Astros GM Ed Wade announced today that he has set a deadline for the three remaining arbitration-eligible Astros to come to an agreement or they will go to a hearing. Hunter Pence, Wandy Rodriguez and Tim Byrdak have until the close of business on Monday to reach an agreement on contracts for the 2010 season.
If you read Wade's quotes, he says this is a fairly typical negotiating strategy with arbitration. The fact that he's the only GM to do so this winter is a little surprising, but it is going to be hard for the Astros to reach an agreement with Wandy alone, much less all three. This should at least provide a little insurance to get a deal for someone like Byrdak done quickly.
While the gap between Wandy's filing number and Houston's didn't seem that wide to me at the time, I saw later where he had the third biggest gap this season, behind Tim Lincecum and Joe Blanton. Of course, days later, Blanton reached an agreement with the Phillies on a three-year deal, leaving just Lincecum ahead of Wandy in the gap between figures. Will the Astros be able to bridge this in three days?
I have to trust Tal Smith here. One of the most interesting parts of Bernardo Fallas' blog post about arb was seeing who were the last two players that took Houston to an arbiter. Jose Valverde in 2008 and Daryl Kile in 1997 were both arbitrated and both left shortly afterwards. These are not good signs, especially for a guy like Wandy. Although he's older at 30 for a guy going into these rounds of arbitration, it's odd the team hasn't seen fit to sign him to a more reasonable deal. I can definitely see him either walking once he becomes a free agent or being traded before that's a possibility.
Do those two cases mean much, since they were both pitchers? Not necessarily, though I would say that it's obvious Tal Smith has the experience to handle these situations well. The fact that only two players have been taken to arbitration during all these years is a testament to that.
As many people mentioned in the comments in the last arbitration post, it would seem to make sense for the club to lock up Pence and Wandy to multi-year deals, if for nothing else to act as a cost control. While I expressed my opinion on Pence in the comments there, it's a more complicated issue for both sides. For one, the Astros will only do that if it controls their costs for at least one free agent year. The trend in baseball the past few years has been for clubs to buy out arbitration, but also to get a year or two of free agency tied into the deal at a reasonable (i.e. below market) rate. That means locking Wandy Pence up to at least a two or three year deal. From the players' perspective, this doesn't make much sense. At this point in their careers, they're looking at their first, and possibly only, big contract. It doesn't make sense for them to settle ahead of time, since they stand to make more money in arbitration and free agency than by signing a deal the club would agree to.
That's the real reason I don't see either of those guys signing for more than one year right now. I haven't mentioned Byrdak because he's such an odd case. Do lefty relievers go to arbitration much? Can't the Astros just pay Casey Daigle to be almost as effective for half the cost? If I were Byrdak, I wouldn't push it too much.
Anyways, enjoy the rest of your Friday everyone! I'll update with more information as we get it.