Well Played, Brewers, Well Played


Milwaukee’s front office isn’t normally known for slick front office work, but what they did today might be one of the smartest things I’ve ever seen them do.

According to the Brewers website, both Prince Fielder and Fransisco Rodriguez were offered arbitration by the team last week.

It’s not the most unexpected, or unheard of moves for an organization to use, but allow me to explain why I love it and how it can work out in our favor no matter how it ends up.

Arbitration, as you know, is the process in which a Major League club offers a player a chance to negotiate a one-year, non-guaranteed contract in front of a group of negotiators. This generally applies only to players with more than three, but less than six years of Major League service. There is a way to do it with free agents, however, and this is where it gets awesome for Milwaukee.

When arbitration is offered to a free agent, almost everything stays the same – except that now Prince and Frankie have a little under a week to decide whether or not they will accept the arbitration hearing. If they choose not to accept the offer, then the team will resume negotiations the old-fashioned way. In the case of Scot Boras, this means listen to his secretary make hasty excuses as Boras silently tries to get the Brewers off the phone in the other room. If the two superstars accept the arbitration offer, the negotiations move in a pretty basic high-less high scenario: The team gives one offer, the player and his handlers give another. The arbitrators then look at both offers, and decide which one is best based on the player’s previous performance matched up with salaries of similar players around the league. Then the player can either decide to take the offer, or part ways in a somewhat amiable fashion and resume testing the waters of the market.

In the case with these two free agents, however, if they choose to leave the Brewers will get some parting gifts based on the current Collective Bargaining system. That gift will come as four compensatory draft picks in the first and “sandwich” rounds of the amateur draft.

Because Fransisco Rodriguez and Prince Fielder still qualify as ‘Type A’ free agents under the rules that expire at the start of this MLB season, they both will net two draft picks – one from the team that they sign with, and extra draft pick between the first and second rounds as compensation for the team losing some of its star power. Yuniesky Betancourt, a ‘Type B’ free agent, would have netted one extra draft pick through arbitration but no one on the Brewers seemed too keen to go through the process with him.

This is, of course, a last ditch effort from the Brewers to get something, anything, from the two players who will most likely be finding a new home next season. My gut says that Prince will accept the arbitration offers – if nothing more than a goodwill gesture to a team that he so loved to play for. He would be in line for a shot at one last big money deal on a contending team, but I doubt sincerely that the numbers will even out enough for the Big Man to sign again.  K-Rod is a different story in my mind, as I think he will find an offer to be a real closer with a team in the very near future. It’s definitely a seller’s market for relief pitchers, and that has to be in K-Rod’s mind as the hot stove season keeps moving along. It would be nice to keep him, but I doubt that either party sees any reason for his employment to continue.

Is this earth-shattering news? Of course not. Is it hopeful news? That depends on what outcome you are considering, but either way I look at this as a very shrewd and very smart move by the Brewers to take advantage of the talent in their midst before it’s too late.

On one hand, one (or both) of those players take a one-year pay raise and give it one more shot to win it all. Everyone in Milwaukee is happy, we win the World Series, and the whole city rejoices in a week-long festival of beer, song, and good cheer.

On the other hand, one (or both) of those players agrees to negotiate, and neither of them elect to continue working in Milwaukee. The team then nets four draft picks, and our farm system is ripe with talent for market or for the club’s future success.

Time will tell how this situation plays out,