Before Detroit chooses what to do for its next shortstop, it has to figure out how to move with the old job-holder. Whether the Tigers offer arbitration to Renteria by Monday's midnight deadline will affect their future beyond that particular position.
It's more than a simple either-or situation. If the Tigers offer Renteria arbitration, they would receive two compensation picks in next summer's First-Year Player Draft if and when he signs elsewhere -- one of them a sandwich pick after the first round, the other selection in either the first or second round, depending on the team that signs him.
Considering the interest that Renteria has drawn on the open market, it would seem simple. The Tigers place particular emphasis on the Draft each year, considering it the one avenue for acquiring players in which they can compete on equal footing with bigger-market teams such as the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox and others. They've spent big on the Draft in some years on players such as Justin Verlander, Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller and Rick Porcello, and they drafted shrewdly last year to bring in potential bullpen help that could arrive in a hurry with Ryan Perry, Cody Satterwhite and Scott Green.
The risk, however, is that Renteria could accept an offer of arbitration -- free agents have until Dec. 7 to do so -- and return to Detroit under a one-year deal at a salary determined by an arbitrator.
Though the Tigers hadn't formally closed the door on re-signing Renteria, they have shown virtually no interest in bringing him back, focusing instead on the alternatives on the trade and free-agent markets. By contrast, Renteria has said more than once that he would like to return to Detroit and play up to his capability after a disappointing 2008 season. Even so, he has drawn an impressive amount of interest from teams in the National League, where he has had virtually all of his success in his big league career. A multi-year contract from another club, such as San Francisco, would trump any arbitration offer from Detroit.
The expectation outside Detroit is that the Tigers will not offer arbitration to Renteria, preferring to part ways and take their chances on finding a potential upgrade -- at least on the defensive end. Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said recently that the club has not made a final decision.
Renteria is the only Tigers free agent to fall into the compensation category under the list of Type A and B free agents ranked by the Elias Sports Bureau. Kenny Rogers, Kyle Farnsworth, Freddy Garcia, Casey Fossum and Vance Wilson did not qualify under the rankings, and are thus not expected to be offered arbitration.
Still, arbitration offers from other clubs to their own free agents could affect the Tigers' pursuits. Darren Oliver, the lefty reliever in whom Detroit has shown strong interest, is also a Type A free agent. The Angels have shown interest in bringing him back and could offer arbitration to scare off other clubs.
Since the Tigers finished in the bottom half of the Major League standings, they would only have to give up their second-round pick rather than their first-rounder to sign a Type A free agent. Yet given the aforementioned priority Detroit place on its Draft picks, especially in the early rounds, that second-rounder still has plenty of value.
Former Padres closer Trevor Hoffman also is a Type A free agent. Since San Diego announced last month that it would not try to bring him back, however, the Padres aren't expected to offer arbitration.
Joe Beimel, another free-agent lefty in whom the Tigers have shown interest, is a Type B free agent who would not require a pick from any team that signs him. So, too, is former Diamondbacks closer Brandon Lyon.
While talks have progressed slowly on the free-agent front for many relievers, they're widely expected to pick up once Monday's deadline passes, even for those free agents unaffected. That's partly by design. Major League Baseball moved up the arbitration deadline a couple years ago to allow teams to move without hindrance during the Winter Meetings. This year's Meetings start a week from Monday in Las Vegas.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.