Wolf Decision Raises Questions

Let me just quote the lead paragraph of this LA Times story.

The decision by the Dodgers not to offer arbitration to pitcher Randy Wolf or any of their other free agents Tuesday should not be viewed as a sign that their uncertain ownership situation is affecting them financially, General Manager Ned Colletti said.

“Our decision was made strictly from a baseball perspective,” Colletti said.

If that’s true, Dodger fans should be pretty upset today. If this was a baseball decision, then Ned Colletti either doesn’t like draft picks or he doesn’t like Randy Wolf, who really should have been an easy arbitration offer decision.

Wolf, as a Type A free agent, would have netted the Dodgers two draft picks had he signed elsewhere. He’s made it known that he’s looking for a multi-year deal this winter, and coming off a strong 2009 season, he’s very likely to get one. The odds of Wolf accepting arbitration to take another one year deal were not very good. This is his chance to cash in with some long term security, and he wasn’t going to give that up to get a few million extra in 2010.

Even if Colletti disagrees with that assessment, the downside of Wolf accepting arbitration is not that high. He’d probably end up getting somewhere around $14 or $15 million in arbitration – our valuation says he was worth $13.6 million last year, and he’s likely to be a $10 or $11 million pitcher in 2010. The risk that they would have taken was to pay slightly more than his actual value for a quality mid-rotation starter on a one year deal.

And the Dodgers are not exactly overflowing with starting pitching. In some cases, you could make the argument that an arbitration offer could muck up the roster if a player accepts when the team had another player ready to take his job. The Dodgers have no such player ready to take Wolf’s rotation spot.

As a baseball decision, this is a bad one. Of course, there’s a pretty decent chance that this was not a baseball decision, and that the Dodgers are being hamstrung by the McCourts’ divorce, leading to uncertain budgets and the need to count pennies carefully. That would make a lot more sense than believing that the Dodgers thought that Wolf would accept arbitration over pursuing a multi-year contract as a free agent, and that they would be unhappy with that result.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

49 Responses to “Wolf Decision Raises Questions”

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  1. jwb says:

    “[Colletti] doesn’t like Randy Wolf”

    Shouldn’t that be “Colletti DOES like Randy Wolf”? By not offering arb, he won’t cost the signing team a draft pick, which should result in a couple of million more dollars for Wolf. If all the people who didn’t like me were to arrange for me to have a couple million more dollars. . .

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  2. drew says:

    Agreed. Colletti can’t come out and say “This wasn’t a basesball decision”. Its a must lie situation.

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  3. JoeR43 says:

    To summarize, it’s Paul DePodesta’s fault.
    - Bill Plaschke.

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  4. lazlo_toth says:

    I don’t know how you can view this as anything but a strictly short-term, knee-jerk financial decision, and a nonsensical one at that. No way does Wolf not get offered a multi-year deal by somebody. If the Dodgers are going to cut payroll, the risk of possibly eating a 1-year contract is offset by the compensation picks they would have almost certainly received when Wolf signed with someone else. Worst-case scenario is they’re “stuck” with a quality starter for another year. As it is, they lose that, AND lose out on draft picks. Totally a no-win situation, and it’s probably going to get worse.

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  5. philosofool says:

    I would say more or less the same thing about Hudson, which seems like a similarly stupid decision. Hudson represents, at worts, a league average 2B, but he’s probably about half a win better than that. I don’t know for sure what he’d be offered in arbitration, but his salary has never been very high, so it would seem like it would come in under his FA value. Even still, it seems like there’s no big loss if he accepts… unless this isn’t a baseball decision.

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    • JoeR43 says:

      And Kemp, Ethier, and Loney are about to get a lot more expensive.
      This is just not going to be a good team in 2010 in my opinion, they could finish 3rd in the NL West.

      Assuming Wolf doesn’t re sign, they’ll have Kershaw as #1, Billingsley as #2 (oof), and then ?

      Blake is getting old, as well.

      http://www.truebluela.com/2009/1/14/720656/dodger-payroll

      So nearly $96 mil already tied up (including Manny’s pro-rated salary and probably lowballing Kemp) with no serviceable reserves outside of Juan Pierre, no 2B yet, and a pricey bullpen.

      I never thought a team coming off two NLCS runs could have such a potential trainwreck in the works.

