Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Arbitration Fallout: Jose Valverde

Much to my surprise, the Astros decided to offer arbitration to Jose Valverde:
"First of all, we'd love to be able to figure out a way to have Jose, Hawkins and Tejada all back, and it's still possible," Wade said. "It's going to take some economic gymnastics to make it happen. We just felt it made sense to offer Jose, who's a premier closer. If he signs elsewhere, we'd end up with two draft picks, and if he accepts arbitration and comes back to us, we'll be overjoyed."

The Astros also didn't offer arbitration to Type B reliever Doug Brocail, who isn't in the club's plans for 2010.

Valverde, 31, saved 25 games in 29 chances and posted a 2.33 ERA in 52 games last season, missing 41 games with a strained right calf. He went 4-1 with 23 saves and a 1.76 ERA in the final 44 games and finished the season with an active save streak of 19.

If Valverde, who made $8 million last season, winds up signing with another team, the Astros would receive two compensation picks in next year's First-Year Player Draft, a factor that could make some teams think twice about signing the former All-Star closer.
In the midst of slashing payroll and trying to get younger, I still don't think it's a smart play to potentially commit more than $10 million dollars annually to a closer. If Valverde somehow accepts the offer, then the Astros would have more than $65 million dollars (of a $85-$90 million dollar payroll) committed to just five players. The Astros have to be banking that Valverde will settle for nothing less than a multi year contract and he is bound to decline the offer and seek out greener pastures.

At this point, does it make any sense for Valverde to accept the Astros arbitration offer? If he's looking to maximize his earning potential in 2010, then he should absolutely accept because I doubt he's going to make as much as the Astros will have to pay him through arbitration. Valverde is regarded as one of the premier closers on the free agent market, so it's a lock that he will receive a huge contract on the free agent market, right?

Wrong. As we saw last season with Brian Fuentes and K-Rod, the market for closers tends to depreciate when the economy is poor and given all the closing options out there for teams this winter, is it out of the realm of possibility to think that Valverde might not get the free agent riches he craves?

We'll see how the market develops for Valverde, but no matter what, the Astros decision to offer Valverde arbitration is a calculated risk with a nice reward attached (two high draft picks).

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