The Chicago Cubs are not expected to re-sign free agent starting pitcher Rich Harden. Thus, his “type” status as a free agent becomes of relative importance to the team. A mini refresher: free agents are classified as Type A, B, or none, based on their performance relative to the other MLB players at their position over the previous two seasons. If a team offers a free agent arbitration at the end of the year,* and that player elects to sign elsewhere,* the player’s old team will get draft pick compensation. The asterisks denote the fact that these statements are subject to conditions and qualifications that are, well, just too much to get into right now. Generally, however, that’s how it works.
Type A free agents will net their old team a first round pick (if signed by a team in the second half of the draft, which they usually are because those are typically the large market teams, which in turn, are the teams that sign big time free agents) and a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds. Type B free agents net their old team a sandwich pick.
With that refresher in mind, we arrive at Rich Harden as a possible Type B free agent. It is actually a very close call, as MLBTradeRumors and Eddi Bajek predict Harden will be the first Type B starting pitcher in the National League – i.e., just outside of the Type A group.
At first blush, you think “oh shit.” And I get that – if he were a Type A, and the Cubs offer him arbitration, they get a second pick for their trouble. If he’s Type B, they get just one.
HOWEVA – increasingly, teams are reluctant to sign Type A free agents because they have to give up a first rounder to do it. That means a potentially whithered market for Harden, which could mean he would decide to accept arbitration. Maybe that’s a good thing, but it could also hold the Cubs’ offseason plans hostage until what was happening with Harden was clear.
If Harden is a Type B, on the other hand, teams can consider signing him without regard to draft pick compensation – they lose nothing to sign him. Sure, the Cubs don’t get two picks, but they one, as well as a little more piece of mind.
None of this is to say it is a sure thing that the Cubs will offer Harden arbitration. In an increasingly wonky free agent market – not to mention economy – I can envision reasonable scenarios in which the Cubs decide they do not want to risk Harden’s return. Just one year ago, it was a certainty that the Cubs would offer Kerry Wood arbitration … before they didn’t. Wood had all but told the Cubs he would accept the offer, and the $10 million he would receive simply wasn’t in the Cubs’ budget.
So in the end, is a Type A classification for Harden better for the Cubs than Type B? I’m not so sure it is. I do know that a Type B classification would reduce the Cubs’ theoretical return should Harden decline arbitration and another team sign him. But I also know that a Type B classification makes it ever so slightly more likely that the Cubs offer Harden arbitration in the first place.
And if they don’t make it to that step, this whole discussion is academic anyway.