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10/31/08 9:08 PM EST

Free agent rankings could hinder Mets

Classifications of potential signees might cost team in '09 Draft

NEW YORK -- The Mets' need to add at least one starting pitcher and renovate their bullpen could become a costly proposition -- all money considerations aside. At least two of the free agents they are likely to pursue, starting pitcher Derek Lowe and reliever Brian Fuentes, would cost them significantly more than money because each has been classified as a Type A free agent and therefore comes with a surcharge that can undermine the future of the club that signs him.

Lowe, who won 14 games with the Dodgers in 2008, and Fuentes, who has saved 111 games for the Rockies in the last four seasons, are high on the Mets' wish list as the club seeks respective replacements for Oliver Perez and/or Pedro Martinez in the rotation and for Billy Wagner in the bullpen.

But because of their Type A rankings and the Mets' finishing with one of the better records in the game, signing one or both -- or any Type A player -- would increase the cost to the Mets in terms of compensating the club that loses the free agent.

The 89-73 record the Mets forged in 2008, while not enough to put them in the postseason, was among the 15 best records in the game. That standing in the top half of all teams in 2008 would obligate them to forfeit their selection in the first round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft to the club losing the Type A free agent, if that club had offered salary arbitration to the player. Signing a second Type A would cost them their selection in the second round of the Draft.

Had the Mets' record been among the lower 15 in 2008, signing one Type A player would obligate them to forfeit their selection rights in the second round of the Draft to the player's incumbent club, had that club offered salary arbitration to the player.

It is not an insignificant surcharge, especially nowadays with clubs generally emphasizing player development more than they had in the '80s and '90s and trying to use the Draft as a means of replenishing their rosters with younger players. The Rays' success and low payroll for 2008 will prompt most clubs to think hard about forfeiting Draft choices.

But the loss of Wagner and the need for at least one starter may prevent the Mets from assuming that posture.

The compensation rules could work in their favor, though, were they to lose Perez, a Type A player, to free agency. Perez was one of three Mets and 65 players to file for free agency Thursday, the first day of the filing period. Damion Easley and Matt Wise also filed Thursday. Pedro Martinez, Moises Alou, Tony Armas Jr., Luis Ayala, Ricardo Rincon and Ramon Martinez, none of them Type A players, were among the 42 who filed Friday.

A Type A player is one who ranks in the top 20 percent of all players in his position group in statistical studies covering the two previous seasons.

Five groups exist in each league -- starting pitchers; relief pitchers; catchers; outfielders and first basemen (outfielders, first basemen and designated hitters in the American League); and shortstops, second basemen and third basemen.

Different statistical categories exist for different groups; i.e., first basemen and outfielders (and, in the American League, DHs) are measured in five offensive categories, catchers are compared in seven categories -- five offensive, two defensive. Other infielders are measured in seven categories as well, five offensive and two others for defense, one of those different from those used for catchers. And, of course, each pitching group has statistics that reflect the pitchers' assignments.

If a National League player were to rank first among all outfielders in his league in home runs (for a value of one), third in RBIs (three), ninth in batting average (nine), fourth in plate appearances (four) and 18th in on-base average (18) his total value would be a sum of those numbers (35). And his average rank for the five categories would be 7.00.

That average rank figure would be used in an equation with the average ranks of all other outfielders and first basemen in the league and his standing within that group would be determined.

Inclusion in the upper 20 percent of the group would make that player a Type A free agent. Inclusion in the upper 40 percent and not in the upper 20 makes the player a Type B. And the compensation to a club losing a Type B player to free agency is less.

The existence of the complicated formulas that define Type A and B players and the definitions themselves are by-products of the settlement of the 1981 players strike. The rankings, calculated -- though not developed -- by the Elias Sports Bureau, were issued Friday. Determination of the compensation clubs pay is an outgrowth of the collective bargaining of 1985.

All players on active big league rosters and the disabled list are included in the two-year analysis. Among the Mets players in the study, seven are Type A and seven are type B. David Wright emerged as the highest ranked Mets player. He was the highest-rated third baseman in the National League and finished second to Chase Utley, the Phillies second baseman, in the position group.

The Mets (Perez, Johan Santana and John Maine) and the Cubs (Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster) are the only National League teams with three Type A starting pitchers.

2009 Mets player classifications

Type A
Starting pitchers: Johan Santana, Oliver Perez, John Maine. Relievers: Billy Wagner. First basemen: none. Second basemen: none. Third basemen: David Wright. Shortstops: Jose Reyes. Outfielders: Carlos Beltran.

Type B
Starting pitchers: none. Relievers: Aaron Heilman, Pedro Feliciano, Luis Ayala. Catcher: Brian Schneider. First basemen: Carlos Delgado. Second basemen: Luis Castillo. Third basemen: none. Shortstops: none. Outfielders: Moises Alou, Ryan Church.

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.