By Joe Pawlikowski
During the latter portion of yesterday afternoon, I found myself engaged in the comments on my own blog regarding the Yanks decision to not offer arbitration to Bobby Abreu, Andy Pettitte, or Ivan Rodriguez. The immediate, and predictable, reaction from the fans was that this move made little sense. Why forego the draft picks that we surely would have received when Abreu signs elsewhere? Why let Andy go for free? Why not try to get at least a little return from the Pudge deal?
On one level, these questions make sense. There had been an assumption around the Yankees fan base, and even in the media, that the Yankees would offer Bobby Abreu arbitration, thus securing a guaranteed first-round pick and a supplemental round pick. What this also assumed, though, was that Abreu would decline arbitration. Over the past few weeks, though, what was once a sure thing (Bobby receiving a multi-year offer elsewhere) has become less so.
Blame it on the economy. Blame it on teams not wanting a player in his decline who played arguably the worst right field in baseball. Any way you slice it, it's clear that there is little interest in Bobby Abreu. Four other corner outfielders on the market seem far more attractive
to teams in need: Manny Ramirez, Raul Ibanez, Pat Burrell, and Adam Dunn.
In other words, think of how many rumors you've heard this winter surrounding Abreu. The Cubs and Mets were said to be interested early, but that cooled off quickly. Both teams, it seems, prefer Ibanez, whose name has come up frequently in the Hot Stove rumors. Dunn, Abreu, and Burrell? Not so much.
Bearing this in mind, the primary reason for the team declining to offer Abreu arbitration is clear: They were afraid he'd accept. Brian Cashman explained this by saying the team wanted to control costs and be certain of their payroll and roster heading into 2009. If Abreu accepted arbitration, he'd be considered a signed player, meaning the Yankees would have to clear a 40-man roster spot for him. Further, they wouldn't know much about his 2009 salary, except that it would be at least $16 million.
Something tells me that this is $16 million they'd prefer to spend elsewhere. This isn't fact of course; I'm simply reading between the lines. By offering arbitration to Abreu, and to Pettitte for that matter, the Yankees would essentially be committing at least $32 million to two players in 2009. With so much money already tied up in their regulars -- A-Rod, Jeter, Posada, Rivera, Matsui, and Damon already add up to $106 million against the 2009 payroll -- they don't want to add another two players at $32 million. That could hamper the rest of their off-season plans, which revolve around CC Sabathia and what will probably amount to near $24 million per year if he's signed.
The $16 million figure certainly plays into the Pettitte situation. Many fans assume the team offered the lefty $12 million for 2009, but Joel Sherman claims that it was only $10 million. This makes sense; it's actually similar to the paycut Mike Mussina took after the 2006 season ($17 million to $11 million). Although he was guaranteed two years, it doesn't appear Pettitte, or the Yankees for that matter, are interested in such an arrangement. The Yanks want him for $10 million, and didn't want to end up going to arbitration with him over the extra $6 million. There is little doubt Andy would have accepted an offer.
Yes, the Yankees potentially lost out on a few draft picks. However, they might not have had those picks even if they had offered arbitration. If both Andy and Abreu accepted -- once again, both strong possibilities -- they would have lost payroll flexibility and still have missed out on the draft picks. It came down to risk vs. reward, and the potential reward, the draft picks, weren't worth the burden the team would face if both accepted.
With both players for the time being cleared from the forecasted payroll, the Yanks have more flexibility to deal with their top free agent targets. That $32 million will cover all of CC Sabathia's 2009 salary and then some. They could go for Teixeira, though unlikely if CC lands in pinstripes, or even Adam Dunn, who was not offered arbitration by the Diamondbacks and thus would not cost the Yankees draft picks.
It's all about the big picture. We might argue about it now, but that's because we haven't had anything to argue about in a week. As the off-season unfolds, I'm confident that this decision will reveal itself as the right one.
Joe Pawlikowski writes for River Ave. Blues and can be reached here.