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This Just In: Howry better than Millwood

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The Elias Sports Bureau has released the annual player rankings for 2004-2005. Bob Wickman and Bob Howry are listed as Type A players, and Kevin Millwood only rates as Type B. Scott Elarton is a Type C. These rankings will be used to determine draft pick compensation for teams losing free agents this offseason. The formula takes into account both quality of play and playing time but is almost comically inaccurate by modern standards. It was first introduced in 1981 and is stipulated by the players union's labor contract with MLB. These rankings are based on combined stats from the 2004 and 2005 seasons.

Type A players rank in the top 30 percent, and Type B players rank in the next 20 percent. Both Type A and Type B free agents net their former team either a low first-round pick or a high second-round pick, at best, which is surrendered by the player's new team. Type A free agents also net their former team a supplemental pick after the first round, somewhere around the 38th overall pick. Type C free agents represent the next 10 percent of players, or what my Grandpa would have called "the upper fifth of the lower half." Type C players net their former teams a supplemental pick after the second round, usually around 80th overall. There is no compensation for losing players outside the top 60 percent.

A complete list of Type A players is here, but a complete list of Type B and Type C players is not yet available online. Noteworthy: Victor Martinez is the top catcher, Ron Belliard ranks #10 among second and third basemen and shortstops, and Jake Westbrook is the #8 starting pitcher. Six members of our 2005 bullpen make the Type A list, although Sauerbeck, Rhodes and Cabrera do not. None of this matters one bit.

Yeah? So?

The big news here is that Kevin Millwood is merely a Type B, as his mediocre performance and relatively few innings in 2004 dragged down his stellar 2005. This changes nothing for other teams, who will still lose their top pick to sign him, but it does give the Indians less to gain by letting him go.

For the team doing the signing, there is no difference between Type A and Type B. But for the team letting a player go, there's a big difference, as the Type A supplemental pick will sometimes be almost as high, or even higher, than the pick surrendered by the signing team. That was the case with Omar Vizquel last offseason, as the Giants signed two more Type A free agents ranked higher than Vizquel (Armando Benitez and Mike Matheny), which dropped the Indians' "main" compensation pick from 22nd to 103rd. The supplemental pick, however, held steady at 33nd overall.

In order to receive draft pick compensation, the team has to have offered its departing player arbitration. (Of course, this becomes a no-brainer if another team has already signed the player.) I see no reason why the Indians would not offer arbitration to Millwood, Wickman, Howry or Elarton. None of them has much incentive to accept the offer, and the Indians wouldn't mind too terribly much if one of them did. Bob Wickman, with his constant retirement talk and occasional loyalty talk, seems the likeliest to go that route, although still not likely.

As Type A free agents, both Wickman and Bobby Howry become somewhat less likely to be re-signed by the Indians. Four high draft picks are hard to walk away from, just for the privilege of overpaying two aging relievers with low strikeout rates, coming off career-low ERAs. The compensation system actually encourages more movement among Type A free agents. Even if your team wants to spend money on a closer, and has a good one as a free agent, the team is still better off signing someone else's closer for the right price.

For example, if the Indians sign Bob Wickman and the Yankees re-sign Tom Gordon, then the draft order is untouched. But let's say the Indians sign Tom Gordon and the Yankees sign Bob Wickman. In that case, the Indians and Yankees would swap their top draft picks, and both teams would also get a high supplemental pick. You're better off signing someone else's top free agents rather than your own. Boston exploited this hole in the system (and others) quite brilliantly last offseason, signing three key free agents while letting another three walk, netting a big bag of extra draft picks in the bargain. With the farm system starting to look a little thinner lately, the Indians could do a lot worse than to follow that strategy.