The Arbitration Dilemma

By midnight tonight, the Phillies must issue offers for arbitration to their free agents. The dilemma is whether they'll wind up with a "Millwood Scenario" that they're not prepared to pay for.

This is where it gets interesting. Teams have stayed away from top free agents thus far, because of the possibility that they may be able to get a player tomorrow and lose no draft picks, rather than signing the same player today and losing a first-round pick.

It's the annual arbitration dilemma.

If a team offers their Type-A free agent arbitration, the compensation required to sign that player remains. But, if for some reason, their original team declines to offer arbitration, then they also pass on getting any compensation from the signing team.

On some players, it's easy. CC Sabathia, Manny Ramirez and other big name players are obviously going to be offered arbitration. It's a slightly lower tier of player that nobody can say for sure what will happen with.

Enter Jamie Moyer and Pat Burrell. Ideally, the Phillies would like to have both back with them next season, but they may not have the money to make that happen. So, the next best thing would be to at least cash in on the draft picks that both would bring if they were to sign elsewhere.

In the case of Jamie Moyer, the Phillies will offer him arbitration. If he accepts, they basically get what they wanted; a one-year deal and likely not at an exorbitant price. The decision on Pat Burrell isn't as easy.

While it's likely that Burrell will ultimately find a team willing to sign him to a multi-year deal, it's not out of the realm of possibility that he would decide to return to the team that he loves and has played for throughout his entire career, and accept arbitration. Burrell earned $14 million this past season and it's almost impossible for a player to not get at least a mild raise through arbitration, meaning a big check for the Phillies to write.

A few years back, the Phillies offered arbitration to pitcher Kevin Millwood, figuring that he wouldn't accept; he did. That decision threw the Phillies off-season into a tizzy and made them scramble to make the budget numbers work. Hence the "Millwood Scenario". Keep in mind too, that a player only has until Sunday to accept or decline arbitration, so it's not like Burrell can wait to see what's going to happen and wait until the free agent market starts to dwindle to decide his fate.

The prevailing theory is that the Phillies will offer arbitration to Moyer - that's almost a definite - and not offer arbitration to Burrell.

That would not mean that Burrell could not re-sign with the Phillies. The two sides could continue to negotiate and might possibly reach a deal that would keep Burrell in Philadelphia, although the odds aren't very good that would happen. While the odds of Burrell accepting an arbitration offer aren't very good, the Phillies don't appear prepared to risk facing a "Millwood Scenario" with him and will simply pass on the potential compensation for him.

Meanwhile, it is still likely that Moyer will re-sign with the Phillies either through working out a deal or by accepting arbitration. If Moyer were to sign elsewhere, the Phillies would receive that team's first round draft pick, but the Phillies would likely then look to sign another starting pitcher - likely also a Type A free agent - and basically come out even in the draft pick department since they would relinquish their first round pick.

With Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Jayson Werth, Ryan Madson and others headed for arbitration, the Phillies simply don't have much money left for re-signing Burrell. At this point, it appears that he's headed out of Philadelphia, unless he is willing to give the Phillies a major hometown discount.

Two other players, Tom Gordon and Rudy Seanez, also will likely not be offered arbitration by the Phillies. Odds are that either would accept arbitration and the Phillies aren't very interested in having either return. They may try to work out a deal with Seanez, but won't pursue Gordon unless he would accept an incentive-laden minor league deal with the club.

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