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Flawed Elias Rankings set to play key role this winter

Oct 12, 2009, 4:23 PM EDT

Every year, the terribly broken Elias Rankings play a much larger role than most realize in which free agents signs where and when. Fungible relievers and part-time infielders can see their options dwindle because they’re foolishly classified as Type A free agents. Meanwhile, starting pitchers in line for $30 million-$40 million contract can come compensation free because the statistics the rankings use so badly fail to measure value.
Now that the long secret rankings have been reverse engineered by Eddie Bajek and the results get updated throughout the year on MLB Trade Rumors, I’m hopeful the league will finally get around to reevaluating them. In the meantime, I have some thoughts on the projected rankings this year.
- First, a quick primer. A team that signs a Type A free agent, has to give up its first pick, unless that pick is in the top 15 in the draft. In that case, the team surrenders a second-round pick. Teams can lose multiple picks. The Yankees lost first-, second- and third-round picks last year for signing Mark Teixieira, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. Type B free agents require no compensation to sign, but the team that loses them is awarded a newly created pick between the first and second rounds. In both cases, these picks only change hands or are rewarded if the player in question is offered arbitration by his old team.
- The most disturbing rankings this year come in the infield. Orlando Hudson, Miguel Tejada, Marco Scutaro, Placido Polanco and Orlando Cabrera are the Type A free agents. Meanwhile, the infielders likely to get the largest deals — Chone Figgins and Adrian Beltre — are Type Bs. That makes them even more attractive than they were already. Felipe Lopez, Mark DeRosa, Freddy Sanchez and Troy Glaus are also relevant Type Bs.
Cabrera would be in line to be ripped off by the rankings system for a second straight year, but as part of his deal with the A’s last year, he and his agent smartly included a clause that prevented his team from offering him arbitration this winter. Since the compensation goes away once a player isn’t offered arbitration, he can be had without sacrificing a draft pick.
- Because the system treats the positions as equals, the second- and third-tier relievers are always the players most ripped off by the rankings. The league’s 20th best reliever isn’t worth anywhere near as much as the 20th best starter, yet both are going to be Type-A free agents, meaning a team would have to give up a pick to sign them.
The Type-A free agent relievers this year are Jose Valverde, Mike Gonzalez, Rafael Soriano, Billy Wagner, Darren Oliver, LaTroy Hawkins, Rafael Betancourt, Kevin Gregg, John Grabow and Octavio Dotel.
Several of the pitchers won’t be offered arbitration, taking them off the list of pitchers who would require compensation. But a couple probably will be offered arbitration and have to accept it, since no one is going to want to both pay them and sacrifice a draft pick. That’s what Oliver and the Reds’ David Weathers did last year.
- So, that’s 10 free agent relievers who claimed Type A status. On the other hand, just two starters did: John Lackey and Randy Wolf. Andy Pettitte, Rich Harden, Erik Bedard, Vicente Padilla, Joel Pineiro, Braden Looper, Jon Garland, Doug David, Randy Johnson, Jason Marquis, Justin Duchscherer and Carl Pavano are all Type Bs.
Then you have Jarrod Washburn, Tim Hudson and Brett Myers, whose teams won’t even be awarded a supplemental pick if they leave.
Brandon Webb is also set to be a Type B if his option is declined, which is one more great reason for the Diamondbacks to exercise it. The Yankees and Red Sox will definitely be looking at high upside pitchers like Webb, Harden, Bedard, Hudson and Ben Sheets.
- In the first base-outfield sections of the rankings, Matt Holliday, Jason Bay and Manny Ramirez were all clear Type As. Bobby Abreu, Johnny Damon, Vladimir Guerrero and Jermaine Dye were also Type As, but Guerrero and Dye, at least, probably won’t be offered arbitration.

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