Even the simplest, most benign baseball contract is still a tricky pile of ink and paper tossed in a blender with legalese and a dab of Scott Boras' famous hair gel. From the moment a prospect even becomes eligible to be drafted by a Major League Baseball team, their potential contract situations dictate when they'll be considered, by whom, and for what, and even after many hours have been dedicated to creating a scenario that may seem to be too good to refuse for said prospect, they still may give the team a stiffarm and head to college anyway.
For those lucky few players who have managed to get drafted, slog their way through the bus rides and bad outfields of the minor leagues, and stick around the big leagues for three seasons, tonight becomes the biggest night of their lives (from a business perspective, that is). At midnight Eastern time, each and every Major League team must decide whether or not to tender a contract to their arbitration eligible players, meaning many players will be pacing their hallways waiting to hear if they've just been offered the biggest paycheck of their still young careers or if they've been effectively told they're unemployed.
From the perspective of a fringe player who has struggled to make his mark over three seasons, that's some pretty heavy stuff. Xavier Paul, for instance, gets to sit by his phone today and find out if he's going to make over a million bucks as an outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds next year or be relegated to finding a new team and potentially heading back to the minor league abyss to re-prove himself. Chris Heisey has been a member of the Reds organization for over 7 years, and he'll find out today whether he'll nearly double his career earnings as a member of the Reds in 2014 or be looking for a home in a new city.
That's the business of baseball. For GMs, it can't be the easiest of days, either, as they're often forced to part ways with players they genuinely like and respect, many of whom they drafted and developed themselves. Fortunately for them, and for us, the byproduct of this particular deadline is that the current Free Agent pool, slim and diluted in its current state, will be flush with many more players by this time tomorrow that could potentially fill holes in lineups of other squads. It's how the Reds found Manny Parra before 2013, and how they've found countless other players who have made large impacts in seasons past (such as Jonny Gomes), and Walt Jocketty will certainly have his eyes fixated on the decisions of his peers as he looks to bolster the team's 2014 roster.
The Reds really only have serious decisions to make about Paul and Heisey, as the decisions to tender their other unsigned arb-eligibles are no-brainers. Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, Sam LeCure, and Ryan Hanigan will all get offers with hefty raises from their previous years, and Aroldis Chapman will get to see if he's better at reading his contract than I am to decide whether he should go through arbitration or not. While Paul and Heisey may be redundant now that Skip Schumaker has been added, both players will still likely be tendered; one, or both, will likely be traded later, but their salaries are low enough that there's no sense letting them leave for nothing in exchange. Likewise, Ryan Hanigan may be on the move after the Brayan Pena signing, but he'll fetch enough via trade to make tendering him an absolute must.
As there always are, a few players who could seemingly help the Reds will undoubtedly become available as other teams face salary crunches and let players go. Seth Smith, for instance, may be too pricey for the Oakland A's to tender, and he'd be a perfect platoon partner in LF with Ryan Ludwick (and likely an upgrade over Paul); similarly, Matt Joyce of the Tampa Bay Rays would look rather svelte as an option in the Cincinnati OF next season should the Rays see him as too expensive for their tastes, though I suspect he'll get tendered and then shopped instead of given his walking papers.
Basically, the available players of tomorrow will simply augment the bargain shopping experience for every team in baseball, and it's one of the arguments many of us had against the Reds' signing of Skip Schumaker. Why the Reds didn't wait another week to see what was made available is confusing, but whatever...that's another story for another date. Regardless, the next wave of machinations will be revealed to us in the coming hours, and we may start to see Walt Jocketty's brain's hamster wheels-a-spinning.
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