Thursday, April 16, 2009

What do to with Jarrod Washburn?

Two overpaid Bavasi pitcher signings, Jarrod Washburn and Miguel Batista, are slated to come off the books after this season. Even if the Mariners are in contention, the team may consider dealing these unspectacular contract-year players to get some sort of return if doing so will help them stockpile more talent for the future. In Batista’s case, he is an absolute tomato can at this point, and probably commands no trade value. The M’s can release him for all they care, because they’re probably eating every dollar of the $9 million Batista’s owed this season one way or another. The best they can get for Batista in a trade, even if they offer to eat his salary, is cash considerations or some crappy A-baller.

Washburn’s case presents an interesting challenge. His $10.35 million due to him this season doesn’t make him an attractive value either, and the M’s would likely have to eat it to deal him. He’s not spectacular, but he can give a rotation 150-180 useful innings in the 4.50-4.75 ERA neighborhood over a full season. That’s better than most of the tomato cans and untested rookies teams will try in the #5 slot this year.

One argument for holding onto an impending free agent of reasonable quality and letting him walk is that, should you offer him arbitration after the walk year and he refuses, you get draft picks when he leaves. Last year, offering arbitration to Raul Ibañez was a smart move because Raul had the highest free agent distinction, Type A, which netted the Mariners a 1st round draft pick in 2009 from the Phillies when Philadelphia signed him.

However, such a move might not work as well for Washburn. Any team that signs a Type A or B free agent loses one of their top draft picks in the next draft. Ibañez was a 20-30 home run middle of the order bat whose services were in relatively great demand, so losing a pick didn’t matter much to Philly, because in return they got an effective veteran power bat.

Washburn, while reliable as a low-end starting pitcher, doesn’t exactly add a ton of value. There are a lot of low-end starting pitchers that can give you 5-6 non-embarrassing innings every five days on the market. There are few teams willing to part with a 1st or 2nd round pick just to get Jarrod Washburn, where there are a lot of pitchers like Jarrod Washburn that will cost far less, or might even be waiting in their farm system.

Refusing to trade Jarrod Washburn, then offering him arbitration, could backfire as a talent-acquisition ploy for one reason: he might accept arbitration, and then you’re stuck with him in 2010 for a price tag similar to the $10.35 mil he’s making this season. See, if teams will balk at signing Washburn during the 2009-2010 offseason because they don’t want to lose a draft pick for him, Jarrod and his agent may realize his hands are tied, and he may just take the arbitration offer.

While holding on to Raul Ibañez until his contract expired and offering him arbitration was a smart move in his case for acquiring new talent, it would not work for Jarrod Washburn. The best chance at a return in Washburn’s case would be to trade him to a team needing help in the back of their rotation during a playoff chase, as they may blink and offer a decent prospect in return.

One obvious trading partner is a team Washburn openly lobbied for: the Minnesota Twins. With the replacement-level Glen Perkins logging innings at the back of their rotation and the always distinct possibility that one of their front liners (Scott Baker or Francisco Liriano) returns to the DL, the Twins may pine for a capable starter to fill in a key blank if they’re still in the playoff hunt, which is quite possible despite their weak offense. There is also the nearby Milwaukee Brewers, which continues to hand starts to Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan, plus has a shaky Yovani Gallardo and an ordinary Braden Looper leading their rotation. If there’s still hanging around in June and July, they’re going to want some help, and they have plenty of farm talent from which to offer the Mariners something in return.

But to hold onto Washburn, offer arbitration and hope for a sandwich pick will backfire. It’s unlikely a team will risk a draft pick to sign the ordinary Washburn, and also likely Washburn accepts arbitration and fills in the Mariners rotation for yet another year, which won’t net you any new talent in return.

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