With Arbitration Deadline Approaching, Rays Have Decisions To Make

If you didn't know, tomorrow is the deadline for teams to offer arbitration to free agents. The Rays have the largest amount of eligible players (9) in the majors, meaning the Rays have some work to do in the next 24-36 hours. Here's the full list of eligible players:

Type A*
Carl Crawford
Grant Balfour
Rafael Soriano
Dan Wheeler

Type B**
Carlos Pena
Joaquin Benoit
Randy Choate
Brad Hawpe
Chad Qualls

*If a player with Type A status declines arbitration and signs elsewhere, the Rays would get two compensation draft picks for that player in the 2011 draft: the team's first round draft pick and a supplemental pick at the conclusion of the first round. However, if the signing team's first round slot is within the first 15 picks, that pick is protected and the Rays would get their second round pick instead.

**If a player with Type B status declines arbitration and signs elsewhere, the Rays would get one supplemental draft pick after the first round.

Those are a lot of potential draft picks on the table, but the Rays aren't likely to offer arbitration to all of these players due to salary issues. In arbitration, players rarely receive salaries dramatically different from their previous salaries. They may get a 10-20% decrease or increase depending on how they performed last season, but for the most part salaries stay the same more than they change. Because of this, the Rays will probably only make offers to two kinds of players: those they know will decline arbitration and elect free agency, or those that they would like to retain at a level similar to their current salary.

Where does that leave us? Let's take a look.

The Yes's

Carl Crawford and Rafael Soriano are undoubtedly going to decline arbitration and seek large contracts on the free agent market, so the Rays will offer to both of them. Joaquin Benoit has already signed a contract, so he'll be "offered arbitration" and we'll receive a supplemental pick for him. Also, Grant Balfour will be offered arbitration because a) the Rays would love to bring him back for something close to his $2M salary, and b) he may want to seek a contract on the open market like Benoit's.

Similarly, the Rays will offer Randy Choate arbitration because he only made $700K last season and was very effective out of the bullpen. He's already garnered some attention on the free agent market, though, so Choate may want to try and receive a larger salary from elsewhere.

The No's

Carlos Pena, Brad Hawpe, and Chad Qualls all had disappointing 2010 seasons yet received quite large salaries. Do the Rays want to pay around $10M for Pena, $4M for Qualls, or $7M for Hawpe? I doubt it, so they'll decline to offer arbitration unless they have reliable information that one of these players would decline arbitration. I'm sure the Rays would love to bring back Pena or Qualls for the right price, but in this case, arbitration isn't the route to go to get a bargain.

Dan Wheeler is an interesting case, considering that he has a high potential reward (Type A status) but also a high salary for a middle reliever ($4M). Wheeler has been quite effective over the last few seasons and so he would not get a pay decrease through arbitration, and the Rays are already on the hook for $1M for buying out his 2011 team option. Type-A status can drive off potential buyers on the free market, especially if you're a middle reliever, so there's very little chance that Wheeler would decline arbitration if it's offered.

Conclusions

Remember, these are only educated guesses. From our estimates, though, the Rays could stand to pick up a maximum of 8 compensation draft picks. That number will go down if players like Grant Balfour or Randy Choate return to the Rays, and the Rays could always get stuck with second-round picks if Crawford or Soriano sign with a team with protected first round picks (like the Angels). Only time will tell how it all shakes out, but regardless, the Rays are in a good position.

Anyone else have any guesses on what the Rays will do?

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