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Should the Tigers Offer Arbitration to Wilson Betemit?

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Major League Baseball rules regarding compensation for free agent players are somewhat up in the air at the moment, because the terms of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) are expected to be announced any day now. The current agreement expires on December 11, 2011, and the players association is pushing to eliminate the rule that requires clubs to pay compensation when they sign a Type A free agent. Changes to the CBA may impact winter shopping plans, although it is not known whether any changes would be effective for the 2012 draft, or whether they would go into effect in 2013.

Many observers believe that uncertainty about the rules has had a chilling effect on the early off season action this year. The Tigers have no Type A free agents this off season, but they have two Type B free agents in Magglio Ordonez and Wilson Betemit. Under current rules, Detroit would receive a supplemental first round draft choice next June, should a Type B free agent player decline arbitration and sign with another club.

The Tigers will not offer arbitration to Ordonez, unless there is a "gentlemens' agreement" that he will decline so that the Tigers can receive a supplemental first round draft pick. If Magglio were to accept arbitration, he would stand to receive quite a bit more than his fair market value and substantially more than the Tigers would want to pay him, because of his years of experience and his salary history, two of the main criteria in arbitration. There is no reason to offer arbitration to Carlos Guillen, Ramon Santiago, Brad Penny, or Joel Zumaya, as those players are unranked free agents and would not bring any compensation should they sign with another club.

The Tigers may opt to offer arbitration to Betemit, although Dave Dombrowski has said that he would not be looking to sign Betemit at least early on during the off season. The Tigers do not have a history of offering arbitration just to get the compensation if they don’t truly want the player back for the next season. On the contrary, the Tigers have recently left draft picks laying on the table as free agent players left for multi year deals with other clubs, as Placido Polanco did..

If it were my decision, I would offer arbitration to Betemit, and I’d be happy enough whether he accepted or declined. Wilson is not the ideal answer to the Tigers issues at third base, as his defense leaves much to be desired, but he is probably the best offensive player among free agent third basemen, after Aramis Ramirez. Dombrowski has said that the Tigers will not likely pursue Ramirez.

Given the number of clubs that have a need for third basemen, and the lack of quality free agents at that position, Betemit may reason that he can sign a multi year deal. If he were to be offered arbitration by the Tigers, Betemit and his agent would have until December 7th to call around and get an idea of the level of interest in his services. Through arbitration, he stands to receive a one-year contract, not fully guaranteed, for about $ 2 million. That is an increase on the one year, $ 1 million contract that he signed for 2011 with Kansas City. If he can score a multi-year deal in another town, he obviously would decline arbitration and go that direction. Betemit can’t be too happy with the Howard Johnson treatment that he received, sitting on the bench for most of the post season while Brandon Inge and Don Kelly got the bulk of playing time at third base during the playoffs.

The General Managers meeting begins today. Agents and club owners are also having separate meetings this week. The major league award winners will be announced during the week. We’re awaiting word on the terms of a new collective bargaining agreement, and decisions will be announced next week as to which players will be offered arbitration. The Tigers might be interested to know whether Blue Jays second baseman Kelly Johnson, for example, is offered arbitration, and if he is, whether the rules would require the Tigers to give up their first round pick should they sign him. Feel free to speculate about what the Tigers might do.

Things should start to get interesting this week, at least in an off season context.