Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Free agents and draft picks

A bit more than a week ago I pondered the whys of the apparent lack of a market for former Twins pitcher Kyle Lohse. Since then a St. Louis newspaper has reported that the free agent hasn't had an offer other than the "qualifying offer" made by the Cardinals to insure a draft pick in compensation for Lohse's departure.

Lohse isn't the only free agent to find his market dried up by the new rule. Others in the same sinking boat are relief pitcher Rafael Soriano, first baseman Adam LaRoche and center fielder Michael Bourn. Nick Swisher somehow managed to avoid their trapped-in-limbo state.

Nine free agents got the one-year, $13.3 million qualifying offer, which saddled their free agency prospect with the draft pick (and, perhaps more important, bonus pool) penalty. All of them turned it down, figuring that they would get more money and more years in free agency. Two of them -- David Ortiz and Hiroki Kuroda -- re-upped with their old teams. Three others -- Josh Hamilton, B.J. Upton and Swisher -- landed deals with new teams despite the penalties.

Upton signed with the Braves, who doubtless figured they would replace what they lost in the penalty with the payback for losing Bourn. Hamilton's talent was seen as worth the penalty. Swisher -- I don't know, in this context, what the Indians were thinking, although they "only" lose a second-round pick.

This is the first offseason with the new free-agency rules. Previously the standard for getting draft pick compensation was lower -- it merely required the old team to offer salary arbitration, not offer the average of the top 100 salaries -- and there was no loss of draft pick bonus pool money. And the old, analytically inept classification system, which chronically overstated the value of middle relievers, was wiped away.

The old system was bad for a certain group of lower tier free agents -- the Juan Cruzes of the world who were categorized as Class A free agents because of the flaws in the ranking system. That type of player is free and clear now; teams might be willing to offer a middle reliever arbitration, but not $13.3 million.

This system is squeezing a higher level of player. This was to be expected -- any compensation system, no matter how defined, is bound to find some free agent on the margin.

It did succeed in cutting the number of players who are tagged with compensation picks, which is something the players union is doubtless pleased with.

It will be interesting to see if, in future years, some of the players who get a qualifying offer accept. (Such a move would apparently have gummed up the Yankees plans; they didn't Soriano or Swisher back, and have apparently told Soriano in recent days that they aren't interested in resigning him.) When 44 percent of the qualifying offer pool are teamless a week into the new year, it suggests that the players underestimated the value attached to the picks and the bonus pool. Perhaps next winter it will be some teams who get stung.

1 comment:

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