THT Mailbag: Yup, These Are Our Readers

In retrospect, it’s surprising to me that it’s taken so long for us to do this. I still remember having an email conversation with Vinay Kumar and some of the other writers while we were working on this year’s Annual (obligatory Annual pimp; check) a couple months ago that went something like this:

Chris: We should promote the book with live question and answer sessions!

Steve: Sign me up!

David: This is a good idea. We could do it like a mailbag.

Vinay: I wonder how we could set up a system whereby our readers could submit questions, we could look at the questions, pick which ones we want to answer, and then submit answers.

Bryan: We should look into chat programs.

So of course, it doesn’t happen until David prompts me again two months later; and here we are. The lesson, as always, is that David is the smartest person working for the site. So send us your questions and comments at
, whether you're interested in a breakdown of a free agent signing, the skinny on a hot prospect or have a funny David Samson story to share. We can't promise that they'll all get published, but hey, where else can you find a staff of baseball nerds on call to respond to your emails? If you're lucky, Steve might even tell a story about how things were in the olden days, when men were men and ballplayers were for ####.

Now onto the questions.

Hi, quick question that I haven't been able to answer yet:

Essentially, considering the compensation draft pick a team gets if its free agent signs with another team, why wouldn't a team offer that player salary arbitration? The Giants, for example, did not offer arbitration to Barry Bonds. Because he's a Type A player, they lose the possibility of getting a first round draft pick from the team that signs him. Why, if the Giants assume he's not going to accept their arbitration offer anyway, wouldn't they just offer it so they get draft pick compensation? If he accepts, aren't they getting him for a cheaper deal than regular negotiations? Is it just a PR thing? I don't get it. Thanks.

- Mike O., Maine

Steve Treder: The Giants' wisdom regarding arbitration and draft picks eludes me. Seriously. All I can figure is that either they do see a reasonable possibility of signing Bonds for cheap, or they simply don't want him at any price, and don't want to risk being stuck with him if no one else signs him.

The longer I observe Brian Sabean, the more inscrutable he becomes. He's the general manager equivalent of a pitcher whose pitch selection choices defy any logic or pattern ... it can make him effective, but you're never sure if it's by design or through sheer good fortune.

Larry Mahnken: The Bonds situation is a special one, both because of the player's situation and the team's philosophy. In the past, the Brian Sabean has tried to actually get rid of his first round draft choices because of the large signing bonuses they command. The Giants have a limited budget, and they'd rather use that money on the major league roster than on building for the future, and trust that they'll be able to build their farm system with later draft choices that don't cost as much.

That may not really be a smart long-term strategy, but the Giants seem to be stuck in a win-now mentality, facilitated by the relatively weak division they play in.

With the Bonds situation specifically, the Giants don't know if they want him back, and it's still uncertain how much interest there is for him on the open market. Were the Giants to offer him arbitration, they essentially leave it up to Bonds whether or not he comes back to San Francisco, and considering their budget constraints, that's not something they can afford to do. And, considering all the intangible factors affecting Bonds' market value, it's very likely that Bonds would get more money from an arbitrator than he would from other teams. So not only would the Giants tie their own hands, they'd also likely have
to pay more for Bonds next season than they would if they didn't offer him arbitration.

As for the reason why other Type A free agents don't get offered arbitration, that's a trickier matter. Usually, it's a matter of how much a general manager values a first-round draft pick, but sometimes a team doesn't like losing control any measure of control as to whether a player will be on the team next year or not. You really don't know how other teams are going to view a player, so that guy who you figured would get signed elsewhere for certain might end up without a dance partner, and end up accepting arbitration. And if you'd already used up your payroll budget and filled your roster assuming he'd be elsewhere, then you're pretty screwed—unless you're the Yankees, in which case you can just trade the guy for some mid-level prospects and you're only out a few million dollars.

And then sometimes the owner ties your hands, as was the case when the Expos didn't offer Vlad Guerrero arbitration a couple of years back. There was, of course, no chance that he'd accept, but MLB told Omar Minaya to stay within a strict budget, and even the minuscule possibility that Guerrero might accept was more risk than MLB was allowing Minaya to take.

From our perspective, there is no reason not to offer arbitration to most top-flight Type A free agents, but these decisions are made by people who don't necessarily share our view of things, and some of those that do have to deal with owners who still might not be willing to take the risk that they'll be spending several million more than they'd planned. Running at major league team is a lot more complicated than it may seem to an outsider. That doesn't excuse the foolish decisions a team often makes with regards to offering arbitration, or signing Gary Matthews, Jr. for $11 million a year, but in a few cases, it makes it easier to understand the rationale behind them.

Bryan Tsao: While it often seems unlikely that a good player won't get a multi-year deal, this has actually happened several times in the past, the most notable of which was in 2002, when Greg Maddux unexpectedly accepted arbitration from the Braves, and got a one-year, $14.75 million contract, busting the Braves' budget along the way. Maddux's move forced them to dump a 28-year-old Kevin Millwood, who was coming off an 18-8, 3.24 ERA season to the Phillies for Johnny Estrada.

Hi guys. Question about Manny being Manny in South Philly. With rumors of a trade with the Padres involving Jake Peavy and/or Adrian Gonzalez, it is safe to say the Phils would have to offer Shane Victorino or Pat Burell and either Brett Myers or Cole Hamels?

Christian B., Philadelphia

David Gassko: don’t think the Red Sox are going to be interested in Victorino or Burrell—Victorino is a fourth outfielder at best for a team like the Sox, while Burrell is overpaid and would sit behind J.D. Drew and Wily Mo Pena. Myers has a bad history in Boston (he was arrested here for hitting his wife), so I’m not sure the Sox would want him either.

That leaves Hamels, who was healthy for the first time in years last season. I don’t think he’ll be enough to fetch Ramirez with the Angels, Dodgers, and Padres in play.

Honestly, however, I’m tired of all this Manny talk. As a Red Sox fan, I have had to sit through Manny wants out talk for so many off-seasons now, I hope you don’t mind that I’m skeptical of the whole thing. With Ramirez now demanding that whoever trades for him picks up his two $20 million options for 2009 and 2010, I think the odds of a deal going through are 100-to-1.

I just want all the Manny talk to end because it’s getting tedious to read and re-read the same exact article every day. Seriously, I don’t think Boston sportswriters are even writing new pieces, I think they’re just taking their stories from last year (or the year before, or the year before, or the year before) and changing the names and teams involved. I can’t say I blame them.

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