Soriano, Pavano, Betancourt only three to accept arbitration

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rafael soriano.jpgThe Braves certainly weren’t counting on Rafael Soriano accepting arbitration when they signed Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito last week, but now they have three expensive relievers on a roster already likely overbudget and still short a first baseman and an outfielder.
It certainly could be worse. Soriano is one of the game’s most dominant relievers, and while he would have been a poor gamble on a three-year, $24 million contract, he should be an asset at around $8 million for 2009. That’d be a reasonable figure for a settlement if the two sides can avoid a hearing. Soriano made $6.5 million while collecting 27 saves last season. He had a 2.97 ERA and a 102/27 K/BB ratio in a career-high 75 2/3 innings.
Soriano, Carl Pavano and Rafael Betancourt were the only three free agents to accept arbitration prior to Monday night’s deadline. They’re now signed players and must be placed back on 40-man rosters. Like other free agents signed to major league deals, they have full no-trade clauses until June 15. However, unlike other free agents, they won’t get guaranteed contracts, allowing teams to cut them in spring training if they can justify it for performance reasons.
That’s a big reason why Soriano’s choice was hard to believe. The Twins and Rockies, respectively, are happy to have Pavano and Betancourt back. The Braves, though, simply wanted the draft picks Soriano’s departure would bring them. They tried to dissuade him from accepting arbitration by telling him he’d be a sixth-inning guy. Since they weren’t counting on spending $20 million on relievers next season, they could well release him in spring training if he gives them any reason to do so.
Ideally, it won’t come to that. Soriano is an excellent pitcher, and he’d be a better choice than Takashi Saito to work the eighth if the Braves can create the financial flexibility to retain him. Also, there’s the chance that a trade could be worked out, with Soriano’s permission. Now that they won’t have to give up a draft pick for him, teams like the Tigers, Rays, Orioles and Astros could be more interested in his services. The Astros, in particular, could step up their pursuit since they dodged a bullet with Jose Valverde’s decision to decline arbitration tonight.

Six of seven players decline $17.9 million qualifying offers

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Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu was the only one of seven eligible players to accept his $17.9 million qualifying offer. Bryce Harper, A.J. Pollock, Craig Kimbrel, Patrick Corbin, Yasmani Grandal, and Dallas Keuchel each rejected his, officially making them free agents. Teams that had their QO’s rejected will recoup a draft pick once the player signs elsewhere.

That Harper rejected his QO comes as no surprise, as he is expected to strike perhaps the largest free agent contract in baseball history. Though the free agent market has been less lucrative lately than in previous years, the combination of Harper’s elite talent and his age — he’s only 26 years old — makes him a primary target for more than a handful of teams. Harper reportedly turned down a 10-year, $300 million contract extension offer from the Nationals, so that would seem to be a baseline.

It is also not surprising that Kimbrel, 30, turned down his QO from the Red Sox. Despite a so-so showing during a championship run, Kimbrel is still young and talented enough to land another lucrative contract on the free agent market.

Keuchel bet on himself in turning down the Astros’ QO. He’s been solid since winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2015, owning a 3.77 ERA across 83 starts over the last three seasons. However, he turns 31 years old at the beginning of 2019, and his already mediocre strikeout rate declined even further this past season, so there may be some skepticism about his ability to perform over the course of a multi-year deal. Keuchel will still get one eventually, but his market may be slower to develop.

Pollock, soon 31 as well, will be the outfielder most coveted once Harper is off the market. When he’s healthy, he’s a dynamic five-tool player. However, Pollock hasn’t played in more than 113 games in a season since 2015, so that may be a red flag. Pollock ended 2018 batting .257/.316/.484 with 21 home runs, 65 RBI, 61 runs scored, and 13 stolen bases in 460 plate appearances while playing above-average defense according to various defensive metrics.

Grandal, 30, could’ve gone either way with his QO, but ultimately chose to decline. He had a disappointing postseason, both offensively and defensively. Given how humans are prone to recency bias, it stood to reason that his October performance could have hurt his market. The catching position, however, is rather weak and Grandal stands out in a market that is otherwise focused on Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. Grandal did swat 24 home runs with an .815 OPS in 140 games for the Dodgers this past season.

Corbin, 29, was the most obvious QO decline after Harper. The lefty is coming off of a career year, finishing with a 3.15 ERA and a 246/48 K/BB ratio in exactly 200 innings. Corbin is the best free agent pitcher on the market this offseason. The Yankees have been seriously linked with Corbin even before the season ended.

Ryu likely chose to accept his QO because of his age and injury history. It would have been a gamble to pursue a multi-year deal. He did, however, make 15 starts during the regular season to the tune of a 1.97 ERA with 89 strikeouts and 15 walks in 82 1/3 innings. Those are great numbers. And most clubs would have been smart enough to look beyond his 5.21 ERA in the postseason, which has more to do with a leaky bullpen than his own personal failings. Still, it’s hard to fault Ryu for playing it safe and taking the guaranteed $17.9 million for one year.