Though not official, MLB Trade Rumors has posted projections of Elias Rankings, the basis for free agent compensation during the offseason. In brief, Elias ranks free agents by statistical measurements and categorizes them as Type A or Type B (or neither).
The rankings can be viewed here.
That’s relevant to the Royals because, at the conclusion of last night’s game, Bruce Chen is slated to be a free agent. Projections have him listed as a Type B free agent.
This puts the Royals in a favorable situation.
Chen’s final start, where he shut out the Twins for eight innings, ended his 2011 with a 3.77 ERA. As a Royal, since signing as a minor league free agent before 2009, Chen has thrown 357.2 innings, compiling a 4.28 ERA with a 240/132 BB/K ratio.
Over the last two years, when Chen held a more prominent role in the Royals rotation, he put up a 3.96 ERA in 295.1 innings.
The Royals have the option to bring him back, if they offer him arbitration and he accepts a deal. Should he decline arbitration, he’ll become a free agent. If the Royals don’t offer him arbitration, he’ll become a free agent.
Chen’s Type B status comes into play if he’s offered arbitration and declines, then signs elsewhere. In that case, the Royals will earn a draft pick as compensation – the “sandwich” pick stuck between the first and second rounds in next June’s amateur draft. It’s a win-win situation, because Chen could be an effective starter once again. He’s had his most success as a starter in the last two seasons, fitting the role of the “crafty lefty” to perfection.
If he takes their offer, the Royals get an experienced pitcher who’s had two strong years in a row, is well-liked by most fans (if that counts at all) and can pass on experience to a crop of young and developing starters.
Chen has expressed a desire for a multi-year deal before, and at the age of 34, it may be one of his last opportunities for him to do so. For that reason, he may decline the Royals offer to seek greener pastures, and, if he signs with another team, the Royals get an extra draft pick.
Yesterday afternoon, there were rumors that the Red Sox, looking towards a potential one-game tiebreaker against Tampa Bay, were asking about Chen for the purpose of starting him in the clincher. Ultimately, I have to guess that Chen’s Type B status factored in on both sides.
Boston GM Theo Epstein has used the system to scoop up draft picks in the past, trading for players just to get the draft picks after they didn’t re-sign. Had the Red Sox and Royals completed a trade, Chen would have pitched the one game in 2011 (which didn’t even happen after some incredible dramatics sent the Red Sox home). In that way, I think Epstein saw Chen both as a better alternative to other potential starters in a must-win game and saw a supplemental pick in his future.
For that reason, I imagine that Dayton Moore would have been asking for quite a lot in return for one Bruce Chen start. The Royals had nothing to gain in a trade at the last moment without getting similar compensation to the compensatory pick they would get if Chen refuses and signs elsewhere this winter.
And if Chen sticks around, the Royals will still have a familiar option in their rotation next spring. Win-win.