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  6. Craigary says:

    I’ve been angry about this one for almost a day now (when rumors first surfaced this was the direction they were going). While the Hudson move didn’t surprise me, and given his injury issues I could sort of understand it, both he and Wolf seemed almost guaranteed to reject them and go to free agency. Hudson had no interest in coming back after being benched late in the season, and Wolf wants to test the free agency waters as well, since he should be a valuable commodity. By fearing, I think unnecessarily, that either would want to come back, they lost at least 1 first round draft pick. And if they’re afraid of paying money to extra 1st round draft picks next year (I can understand not wanting 3, though they may end up losing one by signing a FA of their own)… well then they’re in more trouble than I imagined.

    Either way it’s worrisome.

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    • Joser says:

      And if they’re afraid of paying money to extra 1st round draft picks next year (I can understand not wanting 3, though they may end up losing one by signing a FA of their own)… well then they’re in more trouble than I imagined.

      That’s the only sane explanation for wanting to avoid 1st round draft picks… and yes, you’re exactly right in what it suggests about the team’s situation.

      I haven’t been following the McCourt’s divorce closely (or really, at all) but as I understand it the Dodgers ownership is an asset both spouses want (vs. one that one party will be happy to allow the other to take as long as he/she is financially compensated). Those situations often end up with the asset being sold so that neither gets it (out of spite, or just because neither can adequately produce the necessary compensation for the other). If that is how it ends up, this decision has also hurt their selling price because the buyer will be getting a team with fewer blue chips down on the farm.

      Really, “shortsighted” doesn’t come close to adequately capturing the failure this decision represents.

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  7. BX says:

    Giving 40MM to Man Ram looks like such an intelligent decision now.

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  8. raygu says:

    How do the Dodgers go from the NLCS to being a trainwreck? The talent is still there, and the division is still winnable.
    Did you forget about Hiroki Kuroda at 3?
    Actually, looking back to last year, the Dodgers were in the same predicament regarding their starting rotation and 2b, and they turned out fine.
    But, now they easily have one of the best, if not THE best bullpen in the NL, and still have the werewithal to sign a FA starter…Marquis comes to mind. Slot Elbert in at the 5 and Dewitt at 2b, and they will be fine.
    With all that said, I am not happy about the Arb decisions yesterday.
    McCourt can’t sell the team fast enough.

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    • JoeR43 says:

      When you likely need to spend $120+ million just to field a competitive team, that’s not a good thing. Billingsley had a league average K/BB in 2009, which is not what a team trying to compete would exactly want from a #3. Also still leaves 2 starter holes to fill.

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  9. ayjackson says:

    I think we’re misinterpreting Coletti’s statement. I think what he means by “made from a baseball perspective” is that the decision was made as though a baseball was the GM of the Dodgers.

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    • ailoutwar says:

      Well played sir.

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    • Joser says:

      Is it the same baseball that has been running the Royals?

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      • Jim says:

        No, not the same baseball, but they are brothers from what I hear. Peter Baseball was the GM of the Royals, while Bill Baseball is with the Dodgers and made the decision about the (lack of) arbitration offers.

        Both come from a family that has been prevalent in MLB front offices–their father Buzzie Baseball started off as a batting practice baseball in the Giants’ organization when they were still in Brooklyn, and worked his way up to vice president in charge of player development before retiring in the late 80s.

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      • Jim says:

        And of course, in this reality where baseballs help to run MLB teams, the Giants were also in Brooklyn, not New York.

        Yeah, that’s the ticket. ;)

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  10. Kevin S. says:

    Dave, wouldn’t it be safe to assume that Colletti was simply quaking in his snakeskin boots over the thought of a having to pay $15 million to a pitcher who only won a measly 11 games?

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  11. Mister Delaware says:

    Would Wolf really be looking at ~3x his 2009 salary? Any decent historical comps of veterans accepting? Not that any of that matters because, as you said, Wolf is looking at a multi-year deal now and should get it after Lackey signs.

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  12. joe says:

    Time for fans to deliver a message to mcCheaps to sell by not attending any games.

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  13. Ivdown says:

    Kevin

    You are seriously looking at wins? Kershaw won 8 games, do you think he was no good? I thought people were getting past this stupid wins thing for pitchers, especially with the Cy Youngs this season.

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    • Kevin S. says:

      I thought the snakeskin boots comment would give it away that I wasn’t serious. Guess not.

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      • Ivdown says:

        Sorry, I just sadly know people who would say that about wins and be completely serious. My bad.

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      • Joser says:

        I’ve learned through painful experience on these forums that there is no comment so obviously sarcastic that at least a couple people won’t take it at face value. I’ve even added disclaimers to obviously sarcastic comments and people have still taken them literally.

        Yeah, it kind of kills the humor when you have to tell people you’re making a joke, but an emoticon or something is the only way to avoid explaining yourself post facto. Sadly.

        (The flip side of this is that we routinely see comments that are so retrogressively Joe Morganesque that you assume they must be a joke, only to discover the commenter is dead serious. Which of course leads to the first problem. Diversity is valuable in general, but a diverse audience can make humor hard — just ask any African American comedian. And heterogeneity of knowledge is just another way of saying some people are ignorant. Which makes it easier to laugh at them but not to laugh with them. )

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  14. dodgerfaniniowa says:

    I cant understand for the life of me why someone would mortage everything just to buy a team unless its an ego thing .I hope the team gets sold to someone that can afford to run them

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    • Joser says:

      It’s always an ego thing. Every time, every team, forever. Once you have the mansion(s) and the private jet(s) and the yacht(s), what’s the next bauble on your conspicuous consumption christmas tree? How many clubs can you join that are more exclusive?

      The only exceptions were the media corporations that thought they could build a bigger business around a team (and/or hide profits by shuffling revenue between the broadcast side and the team side of the ledger). And even then, in the executive suites of those media companies…it was also an ego thing.

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  15. thinkblue says:

    there are rumors that Colletti had a gentlemen’s agreement with the two players to NOT offer them arb after the end of their one year contracts, thereby, making them more attractive FA’s, similar to O-Cab’s contract clause.

    I also, agree that not offering arb to Wolf was a terrible decision, as he has made it clear that he was in the market for a multi-year deal. though previous commenters to this article have stated that paying $10MM+ for an 11-game winner is a mistake, they forget that he had some of the worst support of any of the Dodger pitchers, with more No Decisions as a result of a lack of offense.

    I’m sorry to see Wolf go, but I doubt he will have any difficulty finding a team with owners who see his value as a workhorse, innings-eating, wicked-goatee-sporting machine.

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  16. hunteralan says:

    Kevin – Wolf was top ten in the NL in WHIP (1.10), BAA (.227), OBP (.285), SLG (.375), OPS (.660), and Quality Starts (24) and you’re going to base your arguement on his win total? That’s weak.

    Wolf would be worth his arbitration number next year. That’s a moot point though as he was never going to accept arbitration. He’ll make 3 to 4 times as much in a long term deal someone’s going to give him.

    This was plain and simple one of the very worst decisions McCourt has ever made… And make no mistake, this WAS McCourt’s decision. No baseball executive with even half a brain would have made this bass ackwards decision.

    Horrible, just horrible.

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  17. Mark says:

    Failing to offer arb to Wolf was a bad decision, but only a small one.

    So long as the Dodgers make moves to keep the core intact – and by the core I mean in order of importance Kemp, Kershaw, Ethier, Billingsley, Loney, Broxton and Martin – they will be a 90 win team in 2010. The question is what additions will be made to again be a division winning team. They have two good but overpaid players in Pierre and Sherrill who both can be traded for back of the rotation starting pitchers in mutual salary exchanges. DeWitt is an OK but not great 2B option and Devaris Gordon and Ivan deJesus are only a year or two away. Lambo is a year away from taking Manny’s spot or two years away if the Dodgers have Pierre for his last year.

    But let’s be clear, failing to offer Wolf arb was all about the balance sheets and the impact of the divorce litigation. Hudson was a risk the Dodgers did not want to take. They mistreated Hudson down the stretch and while he is a good player, it is time for the Dodgers and Hudson to part ways.

    The starting rotation in the only area the Dodgers need to address before Spring training. I am fine with Kershaw as the number one starter and I am fine with Billingsley and Kuroda as two middle of the rotation starters.

