Of Arbitration and Salary Dumps

Declined to Offer RP Rick White Arbitration

There’s a shocker. White was a two-week stopgap when the bullpen was melting down early in the season, and somehow managed to work himself into a mopup role towards the end of the year. With White out of the picture, the Indians have officially closed the book on their free agents. Lou Merloni and Tim Laker were outrighted before the free agency period began, so although they are free to sign with whomever, they weren’t eligible for the arbitration process. Note that the December 7th arbitration deadline is for free agents (players with 6 or more service years) and not for arbitration-eligibles (players with 2-5 service years). That deadline is coming up in a couple of weeks.

It isn’t looking that good on the starter front. Ever since Kris Benson’s 3-year, $22.5M contract set the market, salary demands of the 1st and 2nd tier pitchers have been steadily rising. Brad Radke just signed a two-year, $18M contract with the Twins, and Jaret Wright just signed a 3-year deal with the Yankees worth $21M. Lieber and Clement are still unsigned (as of this moment), but their contract demands seem to be $8M/year or more. That’s not too encouraging.

While perusing Google News, I came across this article, mentioning possible trade talks involving the Indians and Pirates. And the Indians are rumored to be trading an outfielder for a left-handed reliever (shudder). But in this case, the Pirates seem to be interested in Matt Lawton, and would be sending the Tribe Arthur “Diamond” Rhodes. Rhodes is due $7M over the next two seasons, and Lawton is getting a little over $7M in 2005. At first glance, it wouldn’t be that bad of a move; the Indians could probably bring back Ronnie Belliard with the savings, and it would pave the way for Casey Blake to move to the outfield. Rhodes would supplant Scott Sauerbeck as the primary lefty out of the pen, and would provide a bit more depth to what was a glaring weakness a year ago.

As a salary dump connoisseur, it’s a pretty appetizing deal. But, as with any legitimate salary swap, the cash usually makes the deal. Are the Pirates willing to eat Lawton’s entire 2005 salary, or will the Indians have to chip in a million or two? I guess we should find out over the weekend.

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