The Tigers face a number of arbitration situations this offseason, and a fair number of them involve players who could potentially net the Tigers some extra draft picks. Today, I'm going to kickoff a series in which I will look at each of these players. I'm going to start with Brandon Lyon because, well, he's the first one of these players who came to mind.
According to Eddie Bajek's fine work with cracking the Elias Sports Bureau's compensation formula, we can safely assume Brandon Lyon is going to be a Type B Free Agent. This means if the Tigers offer him arbitration and he turns it down, they will receive a draft pick in the 2010 draft as compensation.
For this reason, my initial thought was that fact makes the decision on Lyon easy. My knee jerk reaction was offer him arbitration and don't bat an eye if he turns it down.
I was thinking that after some initial bumpiness, he has turned in a fine 2009 season. Then I started thinking about that season. It wouldn't take a lot of spin, if any, to portray it as a successful season deserving of a raise in arbitration.
That would mean even the Tigers' arbitration offer would most likely be a raise and when you remember Brandon Lyon made $5 million last year, it puts a quick halt to this line of thinking. Can the Tigers risk paying Lyon $6 million?
I don't think they can. You have to be a very good reliever to warrant a $6 million contract, and I don't think Lyon qualifies.
Let's be honest with ourselves. Lyon received closer money when he signed that $5 million deal, and he almost certainly would have been the Tigers' closer if his spring wouldn't have been such a homer happy disaster. When the season began, the Tigers couldn't trust him in the role, gave it to Rodney to see how it worked out, and Rodney never let go.
Now, I'm not trying to argue that relievers should be paid "closer" money or "other reliever" money. Relievers, like any other baseball player, have a certain value and that value isn't necessarily tied to whether they are put into the game in a situation that allows them to accumulate a nearly meaningless stat. What I'm saying is that I think Lyon was paid according to his expected role on the 2009 team, and it just so happened he never filled that role.
If they offer him arbitration, they will put themselves at risk of paying a closer premium for Lyon again. Whether you go by Wins Above Replacement (0.7) or Win Probability Added (0.84, and not a good way to value players for these purposes, in my opinion), Brandon Lyon helped the Tigers add something less than one win in 2009. With the value of a win in the free agent market being somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million (low end), he should be allowed to go look for more money than that somewhere else.
To put this another way, the Tigers' situation isn't likely to offer them a lot of payroll flexibility this offseason. If they are going to address their roster holes via free agency, they should be looking for players with skills that help the team but are undervalued on the open market. Lyon is not one of those players because his salary has been jacked up by the fact that he's accumulated saves in the past.
The Tigers simply cannot afford to pay veterans free agent prices, and then hope they fill the gap between their salary and their actual value. For this reason, when decision time comes, they should wish Brandon the best of luck in getting the best deal he can from the free agency market.