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Thoughts on Mark Ellis and Jack Cust

According to Eddie Bajek's formula, Mark Ellis has qualified as the last non-pitcher Type A free agent. 

This is mostly due to Ellis' huge September resurgence.  Ironically, Ellis' recent performance should have helped his market value, but it will actually hinder it.  Ellis could be this year's version of 2009 Orlando Hudson, where his status as a non-elite Type A free agent dramatically suppresses his market value.  (Hudson and his agent were so disenchanted by this that they ended up having it signed into Hudson's 2010 contract that he couldn't be offered arbitration if he qualified as a Type A after 2010). 

This might have a significant impact on how the A's deal with Ellis this off-season. 

If the A's didn't have enough motivation to decline his $6M option already, now they definitely do.  The team can now decline his 2011 option, offer him arbitration, and go a few different ways, each of them desirable:

a.)  Simply let Ellis walk.  If they do this, they stand to gain two high draft picks when Ellis signs with another team.  One of those picks will be in the #40-#60 range overall - a pick in the sandwich round.  The other pick could be anywhere from #19 overall (Detroit's unprotected first-rounder) all the way to around pick #120, depending upon whether the team that signs Ellis has a protected first round pick and/or also signs additional Type A free agents ranked higher than Ellis.

b.)  Re-visit Ellis much later in the off-season, after the market has played out.  If, similar to Hudson, Ellis' value ends up being dramatically suppressed by virtue of qualifying as a Type A, and the A's have struck out on the big-ticket free agents the fan base clamors for, the A's can then swoop in with a bargain offer.

However, something could throw a wrench in either of these plans: 

The A's could decline Ellis' option, offer him arbitration, and then have him turn around and accept their arbitration offer.  In this scenario, the A's are left with Ellis on a one-year deal for about the same price as the $6M option, and no compensation draft picks - basically the same spot they are now.

So, what if the A's instead did this:

"Mark, we have a longstanding relationship with you and appreciate your contributions here.  We are unwilling to make a multi-year commitment to you at this time, however, we are going to offer you arbitration.  We would prefer you not accept the arbitration offer.  However, if you find yourself in January without a multi-year offer, we will, at that point, offer you a two-year, $8-9M deal."

If Ellis trusts the team, this perhaps gives him some incentive to decline the arb offer and the surefire $6M award.  Then, if another team is willing to give him a very generous two-year offer - say, $11-12M - he accepts it and the A's get the picks.  Or, perhaps if he wants the opportunity to play for a team with better World Series prospects, or in a better hitter's park, or closer to his South Dakota roots, he takes a one or two year offer that's comparable to the ones Oakland has on the table.

I really like Ellis, but him declining an arb offer and signing a contract with another team is my ideal scenario right now.  It saves an additional $6M for the pursuit of Jarl Crawferth, and it puts two additional high draft picks into the system. Then Rosales gets a shot at full-time 2b duty and Tolleson slides into the super-utility/backup MIF role, where he held his own the last month.

Now, a quick note about Jack Cust's contract, which became its own meta-thread earlier today:

These are 5 myths that need to be dispelled about Jack Cust's contract (please don't discuss his stats or style of play in the space below, that's a topic for a different thread):

#1  "He's gonna get like $5M in arbitration this year."

No he's not.  He was re-signed at $2.65M this year.  Arbiters value counting stats, and Cust's counting stats are depressed by virtue of him spending six weeks in AAA this year.  Cust finished with 13 homers, 50 runs, and 52 rbi's at the major-league level this year.  Arbiters will also be made aware (by the A's side) of the fact that, after the team non-tendered him last December, every team in the game had the opportunity to sign him at a higher price than the one Oakland gave him last year - $2.65M - and obviously none of them did.  My prediction is that Cust would win a $3.75M award in arbitration this off-season.  Thus, I believe that the team will offer $3.5M, Cust will ask for $4M, and they'll settle before a hearing at $3.75M.  That's still a terrific price for his performance as a DH.

#2  "Nobody wanted him last off-season, so nobody will want him this off-season, either."

This off-season is drastically different than last off-season.  About ten AL teams will have their 2010 DH roll off the books this off-season.  Ken Griffey Jr., Jose Guillen, Eric Chavez, Nick Johnson, Pat Burrell - all of that dead money is off the books, and those teams will probably be seeking new, productive DHs. Additionally, Hideki Matsui, Vladimir Guerrero, Jason Kubel, and David Ortiz could be free agents this year too, and their teams will either retain them or look for cheaper DH options - like Cust.  The point is this:  Cust will be more desirable, even with the exact same skillset - now that about 10 AL teams have a DH opening this winter.

#3  "Kenny Williams didn't want Cust last winter, and he was an idiot to go into 2010 without a true DH."

That was Ozzie Guillen's decision.  Guillen told Williams that he wanted more flexibility at the DH position - hence not re-signing Jim Thome, or pursuing a Thome-like replacement.  Williams doesn't think Kotsay is a better hitter than Cust...if anyone does, it's Ozzie.  And really it was just that Ozzie wanted lots of bench flexibility, which Cust doesn't provide.  Williams has distanced himself from that decision at every possible opportunity this season in the press. 

How this relates to Cust:  There's no way Williams will let Ozzie make that decision for him again this year.  Expect the White Sox to once again utilize a true DH.

#4  "Next year is Cust's last year before reaching six-year free agency."

it would've been, had he not spent six weeks in the minors this year.  But because he did, Cust accrued less than a full year of service time this year.  He began the season with 4.002 years of service.  So, he will head to arbitration this winter as a 4th-year arbitration player.  Assuming the team doesn't non-tender him again, he won't be a free agent until after the 2012 season.  So, in theory, Cust could make $3.75M in 2011 for the A's, and then $5M in 2012 before reaching free agency, with the two parties avoiding arbitration in both seasons.  This is exactly how I think his situation will play out from here

#5  "The A's non-tendered him last winter, so obviously they'll non-tender him this winter, too."

I kind of already covered this one, since it ties into the previous four, but it's worth its own bullet point.  He was non-tendered last year in part because of a calculated gamble - the team knew that other teams league-wide did not value his services at the same dollar figure that arbiters would.  This does not mean that the A's did not value his services at a higher dollar figure.  It means that they are smart businessmen who are unwilling to pay an asset more than its market-established worth.  Now that situation has probably changed - other teams would not leave Cust unsigned at $2.65M this off-season, because roughly 10 teams will be searching for new DH's.

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