The Tuesday deadline for teams to offer their departing free agents arbitration is approaching. The Tigers have three cases that are garnering some attention in Placido Polanco, Brandon Lyon, and Fernando Rodney.
The Polanco situation is the most delicate. The Tigers have Scott Sizemore ready to take over second base (provided his ankle heals in time). Polanco is also a Type A free agent meaning that if the Tigers offer arbitration and Polanco signs elsewhere the Tigers would net a first (or second) round pick from the signing team as well as a supplemental pick in between the first and second rounds.
Polanco is likely to garner enough attention and come at an affordable enough price that he could net himself a multiyear contract, except for that pesky compensation pick. I would be surprised if many teams would be willing to sacrifice a top pick for the right to sign a 34 year old second baseman who doesn’t hit for power and doesn’t take a lot of walks. Polanco’s value is tied specifically to his batting average and his defensive ability. Both are items that are at risk of decline given his age.
Then there is the payroll issue. While I don’t buy the fire sale talk I do buy the theory that the Tigers have limited financial flexibility. Polanco and his likely $5-6 million salary aren’t prohibitive in general, but when there is a replacement who stands to make $400,000 that is a sizable cost.
Much like the Edgar Renteria situation last year, the Tigers aren’t going to gamble on Polanco signing somewhere else to get the draft picks. If the Tigers offer him arbitration it’s because they want to bring him back, not to get the compensatory picks.
It isn’t Dave Dombrowski’s pattern to offer just to get draft picks, and he hasn’t rolled the dice like that in his Detroit tenure. The Tigers did receive a sandwich pick for Jamie Walker, but he was signed by another team before the deadline.
The cases of Brandon Lyon and Fernando Rodney are considerably simpler. Both are Type B free agents meaning that it is only a supplemental pick the Tigers would earn and the signing team wouldn’t have to surrender anything. An offer of arbitration by the Tigers wouldn’t cut into the market value for either.
Lyon has expressed his desire for a multi-year deal. The Tigers would probably love to have him on a one year deal, but may pursue a 2 year deal with him as well. He likely wouldn’t make significantly more than he did this past season, and while I’m not big on spending big money on the bullpen and I think “veteran presence” is often over-valued, there is something to be said for the stability that Lyon would bring. In other words I fully expect Lyon to get an arbitration offer. There really isn’t a worst case here (unless the Tigers sign him and he gets injured).
Fernando Rodney on the other hand I would expect to be a long shot. I’ve been a Rodney supporter because when he’s healthy he can be an effective pitcher. The trouble is he’s only been healthy 2 of the last 5 seasons, and even then he isn’t a consistently dominant pitcher. There’s a thought that some team will see the big save total and ignore the fact that he walked quite a few and had pretty shaky peripherals. But other teams have access to all the same information so even with the save percentage I doubt he’ll be able to parlay that into a big contract.
The Tigers may view Rodney as a fall back plan for Lyon, but I don’t know that the Tigers have $10 million to spend on the pair of bullpen arms.
Because of Dombrowski’s track record of not offering just to get picks, and the Tigers financial friction I’m not confident that the team will offer arbitration to more than Brandon Lyon. If they do offer it to Rodney and Polanco, it is with the intent to try and sign them. Not to just pick up extra draft picks.
For others thoughts on the Tigers arbitration decisions check out’: