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December 21, 2004

Arbitration for everyone!

Texas tendered contracts to four arbitration-eligible players: reliever CARLOS ALMANZAR, catcher ROD BARAJAS, 2B ALFONSO SORIANO, and OF GARY MATTHEWS.

By my count, the 40-man roster is full. Texas cannot sign anyone to a Major League contract without waiving someone. Don't sign a long-term lease, Mr. Yan.

Last year, Almanzar, Barajas and Matthews made the minimum or close to it, so their 2005 salaries shouldn't increase to an excessive level. Barajas has the best chance to earn more than he's worth; arbitrators, like award voters, love those counting stats, and Barajas's shiny home run total will hide his dismal on-base percentage in the "courtroom." I would expect Hart to reach agreements with each player before a hearing occurs, and I'd hope that no one gets more than one year.

Soriano, on the other hand, made $5.4 million in 2004 (not $7.5 million as the Dallas Morning News has taken to misreporting) and, despite his lackluster season, stands to get somewhere in the $7-$8 million range in 2005. Despite the broad increase in free-agent salaries this offseason, Hart hasn't found a taker for Soriano's salary and skill set. Soriano's publicly stated refusal to play in the outfield doesn't help matters.

I was no fan of The Trade. I opined that, 1: Soriano's arbitration-driven salary increases and the huge amount of Rodriguez's contract eaten by Texas would consume most of the alleged "payroll flexibility," and 2: "payroll flexibility" was a euphemism for "lowering payroll indefinitely." Amazingly, at this point, I appear to be correct on both counts. I also considered the trade to be a very stark admission of organizational failure; Texas signed the best player in baseball to a historic contract, couldn't build a team around him, then traded him for a fraction of his value three years later and picked up a large chunk of his salary. Texas's 89-73 record in 2004 has contradicted that argument for now.

So what becomes of Soriano? I expected him to be gone by now, and I still don't think he lasts the 2005 season. A Spring Training trade is possible, or if Texas falters and finds themselves out of the playoff race by June, they'll take what they can get for him. It won't be much, as Soriano becomes a free agent after 2005.

Posted by Lucas at December 21, 2004 09:48 AM