Bedard And Arbitration
Now that Erik Bedard is back on the DL and the season is basically toast, we have to turn our attention to what they do with him going forward. Even if he can return to the mound in a couple of weeks (his earliest possible return date would be August 10th), they’re not going to be able to trade him for anything of substance in August – between his injury issues and the need to pass him through waivers, you can basically write off Bedard as not tradeable.
That brings us to the off-season. Even if he doesn’t pitch much the rest of the year, Bedard’s still going to be ranked as a Type B free agent. According to the latest calculations, Bedard’s a good way ahead of the cutoff, and there’s almost no chance that guys like Brian Bannister and Dallas Braden will pass him the last two months.
So, the M’s will be in a position to receive a compensatory draft pick if they offer Bedard arbitration and he leaves to sign with another team as a free agent. However, the M’s have to seriously ask themselves whether they want to risk Bedard accepting an arbitration offer.
Bedard signed for $7.5 million this year because he was arbitration eligible, even though he was coming off a bad season in 2008. His numbers are better this year, and the arbitration process essentially never gives pay cuts, so the M’s would have to be willing to pay him between $8 and $10 million for 2010 if he accepted. Due to his injury problems the last two years, he probably can’t do better than $10 million (arbiters lean heavily on playing time in deciding how much a player should get), but he has a pretty good case to get a raise over what he got last year. $9 million should probably be the expected cost if Bedard accepts arbitration.
Is Bedard worth $9 million for 2010?
It depends on how the free agent market plays out this winter. Last year, teams used the recession to clamp down on salaries, so $9 million would buy a +2 to +3 win player such as Bobby Abreu, Adam Dunn, Orlando Hudson, and Pat Burrell. However, MLB has weathered the economic storm better than teams projected, and we will likely see some inflation in the free agent market this winter compared to what we saw last off-season. If we project the cost of a win on the free market to be around $4.5 million, then Bedard would have to project as a +2 win player in 2010 to be worth $9 million.
He’s been worth +1.9 wins this year, and since 2004, he’s averaged about +3.2 wins per season. Obviously, the bulk of that was concentrated in his excellent 2006/2007 seasons, but even in the first few years of his career, he was a +2.5 to +3 win pitcher. When he’s on the mound, he’s valuable. How often you think he’ll be on the mound for 2010 essentially answers the arbitration or not question.
If you think he can give you 100+ high quality innings next year, he’s worth the arbitration offer. However, there’s a pretty decent chance that he won’t crack 100 this year, and he didn’t do it last year either, so there are obviously significant risks that go along with that assumption. For better or worse, Bedard is always going to have health problems. You have to count on him missing time, and maybe a lot of it.
On the other hand, the upside is certainly there. Rich Harden is a pretty comparable pitcher, and after breaking down in both 2006 and 2007, he threw 148 innings last year and looks poised to throw about that many again this year. Pitchers with arm problems can come back. Sending Bedard to the scrap heap is just as foolish as counting on him for 30+ starts a year.
In general, you want to guarantee as few years to a pitcher as possible. The risks that come with long term contracts to pitchers are extremely high, and if a team could get away with nothing but one year deals to the entire rotation, it would be in their best interest. In offering Bedard arbitration, your maximum risk is for 2010. There’s no Carlos Silva potential here, where he’s ruining your payroll for years into the future. Even if Bedard accepts arbitration and breaks down again next year, the net loss is contained to one season.
Plus, there is that draft pick to consider. As a Type B, he’d bring something like the 40th-45th pick in the draft, which probably has an asset value of $1 or $2 million. So, if you think Bedard is probably worth $9 million for next year, and his expected cost if accepts is $9 million, you should offer arbitration, because the chance at the draft pick pushes the needle towards a positive return.
It isn’t a slam dunk, though. If the M’s think they can do better in free agency with $9 million to spend, the 40th-45th pick in the draft isn’t so valuable that you have to offer arbitration. If the team sees some more value signings available this winter (along the lines of what Abreu or Hudson signed for last winter), the M’s are probably better off declining to offer Bedard arbitration and taking their chances on re-signing him to a low base, high incentive deal. Would he take it to stay in Seattle? Probably not. But that might be the team’s best plan.