewhere for shortstop options. The Rays have prospect Reid Brignac, while the Twins won the bidding for Japanese shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka.
Hardy would be my preference between the two players. Bartlett had a career year at the plate in 2009, but every other year from 2007-2010 (the years he’s been a starter), his OPS has been right below .700. He has also seen a steady decline in his defensive skills, and at this point would be a more expensive version of Ronny Cedeno.
Hardy has struggled offensively the past two seasons, but does have a strong track record on defense, ranking as one of the best defensive shortstops in the league, according to UZR. His defense alone would make him an upgrade over Cedeno, who has the tools to be strong defensively, but lacks consistency. Bartlett would be owed a raise over his $4 M salary in 2010, while Hardy would be owed a raise over his $5.1 M salary.
The Pirates haven’t been linked to other non-tender possibilities, but MLBTR did put out a revised list of the non-tender candidates leading up to the deadline. Outside of Hardy, the name that interests me the most is James Loney.
I’ve mentioned Loney a lot as a guy who could upgrade the infield defense at first base, and who might be a sleeper to upgrade the offense. Loney has strong career numbers away from Dodger Stadium, with a .307/.361/.493 line in his career on the road. He would be worth a gamble to see how well he would do in a season where he doesn’t play half of his games in Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers are looking to get rid of him to create payroll space for a power hitting first baseman, and he has two years of control left. He will be due a raise over his $3.1 M salary.
HOW ARBITRATION WORKS
A quick refresher on the arbitration process. Once a player is tendered an offer, he essentially has a contract with the team for the following season. The terms of the contract are eventually decided through the arbitration process. Looking at the Off-Season calendar, players who received a tender and don’t have a contract in place can file for arbitration during the period between January 5th, 2011 and January 15th, 2011.
On January 18th, 2011, teams and players exchange salary figures. These figures show what the team and player think the player is worth for the following season. If the player is still without a contract after this period, he is scheduled for an arbitration hearing between February 1st and February 21st. At that point, an arbitrator hears the arguments from the team and the player supporting their 2011 salary figures, and the arbitrator makes the final decision of which figure the player should receive.
Going to arbitration is not ideal, as it puts the team in a position where they are essentially pointing out all of the shortcomings of the player. That’s why most teams try to avoid this step by signing the player early. Some players agree to deals right away. In other cases, the two sides will exchange salary figures on January 18th, and then agree to meet somewhere in the middle. The two sides can agree to a deal at any point up until the actual arbitration hearing, at which point the hearing determines the player’s 2011 salary. There have even been deals worked out right outside of the arbitration room doors, just before the hearing.
The player almost always receives a raise as an arbitration eligible player, regardless of performance during the previous year. That’s because the arbitration process looks at the career body of work, and not just the previous season. As a reference, here are the 2010 salary figures for the arbitration eligible players this year:
Ronny Cedeno – $1,125,000
Jeff Karstens – $475,000
Joel Hanrahan – $453,000
Lastings Milledge – $452,000
Ross Ohlendorf – $439,000
J.J. Hardy – $5,100,000
Jason Bartlett – $4,000,000
James Loney – $3,100,000