    I still like the idea of taking a gamble and packaging Juan Pierre (one of my favorite players, albeit overpaid) and George Sherrill to the Chicago Cubs for Carlos Zambrano. Zambrano sure has his issues, but the Dodgers would be able to package two needs of the Cubs (a top of the order outfielder to replace Milton Bradley) and bullpen help, in return for a top flight starter.

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    • El Lay Dave says:

      Zambrano is still owed nearly $60M on his contract, plus a vesting option of $19+M sits out there in 2013. The Dodgers clearly don’t have the money to take that on. The Cubs have seen the Juan Pierre show once before; I don’t think they are clamoring for a return. Don’t think that is a realistic deal.

      I think Gordon is three years away at best. He played A ball year (not A+) and the nearly unanimous opinion is that he showed a lot of talents but is still “raw” – the word I saw used quite frequently.

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    • JoeR43 says:

      Jim Hendry should be canned on the spot if he accepted that offer. A quality starter for a 4th OF and an expensive closer? Pass.

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  18. Paul says:

    Hmm, unemployment will go up again on Friday, attendance was down 7% last season overall (when a bunch more people had jobs), and the state of California is bankrupt. Unless I missed a stimulus plan for MLB, this is about the economy only. Cash reserves by businesses are at an all time high… because our currency is worth so much? Uh, nope, because everyone is waiting for the next shoe to drop. Smart moves by the Dodgers. Simply can’t afford that much risk in this environment.

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    • Joser says:

      You’re saying the McCourt’s divorce has nothing to do with it?

      So you’re predicting none of the teams in baseball, or even just in California, will offer arbitration or spend money this offseason?

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      • Paul says:

        There is a report that Wolf wants to re-sign with the Dodgers. Seems to me a pretty good indication that both sides understand that the economy is going to put some serious pressure on players. Would not be surprised to see them give him what will look like a real bargain now, but by the end of FA looks like a really good deal (especially the > 1 yr part) for Wolf. Essentially what you’re talking about is in offering him arb. is risking $6-8m for a supplemental draft pick. I have a feeling teams have been tipped off that agents (except for Bay’s) are telling their clients to jump at real money this offseason, and a guaranteed arb. award is just easy pickings.

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      • El Lay Dave says:

        I think the Dodger financial situation would be this bad whether Frank and Jamie were happy as honeymooners or as at odds as The Honeymooners appeared to be at their worst moments. The financial problems must be due to the highly-leveraged nature of the purchase in the first place, the ongoing financial shenanigans (more loans, increased amounts of deferred payments in contracts, etc., plus ballyhooed stadium improvements have been postponed – seemingly indefinitely – probably because McCourt can’t raise the capital since no one will lend him the cheap money anymore), and the badly thought out investments: the overpaid Juan Pierre, Jason Schmidt whom the Dodgers knew to be damaged goods and took the bad risk anyway, and perhaps Andrew Jones, though many well-regarded pundits took opposite sides on that signing at the time.

        The McCourts just don’t have anyone to run to for bailout money.

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  19. twac00 says:

    Can you shed some light on what the Yankees were thinking by not offering arbitration to Damon? It sounds like a very similar situation from the baseball side of things. Don’t players only have 7 days to accept or decline. I don’t see why anyone seeking a multi-year deal would accept unless John Dillinger came back and started robbing the banks of every MLB owner. I said the same thing about Abreu last year.

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  20. Matthew says:

    Pathetic. Thanks Ned and Frank…for turning the great Dodgers franchise into the Pirates.

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    • nick says:

      So not offering arbitration to Randy Wolf suddenly turns the Dodgers into the Pirates, being a little overdramatic, aren’t we now?

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      • JoeR43 says:

        Yeah, even I didn’t build a bridge that long by calling them a payroll mess.

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      • Ivdown says:

        Not offering Wolf arbitration was something that is really inexcusable, because it means we now don’t get 2 draft picks when we are trying to rebuild the farm system from one of the lower ones 2 years ago, and even the start of 09. Even though it wouldn’t mean a pick before 17, there are still obviously late first round gems and the more you have the better chance of getting one there is; Especially with Logan White running the farm, though I hope we draft a good hitter next year rather than another pitcher.

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      • neuter_your_dogma says:

        The move won’t turn the Dodgers into the Pirates, but won’t turn the Dodgers into the Phillies either. :)

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