"Your goal is to try to re-sign your guys, and [extending arbitration] gives you a chance to re-sign your guys to one-year deals," general manager Doug Melvin said. "I think all of the players are still looking to get multiyear deals when they are free agents, and by us offering arbitration, it shows we still have some interest in the players.
"Now the players have to make their decisions."
But Melvin conceded that at the same time, it's "all about" the Draft picks.
Here's an arbitration primer: In order to qualify for compensatory picks for Type A or Type B free agents -- determined by a formula set forth by the Elias Sports Bureau and based on a player's previous two seasons -- a team must first offer their eligible players arbitration. The deadline to do so this year was 10:59 p.m. CT on Monday, and players have until Dec. 7 to decide whether to accept.
If a player declines, he is free to sign with any team. If a Type A player signs with a new team, his former team is compensated based on his new team's record in the previous season. If the player's new team was in the top half of Major League Baseball's 30 clubs, the former team receives the new team's first-round Draft pick plus a "sandwich" pick between the first and second rounds. If the new team finished in the bottom half of the standings, the former team receives the sandwich pick plus the new team's second-round selection.
Type B players who are offered arbitration but decline and then sign elsewhere net their former teams one sandwich pick.
If a player accepts arbitration, he is considered signed for the following season. The sides continue negotiating a contract, and if they're unable to come to terms, both parties submit a proposed salary for a one-year contract. They continue negotiating until a hearing in the spring, at which time a panel of judges hears arguments from both sides and then chooses one salary or the other.
So teams that extend arbitration offers to net Draft picks must also be prepared for the player to accept. Sabathia almost certainly will not, because as the top available arm on the free-agent market he stands to sign a big-money, multiyear contract.
But Sheets or Shouse may well accept. Sheets, a four-time All-Star, is obviously seeking a multiyear contract, but could conceivably fall back to the Brewers if other teams shy away from him. There are a number of reasons this could happen, including the fact that Sheets would cost a team a first-or second-round Draft pick. Sheets also has a history of injuries, including a torn flexor muscle near his right elbow that sidelined the 30-year-old for the Brewers' '08 postseason run.
Sheets earned about $12 million in 2008 and is in line for a raise in arbitration after going 13-9 with a 3.09 ERA in 31 starts, including five complete games. He also started the All-Star Game for the National League, the first Brewers pitcher ever so honored.
Melvin would not characterize Sheets as the Brewers' most difficult decision.
"I don't know if any player was a tougher call," Melvin said. "You make your analysis and then you make your decision."
Melvin called the agents for all four eligible players to inform them of the Brewers' decisions. He plans to speak with Casey Close, who represents Sheets, at the Winter Meetings next week in Las Vegas.
Likewise, Shouse could be tempted to accept. He has been excellent for the Brewers since a May 2006 trade from Texas and had his best season in 2008, going 5-1 with a 2.81 ERA in 69 games while earning $2 million. Shouse would prefer a two-year contract and said a handful of teams had already expressed interest, but he turned 40 in September and could opt to return to Milwaukee for one more season.