The league made history this offseason as every team and every player made it through the offseason without the need of an arbitration hearing. Nathan Aderhold offered up some ideas on why this may have happened, but there's more than just a historical impact with some of the contracts doled out to avoid arbitration this year. There are underlying hints that could give us an idea as to what players may be facing a trade this season or during the next offseason. These hints come from the contract agreed upon for the 2013 season and a player's service time and production levels.
Arbitration-eligible players who were given a one-year contract are the obvious trade candidates here. But the simple fact that a one-year deal was given is not indicative of an impending trade. There are more factors to consider. For example, what has the player's production level been? What year of eligibility is the player in? How old is the player? These questions, when answered and filtered give us clearer picture of who some potential trade candidates are for the upcoming season/offseason.
Notable players to receive a one-year deal and avoid arbitration:
There are far more players who received one-year contracts to avoid arbitration, but we're going to focus on these players because they have a better chance of impacting a team's performance. So, now that we have filtered our list, it's time to start putting these players into buckets. There are three main categories these players can fit into; Extension Candidate, Trade Candidate, Free Agency Candidate.
Of the above players, there are a few that stand out and can easily fit into a particular category. However, a few do not obviously fit anywhere. These players are ones that will fall into the Free Agency Candidate bucket, but we will explore them further as well.
We won't go into depth on every player, but each has his own reasons for being placed in the selected category. Whether is be lack of communication between player and team, suddenly increased value, or something else, every player has his place.
Let's get started.
The basis for this list is simple. These players have all been engaged in extension talks that have shown shown promising signs in the past. They have not hit walls in their talks, they have not been faced with ultimatums or given ultimatums, and they can clearly benefit their clubs' long-term chances at success.
Freese is an interesting player in the fact that his offensive production is what carries him, but his defense hinders the St. Louis Cardinals at times. Last season, Freese was worth 0.5 dWAR (defensive WAR). This doesn't always mean a player is a poor defender, but considering Freese's career 0.0 dWAR, it seems likely that the Cardinals will need him to make up for his defensive miscues with the bat. And he does. Last year, Freese made his first All-Star Game and hit .293/.372/.467 with 20 home runs.
Max Scherzer can be a big-time pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, but he is in just his second year of arbitration-eligibility. The Tigers have some time to evaluate him further and continue paying below free agent market value. Scherzer is a strikeout machine, though. And the Tigers can stack him at the top of the rotation with Justin Verlander and just mow players down. The team has already expressed interest in an extension.
Related: Check out our Transaction Tracker.
Teams can give pretty clear indicators as to their future plans even when they are saying the opposite of what will actually happen. In the cases of this potential trade candidates, the teams have not outright said they will trade these players, but the lack of action speaks volumes.
Shin-Soo Choo came to the Cincinnati Reds by virtue of a trade, but the club seems intent on trading him if they cannot make things work this season. The Reds have rebuilt themselves into contenders, and Choo can be a big part of their continued success, but the club has not shown much interest in a long-term deal. Choo is in his final year of team control, so the Reds could shop him as a mid-season rental for a team on the cusp of competing.
Chase Headley seems like an obvious extension candidate. If the San Diego Padres are going to start competing, they need an impact player. Headley can be that player. Yet, the team failed to lock him up to a long-term deal before his breakout season last year. Headley has always been a productive hitter, but he suddenly became a star last season. Now, he will likely be too expensive for the Padres to extend him. Josh Byrnes has said the team has plenty of time to make a decision because Headley still has one more year of control after the 2013 season.
Free Agency Candidates
These players are all either too early in the arbitration process or they are in their final year of team control. Jim Johnson just had a huge year for the Orioles and he got a one-year contract to avoid arbitration. However, Baltimore will likely hold off on any thoughts of extending him long-term until they see how consistent he can be.
Gerardo Parra is not the future in Arizona. Unless he can somehow garner some solid trade value, the Diamondbacks will likely hold on to him until his walk year. They can re-sign him if necessary in Parra's first year of free agency. He shouldn't be too expensive.
Murphy has shown that he can be a productive player when playing with the Texas Rangers. Murphy posted a batting average over .300 for the first time in his career outside of 2007 when he played in just 46 games. He did so by hitting a scalding .335/.404/.513 at the Ballpark at Arlington. He is in his final year of team control and is not the type of player that will bring huge returns back in a trade.
Hunter Pence can make a difference. He went to the Philadelphia Phillies and was impressive. However, after his tradelast season tot he San Francisco Giants he struggled. The Giants are looking to repeat as World Champions, so they are unlikely to trade Pence this season (his last under team control). They are also unlikely to offer him an extension. The Giants know what Pence has done elsewhere, but in the pitcher-friendly AT&T Park, Pence has hit just .259/.318/.425 in 45 career games.
A one-year deal to avoid arbitration may simply be a ploy to buy a team more time to negotiate with a player on the verge of a long-term extension. However, it can also be a team's way of keeping a solid player on the roster for an affordable salary as that team plots to eventually trade him. The front office dealings of Major League clubs are often surprising, unknown, and wide-reaching. However, they can also be predictable based on some key indicators.
Who else looks like a trance candidate based on their arbitration contract? Extension candidate?