Yesterday marked the deadline for teams to offer arbitration to pending free agents in order to ensure draft pick compensation should those players sign elsewhere. Six departing Twins qualified as Type A or Type B free agents, and the team elected to offer arbitration to three of them: Carl Pavano, Orlando Hudson and Jesse Crain. That means that Matt Guerrier, Brian Fuentes and Jon Rauch will officially be shopping their services in free agency.
It's tough to assess these moves without knowing which players will accept and how much the Twins plan on expanding payroll next year, but these are probably the very three candidates I would have extended arbitration offers to. Pavano is a Type A, Hudson and Crain Type B's, so the Twins stand to pick up a number of draft picks should all decline and sign elsewhere.
Of course, there's risk involved here. Should all three accept, the Twins would be committed to spending close to $20 million on them next year and would be left with almost no financial flexibility for the remainder of the offseason, barring another huge spike in payroll. That could mean the same team as last year, except with Alexi Casilla starting at short and cheaper options replacing Guerrier, Rauch, Fuentes and Thome.
Personally, I think it's a given that Pavano will decline. He's about to turn 35 and this represents his last chance to cash in with a multi-year deal. He probably won't make as much annually in such a contract as he would through arbitration, especially since he'll cost the team signing him a draft pick, but he knows his age and injury history as well as anyone so I have to think he'd like to avoid a one-year deal if he can. The right-hander has already reportedly drawn interest from several teams.
The other two are trickier calls.
Crain could look at the unusually deep free agent market and accept a one-year contract, hoping to put together another strong season and stand out as one of the top options next winter. That would result in a significant bump from his $2 million salary from 2010, but even at twice that price he's not a terrible investment. He was their best reliever this past season.
However, Crain has mentioned that he'd like to pursue a closing role next year, so there's also a good chance he declines and tries his luck in free agency. His age (29), combined with his 3.04 ERA and career-high strikeout rate, would make him an attractive option for clubs looking to strengthen their bullpens, and the contract former Rays setup man Joaquin Benoit got from the Tigers (three years, $16.5 million) could have Crain licking his chops.
Hudson would indisputably be the top free agent second baseman on the market, so it seems certain he'd be able to fetch a multi-year deal. Then again, it seemed certain he'd be able to get a multi-year deal last offseason, and the one before. For whatever reason, the league seems to have some aversion to him. He could accept the Twins' offer, jaded with free agency.
That wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. Even though he battled a number of injuries and his numbers dropped off late in the year, Hudson was a valuable piece for the Twins, providing competent offense in the two-hole while playing excellent defense. However, if the Twins can only afford one of Hudson and J.J. Hardy -- and that seems to be the case, since they've suggested that Casilla will be starting somewhere in 2011 -- it should be Hardy returning. Both have had a hard time staying healthy, but Hardy is four years younger and stands out more among peers at his position. He's a more valuable player.
But I don't think Hudson is going to accept arbitration, and I don't think the Twins would have extended the offer if they felt he would. Joe Christensen blogged recently on the second baseman, noting that "the writing is on the wall ... It looks like he'll be playing for his fourth team in four years in 2011."
The last day for Pavano, Crain and Hudson to accept arbitration offers is next Tuesday, November 30. My guess is that all three will opt for free agency, with Crain being the only one I could see going the other way. That would result in a nice flurry of extra draft picks for the Twins next June while leaving them with some cash to tinker with this offseason.